WASHINGTON — In one of the more eye-popping comments in his unusual and heated Oval Office exchange with Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday, President Trump seemingly suggested that “10 terrorists” were recently apprehended trying to enter the country. However, when pressed about the president’s comments, officials could not provide evidence of any such apprehension.
The president sparred with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for over 10 minutes in full view of reporters and press pool cameras. During the exchange, Trump said he is willing to shut down the government if Democrats don’t appropriate funding for his proposal to provide $5 billion for a wall along the Mexico border next year. Democrats have said Trump should accept a stopgap measure that would provide $1.3 billion for border fencing and barriers in 2019, which is the same amount Congress authorized for this year. If the two sides do not agree on a budget, parts of the federal government will shut down at the end of next week.
Trump shared the dramatic story of terrorists being apprehended as he argued for the wall.
“People are pouring into our country, including terrorists. We have terrorists. We caught 10 terrorists over the last very short period of time. Ten. These are very serious people,” Trump said. “Our border agents, all of our law enforcement has been incredible what they’ve done. But we caught 10 terrorists. These are people that were looking to do harm.”
Trump followed up his claim about the terrorists by declaring “we need the wall.”
Yahoo News reached out to Customs and Border Protection to ask for details about the 10 terrorists Trump referred to. A spokesperson for the CBP pointed to comments made by an unnamed Department of Homeland Security official in a fact sheet that was distributed by the White House on Tuesday.
“On average last year, DHS prevented 10 individuals tied to terror — known or suspected terrorists — each day from traveling or attempting to travel to the United States. These are individuals that hit against U.S. terror watchlists. This is in addition to the 17,000 criminals and 3,000 special interest aliens that CBP apprehended at the border last year,” the statement said.
However, this statistic is far different from the recent terrorism bust Trump described in the Oval Office. There are more than 1 million people on U.S. terror watchlists. This includes people suspected of having links to terrorism and some cases of mistaken identity. On some occasions, people are prevented from entering the country simply because their name and birthdate is similar to someone who is on the list.
CBP referred Yahoo News to the White House for further questions about Trump’s claim. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump has previously made assertions about terrorism threats at the border that were not backed up by evidence. In October, as he railed against a caravan of migrants who were headed from Central America to the United States, Trump claimed the group included “unknown Middle Easterners” who were “mixed in.” But, when pressed, no government agency provided evidence to substantiate that claim.
On Tuesday, hours before Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders, the Washington Post published an article announcing that its fact checkers had come up with a new rating to designate false claims that “have been repeated more than 20 times.” Trump’s assertions about the border wall were among the first claims to earn this new “Bottomless Pinocchio” rating from the paper.
The border wall was Trump’s signature campaign promise during his 2016 White House bid, and he has repeatedly insisted that Mexico would pay for it, even as construction had already begun with only U.S. funding.
Schumer pointed to the Post’s assessment of Trump’s claims as he answered the president.
“We have a lot of disagreements here. The Washington Post today gave you a whole lot of Pinocchios because they say you constantly misstate how much the wall is — how much of the wall is built and how much is there,” Schumer said.
Trump responded to the Senate Democratic leader with a laugh.
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