In recent days, President Trump has targeted Biden with accusations large and small, including a head-scratching claim that Biden, as a young child, “deserted” his native state of Pennsylvania and a more serious accusation that Biden, as vice president, improperly pressured the Ukrainian government to oust the country’s top prosecutor to benefit his son, Hunter Biden.
Here’s a look at four Trump claims about Biden and the Obama administration, all of them misleading.
Trump bashed Biden in a May 19 interview on Fox News and in a May 20 campaign rally in swing-state Pennsylvania, where the Obama-Biden ticket won in 2008 and 2012 and where the Trump-Pence ticket won in 2016.
“Look at Joe Biden … he calls them [Ukrainian government leaders] and says, ‘Don’t you dare prosecute. If you don’t fire this prosecutor’ — the prosecutor was after his son — then he said, ‘If you fire the prosecutor, you’ll be okay. And if you don’t fire the prosecutor, we’re not giving you $2 billion in loan guarantees,’ or whatever he was supposed to give. Can you imagine if I did that?” (Fox News interview)
Trump and his allies — especially his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani — have been suggesting for weeks that Biden improperly used his influence as vice president to get Ukraine to sack its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in 2016.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office had opened an investigation into Burisma Holdings, a natural gas company owned by an Ukrainian oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky.
Hunter Biden, a lawyer and businessman, joined Burisma’s board in April 2014 and left last month. The New York Times reported May 1 that he was “paid as much as $50,000 per month in some months for his work for the company.”
Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine in March 2016 (it was not a phone call, as Trump claimed) and said the United States would withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees (not $2 billion, as Trump claimed) unless Shokin was removed (it was not a demand to stop the Burisma prosecution, as Trump claimed, and there’s no evidence Shokin “was after” Hunter Biden).
The vice president’s trip was part of a longer push by the United States, Western allies and nongovernmental organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The goal was to promote reform in Ukraine and remove a prosecutor who allegedly was turning a blind eye to corruption.
There’s a dispute going on between Bloomberg and the Times over some aspects of this complex story. (Here’s Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple on their back-and-forth.) One area of dispute is whether the Burisma probe was ongoing while Biden was pushing for Shokin’s ouster. “There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky,” Vitaliy Kasko, a former official in the prosecutor general’s office, told Bloomberg News in an article published May 7. “It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”
For the purposes of fact checking Trump’s statement, though, we note that neither news organization is asserting that Biden pushed to oust Shokin to get his son out of a jam.
Bloomberg reported that “the U.S. plan to push for Shokin’s dismissal didn’t initially come from Biden, but rather filtered up from officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation” and that, in the same month Biden traveled to Ukraine, “hundreds of Ukrainians demonstrated outside President Petro Poroshenko’s office demanding Shokin’s resignation, and he was dismissed.”
The current prosecutor general of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, was quoted in a May 16 report, also by Bloomberg, saying “he had no evidence of wrongdoing by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden or his son.”
“Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws — at least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing,” Lutsenko told Bloomberg. “A company can pay however much it wants to its board.”
“No evidence has surfaced that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal,” the Times reported. “Some of his former associates, moreover, said Mr. Biden never did anything to deter other Obama administration officials who were pushing for the United States to support criminal investigations by Ukrainian and British authorities — and potentially to start its own investigation — into Burisma and its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, for possible money laundering and abuse of office.”
A lawyer for Hunter Biden told The Fact Checker that Hunter Biden never discussed Burisma or the investigations with Joe Biden. That’s consistent with previous statements from the Biden camp.
The Biden campaign sent us an editorial published by Ukraine’s Kyiv Post on May 17. It says: “The Biden narrative is too complicated to rehash here. But suffice it to say, it has been refuted by countless experts and anti-corruption activists. In 2016, Biden indeed pressured Ukraine to fire Viktor Shokin, its ineffective, weak prosecutor general. In doing so, he called for a decision supported both by Ukrainian reformers and Kyiv’s Western partners. No conspiracy here.”
However, there is a separate question of whether Biden created the appearance of a conflict of interest with his Shokin-must-go campaign.
“Joe Biden has publicly stated that he pressured Ukraine’s president to fire the state prosecutor, or possibly lose a billion dollar U.S. loan guarantee,” a Trump campaign spokesman said. “Biden’s pressure on Ukraine’s leadership came while his son, Hunter Biden, was on the board of Burisma.”
Referring to the Times article, the spokesman added: “There is reporting showing that an investigation by Ukraine’s prosecutor into Burisma was ongoing while Joe Biden was engaged in his pressure campaign.”
Interviewer: “Don’t you think that should be investigated, that financial connection, the Chinese government putting billions of dollars into Biden’s family business?”
Trump: “100 percent. It’s a disgrace.” (Fox News interview)
Once again, we have Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, big sums of money and a foreign country. Except this time it’s China, not Ukraine.
What happened here?
In December 2013, Hunter Biden and one of his daughters flew from Japan to China with Joe Biden on Air Force Two. The vice president had diplomacy on his agenda. Days after the trip, Hunter Biden and a business partner had a new investment fund with backing from the Chinese government-owned Bank of China. What started as a $1 billion deal later grew to $1.5 billion, according to Peter Schweizer, a conservative author.
As the New York Times reported May 20:
The conservative author Peter Schweizer has suggested that Hunter Biden used the trip to secure a deal with the Bank of China — a suggestion that has been echoed by Mr. Trump’s allies in the conservative news media.
But a lawyer for Hunter Biden said he did not conduct any business related to the China investment fund on that trip, and was not an equity owner in the fund while his father was vice president. He later acquired a 10 percent interest in the entity that oversees the fund, but to date has not received any money from the arrangement, according to the lawyer.
A lawyer for Hunter Biden told us the same: Hunter Biden did not conduct business related to the China investment fund during this 2013 trip, was not an equity owner in the fund while Joe Biden was vice president, later acquired a 10 percent interest in the entity overseeing the fund, and has not received money from the arrangement.
We asked Trump campaign officials what U.S. authorities could investigate if Hunter Biden did not conduct business related to the investment fund on this 2013 trip, did not have equity until after Joe Biden left office and has not made money from the deal.
We didn’t get an answer to that, but a Trump campaign spokesman told us: “There is nothing to fact check here. The president was asked if Biden family-Chinese financial connections should be investigated, and the president said yes. As has been reported elsewhere, Hunter Biden has engaged in business dealings in China that raise some serious questions.”
Trump said this deal was a “disgrace” worth investigation, so he’s clearly insinuating wrongdoing.
Looking at the facts publicly available, it seems more like smoke than fire to us. It’s similar to how Ivanka Trump was granted Chinese trademarks days before and after President Trump vowed to save jobs at ZTE, a major Chinese telecom, in 2018. Or how Ivanka Trump was granted Chinese trademarks in 2017, on the same day she sat next to Chinese President Xi Jinping at a dinner.
“In the eight years before my election, the United States lost a quarter of a million manufacturing jobs, but the great betrayal of the American worker ended on Day One — the day I took office — and you know that better than anyone.” (Pennsylvania rally)
This Trump claim about manufacturing job losses suffers from multiple diseases.
Although it isn’t Biden-specific, “the eight years before my election” is a clear reference to the Obama administration in which Biden served. (Trump later added that Biden “didn’t take care of your jobs.”)
In the eight years before Trump’s election in November 2016, the United States actually lost a net 693,000 manufacturing jobs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, not “a quarter of a million.”
But, as often happens with data, the picture can change drastically depending on where you set the baseline. In this case, Trump’s baseline is November 2008, smack-dab in the middle of the longest U.S. recession since World War II.
A close look at the numbers shows that most of the manufacturing job losses in the period Trump’s talking about happened during the first year of Obama’s administration, coinciding with the Great Recession that ended in June 2009. The bleeding did not extend throughout Obama’s eight years in office.
In fact, the manufacturing sector began a slow but steady recovery in April 2010, during Obama’s second year in office. That steady rate of growth has continued and accelerated under Trump.
The Trump campaign spokesman pointed out that 470,000 manufacturing jobs have been added during Trump’s first 27 months in office, compared with 109,000 during Obama’s last 25 months. During the course of the Obama administration, manufacturing job growth was basically flat — but there was a gain of more than 900,000 manufacturing jobs under Obama counting from April 2010.
“No matter how you measure it, there is no disputing the U.S. economy lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs under President Obama,” the spokesman said.
That’s not what we’re disputing. Trump’s statement was false because it understated manufacturing job losses by more than 400,000. It was also misleading in two ways: It failed to mention the seismic effects of the Great Recession, which Obama inherited, and left out that manufacturing jobs increased for six-and-a-half of the eight years Trump mentioned.
“And don’t forget Biden deserted you. He’s not from Pennsylvania. I guess he was born here, but he left you, folks. He left you for another state. Remember that, please. I meant to say that. This guy talks about, ‘I know Scranton,’ ‘I know’ — well I know the places better. He left you for another state and he didn’t take care of you because he didn’t take care of your jobs. He let other countries come in and rip off America.” (Pennsylvania rally)
How many fourth-graders are in charge of their family’s destiny?
Biden was born in Scranton, Pa., and speaks fondly of his family’s ties to the area, which stretch to 1851.
“Scranton is where my grandfather Ambrose Finnegan met and in 1909 married my grandmother Geraldine Blewitt. It’s where my mother, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan, was born, and where she met and in 1941 married my father, Joseph Biden, Sr.,” he told Ancestry.com in 2016. “I lived in Scranton until I was in the fourth grade, but for the next 10-12 years, I spent most of my summers and holidays with the Finnegan family back in Scranton.”
Trump said Biden “deserted” Pennsylvania — an outlandish claim, considering that Biden was either 10 or 11 years old in 1953, when his father moved the family to Wilmington, Del., out of financial necessity.
Here’s a New York Times article from 2008 describing the circumstances of the move:
While Mr. Biden has described his early youth as stable and relatively carefree, his father suffered a number of business reversals, and for several years when Joe Jr. was young the Bidens were forced to move in with his mother’s parents, the Finnegans, in their modest home on North Washington Avenue in Scranton.
Though Scranton was sharing in the postwar economic boom, Joe Sr. had trouble finding steady work, and nothing that measured up to his previous success. For a time, he commuted to Wilmington to clean boilers for a heating and cooling company. In 1953, he moved the family there.
“There’s nothing here that’s factually incorrect,” the Trump campaign spokesman said. “As everyone has pointed out (including Joe Biden) he and his family left the state. He subsequently built a life and entire career in Delaware, despite routinely calling himself ‘Scranton Joe.’”
The Pinocchio Test
Trump twisted a bunch of facts and left out a mountain of context in his remarks about the Burisma investigation and its connection to the Bidens.
Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine in March 2016 (it was not a phone call) and said the United States would withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees (not $2 billion) unless Ukraine’s prosecutor general was removed from office. It was not a demand to stop the Burisma prosecution, as Trump claimed, and there’s no evidence the prosecutor “was after” Hunter Biden. The president made these comments days after the current prosecutor general in Ukraine said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.
The other three remarks are also misleading. Trump seems to be blaming the Obama administration for copious job losses in the manufacturing sector, while ignoring the impact of a historic recession (his statistics were off by more than 400,000 job losses to boot). There’s no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden regarding the China trip in 2013, yet Trump still calls it a disgrace worth investigation, implying there was wrongdoing. His claim that Biden “deserted” Pennsylvania, as a wee lad beholden to his family’s fortunes, is nonsense.
The president got just enough right in each case to save himself from Four Pinocchios, but he still gets Three Pinocchios.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form
Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter
The Fact Checker is a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network code of principles