Fact checking the final 2020 presidential election debate

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 10/22/2020, 10:16 p.m.
Thursday's final presidential debate may be the last opportunity for both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden ...
President Donald Trump enters the final presidential debate in need of a major shakeup that will change the trajectory of the race as he trails Joe Biden in both national polls and key swing states that will determine whether he has a path to victory in the Electoral College. Credit: Getty

By CNN staff

(CNN) -- Thursday's final presidential debate may be the last opportunity for both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden to reach a massive national audience before Election Day.

In the first debate, Trump's dishonesty eclipsed Biden's misstatements, as the President repeated some of his more frequent lies while talking over both his opponent and the moderator. In an attempt to avoid some of the chaos of that first encounter, each candidate's microphone will be muted during portions of Thursday's debate to allow their opponent to answer questions uninterrupted.

NBC's Kristen Welker is moderator for the 90-minute event and plans to focus on six main topics. On the first announced topic, fighting Covid-19, Trump has consistently misled the American public, including as recently as his "60 Minutes" interview. During an excerpt which the President released ahead of the episode's airing this weekend, Trump falsely claimed the US has turned the corner on the pandemic.

Among the other topics that Trump and Biden will be asked to address tonight are race in America, climate change, national security, American families and leadership.

CNN will be fact-checking both candidates throughout the night.


Trump: Coronavirus is 'going away'

Trump claimed the virus is going away. "We're rounding the corner. It's going away," Trump said.

Facts First: This is false. The US coronavirus situation -- as measured by newly confirmed cases, hospitalizations and the test positivity rate -- is getting worse, not better. There is no basis for his vague claim that we are "rounding the corner."

Trump has baselessly claimed for eight months that the virus would disappear or was currently disappearing.

-- Holmes Lybrand

Trump: 2.2 million people were initially expected to die from coronavirus

Trump claimed 2.2 million people were "expected to die."

Facts First: This is false.

Trump is likely citing a report posted in March by scholars from the Imperial College in London that predicted that a total of 2.2 million Americans could die from Covid-19 if no preventative measures were installed on any level of society.

In other words, that would be the loss of lives if no action were taken at all to mitigate it.

The report did not analyze what would happen if just the federal government took no action against the virus but rather what would occur if there were absolutely no "control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behavior."

-- Holmes Lybrand and Tara Subramaniam

Trump: Biden called him "xenophobic" following travel restrictions on China

"When I closed and banned China from coming in ... he was saying I was xenophobic, I did it too soon," Trump said.

Facts First: This needs context.

It's not clear the former vice president even knew about Trump's China travel restrictions when he called Trump xenophobic on the day the restrictions were unveiled; Biden has never explicitly linked his accusation of xenophobia to these travel restrictions.

Biden's campaign announced in early April that he supports Trump's travel restrictions on China. But the campaign did not say the former vice president had previously been wrong about the ban, much less apologize. Rather, the campaign says Biden's January 31 accusations -- that Trump has a record of "hysterical xenophobia" and "fear mongering" -- were not about the travel restrictions at all.

The campaign says Biden did not know about the restrictions at the time of his speech, since his campaign event in Iowa started shortly after the Trump administration briefing where the restrictions were revealed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Given the timing of the Biden remarks, it's not unreasonable for the Trump campaign to infer that the former vice president was talking about the travel restrictions. But Biden never took an explicit position on the restrictions until his April declaration of support.

-- Holmes Lybrand

Trump: He was 'kidding' when he suggested injecting bleach

Biden attacked Trump on comments he made over disinfectants and the coronavirus.

"What did the President say? He said don't worry, it's going to go away. Be gone by Easter. Don't worry...Maybe inject bleach," Biden said. "He said he was kidding when he said that but a lot of people thought it was serious."

Trump replied that he "was kidding on that."

Facts First: This is false. There was simply no indication that Trump was being anything less than serious when he made comments in April in which he wondered if it would be possible for people to inject disinfectants to fight Covid-19. The next day he claimed he was being sarcastic.

During an April 23 press briefing, Trump expressed interest in exploring the possibility of "injection inside or almost a cleaning" with disinfectants.

Here's what he said: "[T]hen I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it'd be interesting to check that, so that you're going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me."

The next day Trump claimed he was "asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen."

Read a longer fact check here.

-- Daniel Dale and Holmes Lybrand


Trump: Biden received $3.5 million from Russia

Trump claimed that Biden received $3.5 million from Russia and that it "came through Putin because he was very friendly with the former mayor of Moscow, and it was the mayor of Moscow's wife. You got $3.5 million. Your family got $3.5 million."

Facts First: This is false.

Trump was seemingly trying to raise an allegation previously made against Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, but there's no connection to Joe Biden.

Hunter Biden also denies the allegation he received $3.5 million. Hunter Biden's lawyer, George Mesires, told CNN that Hunter Biden was not an owner of the firm Senate Republicans allege received the $3.5 million payment in 2014.

A partisan investigation conducted by Senate Republicans, whose report was released this month, alleged that Elena Baturina, a Russian businesswoman and the wife of late Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, sent $3.5 million in 2014 to a firm called Rosemont Seneca Thornton, and that the payment was identified as a "consultancy agreement." The report did not provide any further details about the transaction.

Hunter Biden was a co-founder and CEO of the investment firm Rosemont Seneca Advisors. But Mesires said Hunter Biden did not co-found Rosemont Seneca Thornton. It's not clear what connection exists between Rosemont Seneca Advisors and Rosemont Seneca Thornton.

Neither the Senate report nor Trump have provided any evidence that the payment was corrupt or that Hunter Biden committed any wrongdoing.

-- Jeremy Herb

This is a breaking story and will be updated.