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AP FACT CHECK: Trump skews truth on lending aid, virus risk

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump offered a rosy portrait of a smoothly running federal emergency lending program for small businesses that doesn't match reality and revised history yet again on how seriously he took the coronavirus threat, suggesting he likened it to a pandemic flu. He never did.

A look at his claims, also covering voting fraud: ECONOMIC RELIEF TRUMP: “As of today, small business has processed more than $70 billion in guaranteed loans and will provide much-needed relief for nearly a quarter of a million businesses already ... we’re way ahead of schedule.” — news briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: He’s glossing over reality. There have been substantial delays, with few loans issued. The $349 billion emergency lending program just began operating Friday, but the rollout has been plagued by a host of problems. Small-business owners have complained that they are unable to get through to the Small Business Administration or the banks to apply for loans or that they are being rejected by banks that say they are accepting applications only from businesses that are already customers of the bank.

Two of the nation’s largest banks, JPMorgan Chase and Citibank, weren’t initially set up to take applications. The SBA’s loan processing system then stopped working early in the week, making it impossible for loans to be approved and money distributed, while confusion spread about the documents that lenders needed from customers to complete loan transactions. That's according to a trade group for community bankers and the CEO of an online lending marketplace.

As to the $70 billion, Trump appears to be citing the value of applications received but yet to be fully administered. SBA spokeswoman Carol Wilkerson says more than 275,000 applications have been received for loans valued at $75 billion since the program launched.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had predicted last week that loans could be turned around and money transferred to businesses’ bank accounts the same day as applications were received.

THE VIRUS THREAT

TRUMP, referring to his past comparisons of the coronavirus to the flu: “You said I said it was just like a flu. So the worst pandemic we ever had in this world was a flu. ... It was in 1917, 1918. And anywhere from 50 to 100 million people died. That was a flu, OK? So, you could say that I said it was a flu, or you could say, ‘The flu is nothing to sneeze at.’” — briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: He’s revising history — both his own and that of the century-old pandemic.

Trump never suggested the coronavirus was akin to the pandemic Spanish flu, which spread from early 1918 to late 1920 and killed over 50 million worldwide. On the contrary, he repeatedly dismissed COVID-19 from January until mid-March as being less of a danger than the common flu and something that would disappear soon enough.

In February, he asserted that coronavirus cases were going “very substantially down, not up,” and told Fox Business it will be fine because “in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather. And that’s a beautiful date to look forward to.”

“It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for,” he told reporters on Feb. 26. “And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.”

Two days before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Trump still presented a sunny outlook on COVID-19.

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu," he tweeted March 9. "It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

And in a Fox News virtual town hall March 24, Trump rejected likening the coronavirus to the 1918 pandemic. “You can’t compare this to 1918 where close to 100 million people died. That was a flu, which — a little different,” he said, overstating the likely death toll of that pandemic.

Trump now acknowledges the U.S. “may be” entering a recession, while the White House has projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus even if social distancing guidelines are maintained. Currently, there are over 400,000 cases and over 14,000 deaths nationwide.

TRUMP, asked about the wisdom of freezing funding to the World Health Organization during a pandemic

“I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we’re going to look at it.” Told he had said minutes earlier he would freeze funding, he said, “No, I didn’t. I said we’re going to look at it.” — briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Actually, he said flatly earlier in the briefing that he was going to freeze U.S funding to the organization.

“We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO," he said. ”We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it."

He's unhappy with the organization's coronavirus recommendations. The United States contributed nearly $900 million to its budget for 2018-19, according to information on the agency’s website, an amount that represented one-fifth of the WHO’s total budget for those years.

VOTING FRAUD

TRUMP: “Tremendous potential for voter fraud.” — tweet Wednesday.

TRUMP: “Mail ballots — they cheat. OK? People cheat. Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters. They go and collect them. They’re fraudulent in many cases.” — briefing Tuesday.

TRUMP: “You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place. ... I think if you vote, you should go.” — briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: There’s no evidence of widespread voting fraud. His advice for in-person voting such as in Wisconsin on Tuesday night in a pandemic also contradicts his task force’s social distancing guidelines, which urge Americans to maintain 6 feet (1.8 meters) of separation and avoid crowds of more than 10 people.

It’s true that some studies have shown a slightly higher incidence of mail-in voting fraud compared with in-person voting, but the overall risk is extremely low. The Brennan Center for Justice said in 2017 the risk of voting fraud is 0.00004% to 0.0009%.

Ignoring his own advice, Trump cast an absentee ballot by mail in last month’s Florida Republican primary.

When asked about the contradiction Tuesday, he said that it was fine “because I’m allowed to” vote by mail and that he didn't expect to get to Florida.

He’s previously asserted without evidence that buses of illegal voters traveled in from Massachusetts in 2016 to deprive him of a New Hampshire victory in the general election against Democrat Hillary Clinton and that millions voted illegally California, with people casting ballots multiple times. A commission Trump convened after the 2016 election to investigate potential voting fraud disbanded without producing any findings.

In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes but prevailed in the Electoral College to win the presidency.

AP Business Writer Ken Sweet in New York contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.

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