Fact check: No evidence for Trump's claim he was once named Michigan's 'Man of the Year'

Opinion: Donald Trump, Troll Model
Posted at 2:55 PM, Aug 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-16 20:20:24-04

(CNN) — At a campaign rally in New Hampshire on Thursday, President Donald Trump made a handful of false claims, including returning to a claim he's made since the final days of the 2016 campaign.

He said he was once named Michigan's "Man of the Year."

Sounds impressive, but there is a significant problem here.

Facts First: Nobody has been able to find any evidence of Trump receiving such an award.

It is hard to definitively prove that something vague has not happened. So we'll leave open the possibility that Trump is talking about some actual event and that he and his team are just being coy about the details.

But neither we nor anyone else has been able to find a single detail. CNN has reached out to the White House and the Trump campaign about the claim, but has not heard back.

What Trump has said

Trump first publicly uttered the claim on November 6, 2016, two days before the election, when he was making his successful last-ditch effort to win Michigan.

"I've been fighting for the car industry for years. I was honored five years ago. Man of the Year in Michigan. That was a great honor for me," he said at a rally in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

He then described a supposed controversy over his supposed Man of the Year acceptance speech.

"During my speech, all I talked about is what Mexico and these other countries are doing to us. And especially what they're doing to Michigan," he said. "That's all I talked about. And I was criticized. They said, 'Donald, speak about something else.' I said, 'No. What's happening is horrible."

Trump has repeated versions of the claim at least six times since, including at a roundtable with corporate leaders in Michigan in 2017 and a rally in Wisconsin this April.

At the New Hampshire rally on Thursday, he seemed to acknowledge it sounded odd that a non-resident of Michigan would win such an award.

"In fact, five or six years before I even thought about running, for whatever reason they named me Man of the Year in Michigan. I said, 'How come?' I didn't even understand it myself,'" he said. "When I was named Man of the Year, I wasn't even political. That was years before I did this. But I was always complaining that our car business is being stolen."

No evidence at all

Trump's boast immediately piqued our interest. So, back in November 2016, we contacted the Trump campaign, dove into news archives and did a bunch of Googling.

The Trump campaign never responded. None of the searches brought up anything.

HuffPost went on a similar research journey and also found nothing. The website reported that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said it didn't give out an award like that; Trump was never on the Detroit News's annual "Michiganians of the Year" list; then-Gov. Rick Snyder's office was reportedly no help; Trump had never mentioned the alleged honor on his Twitter feed.

Trump has received some "Man of the Year" kinds of accolades, including Time magazine's 2016 Person of the Year and the Statesman of the Year" award from the Republican Party of Sarasota County, Florida.

But none of the awards were for being Michigan's top man.

If you gave Trump a "Man of the Year" award in Michigan or know someone who did, please let us know at:

Additional claims

During the rally, Trump also repeated several of the false claims he's been touting throughout his 2020 campaign events, including those around China and tariffs, VA Choice, and payments to Iran.

Here's a look at the facts.

VA Choice

During his rally, Trump claimed that he passed VA Choice while no other President before him could. "And this from, forever, five decades, we passed, for our great veterans, VA Choice and VA accountability."

Facts First: Trump did not get the Veterans Choice program passed, nor had there been an unsuccessful 50-year effort to get it passed. The program was signed into law by Obama in 2014.

In 2018, Trump signed the VA MISSION Act, which expanded and changed the Choice program.


Trump again claimed that, under Obama, the US paid $150 billion to Iran and another $1.8 billion in cash.

"You saw we ended the Iran disaster," Trump said, referencing the Iran Nuclear Deal. "How about that? We pay them $150 billion. $1.8 billion in cash. Cash, cash, cash."

Facts First: The second figure is roughly correct, but the first is exaggerated.

The 2015 nuclear deal allowed Iran to access tens of billions in its own assets that had been frozen for decades in foreign financial institutions because of sanctions; experts say the total was significantly lower than $150 billion.

Trump did not invent the $150 billion figure out of thin air: Obama himself mused in a 2015 interview about Iran having "$150 billion parked outside the country." But experts on Iran policy, and Obama's own administration, said that the quantity of assets the agreement actually made available to Iran was much lower.

In 2015, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew put the number at $56 billion. PolitiFact reported that Garbis Iradian, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, put it at about $60 billion.

Adam Szubin, a senior Treasury Department official, testified to Congress in 2015 that the "usable liquid assets" would total "a little more than $50 billion." The rest of Iran's foreign assets, he said, were either tied up in "illiquid" projects "that cannot be monetized quickly, if at all, or are composed of outstanding loans to Iranian entities that cannot repay them."

As Trump regularly notes, the Obama administration did send Iran $1.7 billion to settle a decades-old dispute over a purchase of US military goods Iran made before its government was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The Obama administration also used the timing of when this cash payment was delivered as leverage against Iran to release several American prisoners.

The wall

Trump claimed that the wall on the southern border is currently under construction.

"It is being built," Trump said, arguing that wall renovations counted toward his promise of building the wall. "A wall that's lying on the ground in a very important section ... and we build a brand new 30-foot steel and concrete wall."

Facts First: Trump correctly noted that the wall being built is renovation of current barriers. Zero additional miles of border barriers had been erected as of mid-June, contrary to his previous statements that new wall was being built.

About 50 miles have been built over his two-and-a-half years in office, but all of them are replacement barriers rather than additional miles.

According to Customs and Border Protection, 47 miles "of new border barriers in place of dilapidated design" had been completed as of June 14. The Washington Examiner reported July 20 that the total was up to 51 miles of such replacement barriers, but that no additional miles had been built. (Customs and Border Protection did not respond to our request for updated information in the wake of the Examiner story.)

Trump has started arguing since this spring that replacement fencing should be counted as his "wall," since he is replacing ineffective old barriers with effective modern ones. This is subjective, but we think it's fair to focus on the new barriers he promised during his campaign.


Trump again argued that Americans have not been paying for the tariffs imposed on China.

"We're taking in billions of dollars; we're not paying for it," Trump said of the tariffs.

Facts First: American importers make the actual tariff payments, and economic studies have found that Americans, not people and companies in China, have borne most of the cost.

A March paper from economists at Columbia, Princeton and the New York Federal Reserve found that the "full incidence" of Trump's tariffs have fallen on domestic companies and consumers -- costing them $3 billion a month by the end of 2018. The paper also found that the tariffs led to a reduction in US income, by $1.4 billion a month.

A separate academic paper also found that the tariffs led to higher consumer prices. It estimated that the tariffs will result in a $7.8 billion per year decline in income.

A Chinese supplier might take on some of the burden of the tariff by reducing its prices to maintain a market in the United States, but these studies show that the burden heavily falls on US consumers and companies.

The White House'sEconomic Report of the Presidentalso acknowledged that American consumers do pay some of the cost of these tariffs. Domestic producers, according to the report, benefit from price increases from the tariffs, but "offsetting these benefits are the costs paid by consumers in the form of higher prices and reduced consumption."