Lester Holt Succeeds in Fact Checking Trump in Real Time

SOURCEThink Progress

Throughout the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, host Lester Holt pushed back against several false claims made by the Republican candidate — achieving what his NBC colleague Matt Lauer failed to do early this month.


While answering a question about racism in the U.S. and police-community relations, Trump re-upped his past rhetoric about needing tougher policing and more law and order. But he also regurgitated a now debunked claim that the stop-and-frisk policy made popular by the New York Police Department was a success.

Although Holt did not take on stop-and-frisk’s failure as a crime-fighting policy, he did point out another problem with the program:

TRUMP: Now, whether or not in a place like Chicago you do stop and frisk, which worked very well, Mayor Giuliani is here, worked very well in New York. It brought the crime rate way down. But you take the gun away from criminals that shouldn’t be having it. . . .

HOLT: Your two — your two minutes expired, but I do want to follow up. Stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men.

Trump’s Tax Returns

When asked about his failure to release his tax returns, Trump responded that he’d be happy to release his tax returns once a routine audit was completed. But when Trump tried to pivot to the country’s trade deficit, Holt refused to let him change the conversation so quickly.

TRUMP: Lester, we have a trade deficit with all of the countries that we do business with, of almost $800 billion a year. You know what that is? That means, who’s negotiating these trade deals. We have people that are political hacks negotiating our trade deals.

HOLT: The IRS says an audit…

TRUMP: Excuse me.

HOLT: … of your taxes — you’re perfectly free to release your taxes during an audit. And so the question, does the public’s right to know outweigh your personal…

TRUMP: Well, I told you, I will release them as soon as the audit. Look, I’ve been under audit almost for 15 years. I know a lot of wealthy people that have never been audited. I said, do you get audited? I get audited almost every year.


In response to a question about his racist “birther” theory that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. — a theory that Trump finally abandoned this year — Trump incorrectly blamed Clinton for creating that narrative during her 2008 presidential campaign. He also said Clinton‘s team failed to procure the birth certificate to prove her theory, adding that he influenced the current administration to release the documentation. But when he tried to pivot to economic and border policies, Holt pressed him further about his role in fueling the birther debate.

TRUMP: Because I want to get on to defeating ISIS, because I want to get on to creating jobs, because I want to get on to having a strong border, because I want to get on to things that are very important to me and that are very important to the country.

HOLT: I will let you respond. It’s important. But I just want to get the answer here. The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You’ve continued to tell the story and question the president’s legitimacy in 2012, ’13, ’14, ‘15…

Iraq War

Holt stated that Trump supported the the Iraq War, and wouldn’t back down when the candidate argued over the claim.

HOLT: Mr. Trump, with a lot of these are judgment questions. You had supported the war in Iraq before the invasion. What makes your —

TRUMP: I did not support the war in Iraq.

HOLT: 2002.

TRUMP: That is a mainstream media nonsense put out by her because she frankly I think the best person in her campaign is mainstream media.

HOLT: My question —

TRUMP: Would you like to hear? I was against — wait a minute. I was against the war in Iraq. Just so you put it out.

HOLT: The record shows otherwise.

See NationofChange’s roundup of live fact-checking for the first presidential debate here.


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Carimah Townes is the Criminal Justice Reporter for ThinkProgress. She received a B.A. in political science from UCLA, where she also minored in cultural anthropology. While in school, she served as a festival planner and interned with the Office of Mayor Villaraigosa. Before joining ThinkProgress, she worked for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and interned with the Communications and Development teams at Vital Voices Global Partnership. Carimah is originally from Amherst, Massachusetts.