NEW YORK -- Republican front-runner Donald Trump said several times on Tuesday morning that he came out against the Iraq War before the U.S. invaded the country in 2003, even though there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that he publicly opposed the invasion until after it had occurred.
"I was the one, and I said it very strongly, and you know this, and it was reported by everybody because, unfortunately I get a disproportionate amount of publicity," Trump said during a phone interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. "But in 2004, I said, 'Don’t go into Iraq.' And earlier, [in] 2003, 'Don’t go into Iraq, you’re going to totally destabilize the Middle East.'"
Later in the interview, Trump told Cuomo that he said "don’t knock out Iraq" and that the U.S. should "stay out of Iraq" because an invasion would destabilize the Middle East.
Trump has claimed multiple times -- including during recent TV interviews, at campaign stops and on the primary debate stage -- that he spoke out against the Iraq War, The Huffington Post reported last month.
A Trump spokeswoman did not respond when asked by HuffPost last month and again on Tuesday to comment on the candidate's public views before the invasion.
On several occasions, Trump has cited a July 2004 Reuters story as evidence of his foresight, even though the article was published 16 months after the U.S. invasion. The brief wire story was based on an Esquire interview published earlier that week, in which Trump harshly criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the war.
HuffPost used Lexis-Nexis to look for public comments Trump may have made against the war before March 19, 2003, the day the U.S. invaded Iraq. None were found.
Six days after the invasion, Trump reportedly called the war a "mess" at an Oscars after-party. If Trump held strong anti-war views before then, they were not "reported by everybody," as he said Tuesday -- and has suggested repeatedly while campaigning.
During the Sept. 16 Republican debate, the candidate said he could point to "25 different stories" about him being against the war before it began.
Shortly after that comment, BuzzFeed reported that it, too, could not find any evidence the businessman had spoken publicly against war before the invasion. BuzzFeed's findings got immediate and significant pick-up on social media during the debate.
Yet despite the lack of evidence, Trump's claims continue to go unchallenged during TV interviews as he makes the case for why he should be the next commander in chief.
This happened once again on Sunday, when he appeared on "Meet the Press" with Chuck Todd.
"Chuck, I said, 'Don't do Iraq,'" Trump told the host.
Todd did not ask when he said that.