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The claim: El Chapo testified that he bribed Nancy Pelosi to maintain an open U.S.-Mexico border
Since the U.S. trial of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán — who was first imprisoned in 1993 and gained international notoriety for his escape from a maximum-security prison through a mile-long tunnel — a litany of social media posts have popularized claims about Guzman's relationship with U.S. politicians.
Days before his trial ended on Feb. 12, 2019, Snopes reported on a post claiming El Chapo testified he had given millions of dollars to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The post accrued nearly 30,000 shares.
In October 2019, another theory cropped up stating that former FBI Director James Comey laundered $150 million of Guzmán's "cartel money" for Pelosi. Other theories that have gained traction include a conspiracy among Guzmán, Pelosi, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. All of these claims are false.
Facebook users have recently resurrected this category of theories, however, in relation to Pelosi. A claim is circulating that during his testimony in U.S. court, Guzmán said he bribed Pelosi in exchange for an "open border" – likely referring to Pelosi's opposition to the construction of a fortified wall on the southern border of the U.S.
At least two viral posts made the claim, including one posted by user Michael Casey on March 4, shared upward of 3,400 times, and one posted on March 7 and since deleted.
“El Chappo (sic) testifies in U.S. court he paid off Nancy Pelosi to keep the Mexican/U.S. border open for drug cartels! Impeach Pelosi!” the post reads.
USA TODAY reached out to both users for comment. Casey said he first shared the post several years ago, after seeing it on the timeline of a friend. "I shared it years ago, with no warnings on it when I first shared it," he said.
The viral claims about El Chapo's testimony are impossible because Guzmán never testified in his U.S. trial. In addition to USA TODAY, many outlets reported that his defense decided to rest without testimony from Guzmán, including Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and The Associated Press.
In an email to USA TODAY, Guzmán's defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman wrote, "He has not made any public comment about this issue or any other issue. About anything. Any suggestion otherwise is false."
A PDF transcript from the court reporter of El Chapo's 30-minute defense along with his final remarks, during which he decried his treatment in the U.S. prison, shows he never mentioned Pelosi. The Justice Department’s press release stating findings from the trial doesn't mention Pelosi or any other U.S. political figure.
The suggestion within the claim that El Chapo gave money to Pelosi is also baseless. No evidence for this claim was provided by the poster of the claim; in addition, Snopes tracked down the user who most likely originated the viral claim from July 2019 that El Chapo bribed Schiff, Pelosi and Clinton and found that he could not provide any evidence for his claim, either.
"This is obviously false," Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman and deputy chief of staff, wrote to USA TODAY in an email.
Along with declining to testify, Guzmán remained almost entirely silent during his trial, which began on Nov. 5, 2018, after a yearlong effort on the part of the Mexican government to extradite him and nearly two more years spent in the U.S. awaiting the trial. On Feb. 12, 2019, the jury found him guilty on all counts.
That same day, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced a bill stating that any illegal profits forfeited to the U.S. government as a result of El Chapo's trial would be put toward the construction of a southern border wall. Cruz's bill did not pass.
U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan sentenced El Chapo to life in prison plus 30 years and ordered him to forfeit $12.6 billion on July 17, 2019.
Our rating: False
We rate the claim that Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán testified that he bribed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to maintain an open U.S.-Mexico border FALSE, based on our research. El Chapo did not testify at his U.S. trial, nor did his defense make any comment related to Pelosi, as confirmed by his lawyer.
Our fact-check sources:
USA TODAY, Jan. 28, 2019, "Feds rest case against Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán; accused drug lord won't testify in his own defense"
Snopes, Feb. 12, 2019, “Did ‘El Chapo’ Testify That He Gave Millions to Pelosi, Schiff, and Clinton?”
Reuters, Jan. 28, 2019, "‘El Chapo’ says he will not testify in his own defense"
Associated Press, Jan. 29, 2019, "El Chapo won't take the witness stand at trial"
CNN, Jan. 29, 2019, "Only one witness testified in El Chapo’s defense, and it wasn’t the drug lord"
United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, July 17, 2019, United States vs. Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Lorea: Transcript of criminal cause for sentencing before the Honorable Brian M Cogan, United States District Judge (Thanks to Keegan Hamilton of Vice)
Vice, July 19, 2029, "These Were El Chapo's Final Words Before Being Shipped Off to Supermax"
Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York, Feb. 12, 2019, "Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Sinaloa Cartel Leader, Convicted of Running a Continuing Criminal Enterprise and Other Drug-Related Charges"
Email interview with Jeffrey Lichtman, El Chapo's defense lawyer
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: El Chapo didn't testify at his trial in US court