The president’s admission came during a meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in the Oval Office Friday while he was rehashing a story he has told multiple times. Biden reiterated that he was not arrested by authorities when he tried to visit former South African President Nelson Mandela in the 1970s. He told voters on at least three occasions during the 2020 campaign that he was arrested in South Africa.
“One of the great moments of my career was when — the first time Nelson Mandela came to the United States [in 1990]. And we were in — I was a senator at the time, and we met in the Senate Foreign Relations executive committee room,” Biden told Ramaphosa, according to the New York Post.
“And I said once — I said I got arrested. I wasn’t arrested, I got stopped, prevented from moving. But he was extremely gracious,” Biden admitted.
The president’s admittedly false claim was picked apart by The New York Times, who wrote in February of 2020 that Biden had told the story about his fictional arrest three times in two weeks.
“This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” Biden said at a South Carolina campaign event, the Times reported. “I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island.”
The president also claimed that Mandela personally thanked him for being arrested. “After he [Mandela] got free and became president, he came to Washington and came to my office. He threw his arms around me and said, ‘I want to say thank you.’ I said, ‘What are you thanking me for, Mr. President?’ He said: ‘You tried to see me. You got arrested trying to see me.’” Biden said.
The New York Times asked Andrew Young, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. who traveled with then-Sen. Biden to South Africa, if Biden’s story sounded legit. “No, I was never arrested and I don’t think he was, either,” Young told the Times.
Biden’s claim was also fact-checked by The Washington Post, who gave him four Pinocchios for his “ridiculous” story.
Shortly after Biden’s fib, his campaign cleaned up and admitted that he was not arrested in South Africa, but was rather “separated” from members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Biden then personally addressed his story in late February of 2020 and set the record straight.