ST. LOUIS — In a sometimes nasty second presidential debate, there were again several calls by the candidates for fact-checkers to referee competing statements, which we are happy to oblige. But even when Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton weren't calling out each other on the facts, we found many of their uncontested claims to be misleading or false.
And there were more claims that we've heard before on trade, foreign affairs and nuclear weapons.
The second of three presidential debates was held on Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis. The much-anticipated town hall-style matchup came as both candidates were facing renewed scrutiny: Republican nominee Donald Trump for lewd comments about women made in 2005 but just released on Oct. 7; and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for the public release of hacked emails from her campaign. As in the first debate, we found plenty of distortions of fact.
Clinton exaggerated when she said the U.S. was now "energy independent."
Actually, the U.S. imported 11 percent of the total energy it consumed in 2015, according to the most recent figures from the Energy Information Administration, and that percentage increased to 12 percent in the first six months of this year.
While it's correct to say that last year's dependence on imported energy (from all sources, not just petroleum) was the lowest in a long time, it doesn't represent total "independence," and it's not even the first time "ever" that the percentage has been so low. It was below 11 percent every single year from 1949 (the start of EIA's figures) through 1971.
Judging by her repeated mention of the "Middle East," we suspect Clinton was thinking specifically of oil imports and not total energy. But looking only at petroleum, she's even further off base to claim "independence."
In 2015, the U.S. imported 24 percent of the petroleum and refined products that it consumed. To be sure, that was the lowest annual level of dependency on imports since 1970. However, dependency on imports has begun creeping upward once again. For the first eight months of 2016, imports have accounted for an average of 27.5 percent of consumption.
Furthermore, the U.S. is still importing a fair amount of oil from Persian Gulf states, despite what Clinton said about being "not dependent upon the Middle East."
The total imports of petroleum and petroleum products from Persian Gulf states averaged 1.5 million barrels per day last year. That's 45 percent less than the U.S. imported from them in 2001, when the total hit an annual high. But it's still a long way from zero.
Trump said he never tweeted "check out a sex tape" in the wee hours of the morning a few days after the first presidential debate. That's false — he did.
Debate moderator Anderson Cooper asked Trump whether he had the "discipline" to be president, given the fact that he sent out "a series of tweets between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., including one that told people to check out a sex tape" in the days after the first presidential debate.
Trump responded, "No, there wasn't 'check out a sex tape.' It was just take a look at the person [former Miss Universe Alicia Machado] that [Clinton] built up to be this wonderful Girl Scout, who was no Girl Scout."
But Trump did say exactly that.
As for the supposed sex tape, Trump may be referring to a grainy, night-vision scene in a Spanish reality TV show in which Machado could be having sex under covers.
There were several claims about Clinton's emails that were either wrong, misleading or lacked context.
Trump twisted the facts when he directly addressed Clinton about her use of a private email system while secretary of state. "You get a subpoena and after getting the subpoena you delete 33,000 emails. And then you acid wash them — or bleach them, as you would say — a very expensive process," Trump said.
Trump is referring to 31,830 emails that Clinton's lawyers had deemed personal and, as a result, did not have to be turned over to the government. As we have written, the department's policy allows its employees to determine which emails are work-related and must be preserved. "Messages that are not records may be deleted when no longer needed," according to the State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual (5 FAM 443.5). So Clinton was entitled to delete those nearly 32,000 emails.
It is true that the emails were deleted after Clinton received a subpoena from a Republican-controlled House committee investigation into the 2012 deaths of four Americans in Benghazi. But there is no evidence that Clinton knew that the emails were deleted after the subpoena was issued.
A quick recap of what happened, according to FBI notes of its investigation: In December 2014, a Clinton attorney told Platte River Networks – which at the time was managing Clinton's private server – that Clinton had preserved her work-related emails and "decided she no longer needed access to any of her e-mails older than 60 days." Cheryl Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff, instructed the PRN employee — who was not identified — "to modify the e-mail retention policy" on Clinton's server "to reflect this change," FBI notes show.
On March 9, 2015, Clinton's attorney informed PRN of the committee's subpoena. The PRN employee who deleted the emails told the FBI that "he had an 'oh shit' moment" sometime between March 25 and March 31, 2015, and deleted the Clinton emails from the PRN server. Clinton told the FBI that she was not aware that they were deleted in late March 2015. (See pages 17-19 for the FBI's notes on the deleted emails.) The FBI did not say when Clinton learned when the emails had been deleted.
Trump went too far when he said "after getting the subpoena you delete 33,000 emails" since there is no evidence at this time that shows she had knowledge of when the emails were deleted.
As for Clinton, she glossed over the facts when she said that there is "no evidence that anyone hacked the server I was using." That is true, but FBI Director James Comey said it was "possible" that her email system was hacked because she sent and received emails while in "the territory of sophisticated adversaries."
Clinton claimed intelligence officials said this week that Russians were behind political hacking attacks, including of the Democratic National Committee. But Trump said, "She doesn't know if Russia is doing the hacking." Clinton is tilting closer toward the truth on this one.
On Oct. 7, the Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security issued a joint statement saying they were "confident" that recent hacks into the email systems of the Democratic Party were directed by the Russian government.
Clinton invoked Abraham Lincoln in defending a comment she made in a paid speech to apartment building landlords about politicians needing "a public position and a private position."
The question referred to a private email message — posted by Wikileaks — outlining some possibly troublesome passages from Clinton's paid speeches, the transcripts of which she has not made public. It included this passage, supposedly from a transcript of a speech Clinton made to the National Multi-Family Council (a trade group for the apartment industry) on April 24, 2013 (emphasis added):
So we find Clinton was correct to this extent: If the Wikileaks quote is accurate — and Clinton did not dispute it — she was indeed holding the Great Emancipator up as an example to justify taking one position in public and another in "back room discussions." But she also was conceding that she sometimes feels it politically necessary to be "two faced," to use the phrase posed by the questioner.
While talking about Bill Clinton being "abusive to women," Trump distorted the facts about a rape case that Hillary Clinton was involved in as a legal aid lawyer in 1975.
Trump accused Hillary Clinton of "laughing at" a 12-year-old girl who was raped and claimed that Clinton "got [the accused rapist] off." But Clinton did not laugh at the girl, and her client pleaded to a lesser offense.
Also, the rape case has nothing to do with Bill Clinton, although viewers may have been misled into thinking that it did because of how Trump discussed the case.
As we have written before, Clinton defended an accused rapist in 1975 when she worked at the University of Arkansas School Legal Aid Clinic. In her book "Living History," Clinton recalled that Mahlon Gibson, a Washington County prosecutor, told her that the accused rapist "wanted a woman lawyer" to defend him, and that Gibson had recommended Clinton to Judge Maupin Cummings.
In a taped interview in 1980, Clinton recalled the rape case, and she can be heard laughing three times, beginning with a joke she makes about the accuracy of polygraphs. She said, "He took a lie detector test. I had him take a polygraph, which he passed, which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs."
At another point, Clinton said the prosecutor balked at turning over evidence, forcing her to go to the judge to obtain it. "So I got an order to see the evidence and the prosecutor didn't want me to see the evidence. I had to go to Maupin Cummings and convince Maupin that yes indeed I had a right to see the evidence [Clinton laughs] before it was presented."
Clinton did get the evidence, which turned out to be a pair of the accused's underwear with a hole in it — which Clinton laughed about as she retold the story of taking the underwear to a forensic expert in New York. Clinton said that the expert told her that there wasn't enough material on the underwear to test. In recalling the incident, Clinton said she told the judge that the forensic expert is "ready to come up from New York to prevent this miscarriage of justice." It was at this point that Clinton laughed.
We leave it for others to judge if her laughter was appropriate, but Clinton wasn't laughing at the victim.
Clinton also didn't "get him off." The defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser offense and served one year in county jail and four years of probation.
In dueling tax claims, the candidates distorted the effects of each other's tax plans.
Trump said of Clinton's plan, "She is raising everybody's taxes massively." Everybody? No. Analyses by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center and the pro-business Tax Foundation both concluded that almost all of the tax increases proposed by Clinton would fall on the top 10 percent of taxpayers. Hardest hit would be the less than 0.1 percent of taxpayers who earn more than $5 million per year. "Nearly all of the tax increases would fall on the top 1 percent; the bottom 95 percent of taxpayers would see little or no change in their taxes," the Tax Policy Center concluded.
Clinton, meanwhile, claimed Trump's plan, "would end up raising taxes on middle class families, millions of middle class families." An analysis by New York University School of Law professor Lily L. Batchelder found that Trump's plan "would actually significantly raise taxes for millions of low- and middle-income families with children, with especially large tax increases for working single parents." In all, the report estimated Trump's plan would increase taxes for about 7.8 million families with children who are minors, or roughly 25 million individuals. But the Tax Foundation told us that while it was able to replicate those results, its full analysis of Trump's plan found that, on average, middle income taxpayers would get a tax cut. "As our distributional tables show, the typical middle class family would get a net tax cut of several hundred dollars," Alan Cole, an economist with the Tax Foundation, told us. "Simply put, the middle class as a whole would see a tax reduction, but some middle class families would see a tax increase."
The two also sparred over the so-called carried interest loophole. Trump, who proposes to close it, incorrectly said Clinton wants to keep it.
"Hillary Clinton has friends that want all of these provisions, including the carried interest provision, which is very important to Wall Street people," Trump said. "But they really want the carried interest provision, which I believe Hillary Clinton is leaving and it's very interesting why she is leaving carried interest."
Trump again pushed the idea that Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign had started the false rumor that Obama was not born in the U.S. and was ineligible to be president. Trump wrongly claimed that Clinton's campaign manager said "exactly that" on television recently.
Trump is wrong about Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton's 2008 campaign manager. Solis Doyle has said that a "rogue volunteer coordinator" in Iowa was immediately fired when the campaign found out that the aide forwarded an email promoting the birther conspiracy.
And Solis Doyle said that she did apologize to Obama campaign manager David Plouffe for the incident. "This was not the kind of campaign we wanted to run," she said she told Plouffe.
As for Blumenthal, he has denied a claim made by McClatchy's former bureau chief James Asher that Blumenthal, a senior adviser to Clinton's 2008 campaign, encouraged McClatchy to chase the story of Obama's birth.
Shashank Bengali, who now works at the Los Angeles Times, said Asher told him to "look into everything about Obama's family in Kenya," according to Politico. Asher gave Politico an email that he received from Bengali that said, "I can't recall if we specifically discussed the birther claim, but I'm sure that was part of what I researched."
Other than that, there is no clear evidence to support Asher's account.
Trump used an old GOP scare tactic, wrongly claiming that Clinton wanted to implement a government-run, "single-payer," health care system, like Canada's. He also cherry-picked high proposed premium increases in the exchanges, and he said that the law should be replaced with "something absolutely much less expensive," when repealing the law is expected to increase federal deficits.
We'll start with the single-payer claim.
Clinton supports making Medicare available to those over age 55, and creating a "public option," or a federal insurance plan, that would compete with private plans on the ACA exchanges. She hasn't called for a single-payer system.
Earlier versions of the legislation contained a "public option," or a federal insurance plan that would be offered, along with private insurance, on the ACA exchanges, where people who buy their own insurance can get coverage. Republicans claimed this public option would eventually lead to a Canadian- or British-style system of complete government-funded, universal health care. As we wrote at the time, the impact of the public option would depend on how it was structured. But one of the final versions of the House bill would have led to about 6 million Americans joining the public plan, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The public option wasn't included in the final bill that President Obama signed into law.
But what had been proposed before still wasn't anywhere near "single-payer," a system in which everyone would have health coverage provided by the government.
Trump also cherry-picked high proposed premium increases on the ACA exchanges, as he has done before, saying "your health insurance … is going up by numbers that are astronomical, 68 percent, 59 percent, 71 percent."
The Kaiser Family Foundation analyzed preliminary rates in cities in 16 states and Washington, D.C., and found the second-lowest cost silver plan would increase by a weighted average of 9 percent from this year if the rates hold. The change in premiums would vary widely — from a drop of 13 percent in Providence, Rhode Island, to a hike of 25 percent in Nashville. That's higher than the increase for 2016, which was only 2 percent for those areas.
Also, 80 percent of those buying exchange plans get federal subsidies, which lower premium contributions to a percentage of their income.
As for employer-based insurance plans, where most insured Americans get their coverage, those premiums have been rising at historical low rates for the past several years.
Finally, Trump said that the ACA is "unbelievably expensive for our country. … We have to repeal it and replace it with something absolutely much less expensive." But the CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation's latest estimates on the impact of repealing the law find doing away with it would likely increase federal deficits over the 2016-2025 time period. While there is uncertainty in such estimates, CBO and JCT say, their "best estimate is that repealing the ACA would increase federal budget deficits by $137 billion over that 10-year period."
Clinton went too far in touting the benefits of the ACA, saying that a provision to allow young adults to stay on their parents plans until age 26 was "something that didn't happen before." In fact, at least 31 states already had similar provisions before the law was enacted.
All of the provisions she rattled off were indeed part of the ACA. And it's true that the law extended policies nationwide allowing young adults under age 26 to remain on their parents' plans. That provision took effect in September 2010. But 31 states had similar measures in effect before then, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"Before implementation of the ACA, at least 31 states required carriers to extend coverage to young adults," the NCSL states. "The age at which insurers were no longer required to provide coverage to young adults under their guardians' plans varied by state. Additionally, some states required certain conditions to be met by young adults in order to be eligible for coverage under their guardians' plans. For example, a number of states required that young adults be unmarried in order to qualify."
Some states went beyond age 26. In New York and Pennsylvania, unmarried young adults could remain on their parents' policies until age 30, and New Jersey extended that to age 31.
Clinton also said that insurance companies "can't deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition." To be clear, before the ACA, employer-provided plans could exclude coverage of the preexisting condition temporarily, for up to a year. If a new employee had continuous coverage previously, with a gap in coverage no longer than 63 days, that employee was granted a waiver for that exclusion period, equal to the time spent on the previous plan.
Trump said that "Ambassador [Chris] Stevens sent 600 requests for help" before he was killed in an attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. But as the Washington Post Fact Checker reported, not all 600 came from Stevens, nor were they all requests for security upgrades, as it may have appeared to those watching or listening to the debate.
The total refers to the "cumulative number of security requests/concerns from Benghazi – 2012," according to a chart the House Select Committee on Benghazi showed during a congressional hearing in October 2015. And "requests" and "concerns" are not the same thing, the Fact Checker said.
From its report:
However, officials could not say how many of the 600 were security requests and how many were concerns.
Also, the State Department Accountability Review Board, which did call U.S. security in Benghazi "inadequate" prior to the attack, noted in its report that the agency made several security upgrades in 2012. So at least some of the security issues raised by officials were addressed, which may not have been clear from Trump's statement.
Trump and Clinton had a disagreement over President Obama's failure to back up his threat to use military force if Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.
Trump said Clinton "was there as secretary of state with the so-called line in the sand," referring to Obama's threat that Assad's use of chemical weapons would cross "a red line for us." Obama made that remark in August 2012 in response to a question about whether he "envision[ed] using U.S. military" in Syria.
Clinton interrupted Trump and claimed that she was not in office.
It's not really clear if Trump was criticizing Obama for making the threat or not following through on it, because Clinton interrupted him. But the fact is, Clinton was in office when Obama made his threat in August 2012, but not when the president defended his failure to back it up in September 2013. Clinton was secretary of state from January 2009 to February 2013.
Obama has been criticized for not following through on his threat, so perhaps Clinton quickly interrupted Trump to distance herself from Obama's decision not to take action. However, she did publicly support that decision even though she was no longer in office.
Clinton repeated a campaign talking point that overstates income inequality.
"All" of the income gains since the Great Recession haven't gone to the top.
Clinton usually says that 90 percent of the income gains have gone to the top 1 percent. And that was the case, at least according to the work of economist Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, based on preliminary 2013 data. But that talking point is now outdated.
Saez's most recent figures show that the top 1 percent of families captured 52 percent of the income growth from 2009 to 2015. That's also the case for 1993-2015.
He wrote in his June 30, 2016, report: "In 2014 and especially in 2015, the incomes of bottom 99% families have finally started recovering in earnest from the losses of the Great Recession. By 2015, real incomes of bottom 99% have now recovered about two thirds of the losses experienced during the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009. Top 1% families still capture 52% of total real income growth per family from 2009-2015 (Table 1) but the recovery from the Great Recession now looks much less lopsided than in previous years."
In stressing that Muslims need to notify the police of wrongdoing in their communities, Trump claimed without evidence that "many people saw the bombs all over the apartment of the two people that killed 14 and wounded many, many people" in San Bernardino last year.
As we have written, a neighbor reportedly had noticed packages being delivered to the San Bernardino home of the shooters, and told a friend that the couple was doing a lot of work in their garage. The friend said the neighbor did not want to racially profile the couple, so she did not report it. Another worker in the neighborhood reported seeing well-dressed Middle Eastern men walking from the house to lunch several times, which the worker said he thought was unusual but also did not report.
But in neither case did anyone report that they had seen "bombs all over the floor" of the couple's home, and failed to report it to authorities.
Trump made the same claim about the San Bernardino case after a mass shooting in June at a gay night club in Orlando. At that time, Trump said "Muslims are the ones that have to report him," referring to the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen. However, Mohammed A. Malik contacted the FBI in 2014 after he learned that Mateen had been watching videotapes of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemen-based imam. The FBI confirmed Malik's story, the Washington Post wrote.
And it was Groundhog Day for fact-checkers on several other topics:
Nuclear weapons: Clinton exaggerated when she said she was responsible for getting "a treaty with Russia to lower nuclear weapons." The New START agreement, which Clinton helped negotiate, caps the number of nuclear weapons that Russia and the U.S. can deploy on long-range (or strategic) launchers at 1,550. But, as we wrote, it does not require either side to destroy any nuclear weapons or reduce their nuclear stockpile, and it doesn't place limits on shorter-range nuclear weapons. Also, Russia was below the limit for deployed strategic nuclear warheads when the treaty took effect in 2011, and it has increased them since then. As of Sept. 1, Russia had 1,796 deployed strategic nuclear warheads — up from 1,537 deployed warheads in February 2011, according to the Department of State.
Libya, Iraq and ISIS: Trump once again criticized Clinton for "bad judgments on Libya, on Syria, on Iraq. I mean, her and Obama, whether you like it or not, the way they got out of Iraq, the vacuum they've left, that's why ISIS formed in the first place." Trump conveniently leaves out that he posted a YouTube video in February 2011 voicing support for U.S. intervention in Libya to remove Moammar Gadhafi from power, and that he told CNN in a 2007 interview that the U.S. should "declare victory [in Iraq] and leave … [T]his is a total catastrophe and you might as well get out now, because you just are wasting time." And finally Trump pins too much blame for the rise in ISIS — whose origin dates back to the Bush administration — on the troop withdrawal (an issue we explored in length in our story, "Trump's False Obama-ISIS Link.")
Libyan oil: It's been half a year, and Trump is still making the false claim that "ISIS has a good chunk" of Libyan oil fields. We first flagged this statement in April, when an expert on Libya's oil operations told us there's no evidence that the Islamic State has control of any oil fields in that country.
Trade deficit: As he did during the first presidential debate, Trump wrongly claimed that last year the U.S. had "an almost $800 billion trade deficit." Trump is referring to the trade deficit for goods, which was $762.6 billion in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But the U.S. had a $262.2 billion trade surplus in services, including intellectual property such as software, for a net trade deficit in goods and services of $500.4 billion last year.
NAFTA: Trump said that the North American Free Trade Agreement was "signed by her husband," referring to President Bill Clinton. As we have written, NAFTA was negotiated and signed by President George H.W. Bush. Clinton signed the implementing legislation. Trump also said the trade agreement had "stripped us" of manufacturing jobs. A 2015 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service called the net impact "relatively modest," saying "NAFTA did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics or the large economic gains predicted by supporters."
Iraq War: Trump repeated that he "was against the war in Iraq" and claimed that this "has not been debunked." But we have found no evidence that he was against the Iraq War before it began. At the first debate, Trump cited as evidence "numerous conversations" that he privately had with Sean Hannity of Fox News. He also has cited a January 2003 TV interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto. In the TV interview, Trump told Cavuto that President Bush needed to make a decision on Iraq. "Either you attack or you don't attack," he says. But he offered no opinion on what Bush should do. There is simply no public record of Trump opposing the war before it started.
Clinton on coal: Trump claimed that "Clinton wants to put all the [coal] miners out of business." At a CNN town hall forum in March, Clinton said she wants to "move away from coal," and that in the shift to renewable energy production "we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." But she added, "We don't want to forget those people." And she promised to bring renewable energy jobs to coal country to replace lost coal jobs. Clinton reiterated that position in the debate, saying she "supports moving toward more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can. … But I also want to be sure we do not leave people behind. That is why I am the only candidate, from the very beginning of this campaign, who had a plan to help us revitalize coal country."
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