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.
• Clinton exaggerated when she said the U.S. was now “energy independent.” The country imported 11% of total energy consumed in 2015.
• Trump falsely said he never tweeted “check out a sex tape” in the wee hours of the morning a few days after the first presidential debate. He did.
• Trump told Clinton “after getting the subpoena” to turn over documents related to the Benghazi investigation “you delete 33,000 emails.” A contractor managing Clinton’s server deleted the emails. There is no evidence Clinton knew when they were deleted.
• Trump also said Clinton’s emails were “acid washed,” calling it a “very expensive process.” Neither statement is true. The emails were deleted using a free software program that does not involve the use of chemicals.
• Clinton said there is “no evidence that anyone hacked the server I was using.” That is true, but the FBI said it was “possible” that her email system was hacked because she sent and received emails in “the territory of sophisticated adversaries.”
• Clinton said intelligence officials said this week that Russians were behind political hacking attacks in the U.S. Trump said, “She doesn’t know if Russia is doing the hacking.” Clinton is closer to the truth.
• Clinton claimed she was holding up Abraham Lincoln as an example of leadership when she defended “back room” deals. Turns out, she did.
• Trump distorted the facts about a rape case that Clinton was involved in as a legal aid lawyer in 1975, wrongly accusing Clinton of “laughing at” the victim.
• Both candidates distorted the other’s tax plan. Trump said Clinton was “raising everybody’s taxes massively,” when two analyses concluded almost all of the tax increases she proposes would fall on the top 10%. And Clinton claimed Trump’s plan “would end up raising taxes on middle class families.” Some families would see increased taxes, but on average middle-income taxpayers would get a tax cut.
• Trump wrongly claimed that Clinton’s 2008 campaign manager said on TV that the campaign had started the false rumor that Obama was not born in the U.S.
• Trump wrongly claimed that Clinton wanted to implement a government-run, “single-payer,” health care system, like Canada’s, and he cherry-picked high proposed premium increases in the Affordable Care Act exchanges.
• Clinton went too far in saying an ACA provision to allow young adults to stay on their parents plans until age 26 was “something that didn’t happen before.” At least 31 states had similar provisions before the law was enacted.
• 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 not all 600 were requests for security upgrades, nor were they all from Stevens.
• The candidates disagreed over Clinton’s role in a U.S. response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Both had a point. Clinton was in office when President Obama said Assad’s use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line for us,” but she was gone when Obama failed to back up his threat.
• Clinton claimed that since the Great Recession the gains have all gone to the top, but a 2016 economic report said that in 2014 and 2015 “the incomes of bottom 99% families have finally started recovering in earnest.”
• Trump again claimed without evidence that “many people saw the bombs all over the apartment” of the San Bernardino shooters.
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: Trump for lewd comments about women made in 2005 but just released on Oct. 7, and 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.”
Clinton: "You know that we are now for the first time ever energy independent. We are not dependent upon the Middle East, but the Middle East still controls a lot of the prices. …We’ve got to remain energy independent. It gives us much more power and freedom than to be worried about what goes on in the Middle East. We have enough worries over there without having to worry about that."
Actually, the U.S. imported 11% 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% 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% 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% 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% 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% 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’s Sex Tape Tweet
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.
On Sept. 30 at 5:30 a.m., Trump tweeted, “Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?”
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.
Also, Trump said the emails were “acid washed,” calling it a “very expensive process.” Neither statement is true. As we wrote, the FBI said that PRN used BleachBit, which is a free software program that does not involve the use of chemicals.
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.”
Comey, July 5: "With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, we did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked. But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account."
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.
Clinton: "Our intelligence community just came out and said in the last few days, that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election."
Trump: "… I notice any time anything wrong happens they like to say, the Russians, the Russians — she doesn’t know it’s the Russians doing the hacking, maybe there is no hacking, but they always blame Russia."
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.
Joint Statement, Oct. 7: "The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities."
Russia has denied any involvement. But NBC News reported that U.S. intelligence officials were able to determine Russia’s involvement based on the “signature” of the attacks, which “hackers may not have realized they left behind.
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.”
Q: "[Y]ou say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So … is it okay for politicians to be two-faced?"
Clinton: "[T]hat was something I said about Abraham Lincoln, and after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called 'Lincoln' [working to] get the Congress to approve the 13th amendment [which prohibits slavery]. It was principled and it was strategic. … That was a great I thought a great display of presidential leadership."
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):
Clinton (as quoted by Wikileaks): "You just have to sort of figure out how to — getting back to that word, 'balance' — how to balance the public and the private efforts that are necessary to be successful, politically, and that’s not just a comment about today.
"That, I think, has probably been true for all of our history, and if you saw the Spielberg movie, 'Lincoln,' and how he was maneuvering and working to get the 13th Amendment passed, and he called one of my favorite predecessors, Secretary Seward, who had been the governor and senator from New York, ran against Lincoln for president, and he told Seward, I need your help to get this done. And Seward called some of his lobbyist friends who knew how to make a deal, and they just kept going at it.
"I mean, politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position."
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.
Clinton ‘Laughing’ at Rape Victim?
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.
Trump: "Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously. Four of them are here tonight. One of the women, who is a wonderful woman, at 12 years-old, was raped at 12. Her client she represented got him off and she’s seen laughing on two separate occasions laughing at the girl who was raped. Kathy Shelton, that young woman, is here with us tonight."
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.
Competing Tax Claims
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% of taxpayers. Hardest hit would be the less than 0.1% 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.”
According to her tax plan, Clinton wants to close “the ‘carried interest’ loophole that allows hedge fund, private equity, and other Wall Street money managers to avoid paying ordinary income rates on their earnings.” Trump has also proposed this.
Clinton noted that she has been in favor of getting rid of this loophole since she was a senator from New York. While it is true that Clinton came out against carried interest during her tenure in the Senate, she was the last of the Democratic presidential candidates in 2007 to do so.
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: "Well, you owe the president an apology, because as you know very well, your campaign, Sidney Blumenthal — he’s another real winner that you have — and he’s the one that got this started, along with your campaign manager, and they were on television just two weeks ago, she was saying exactly that."
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.
Trump: "She wants to go to a single-payer plan … somewhat similar to Canada. … But she wants to go to single payer, which means the government basically rules everything."
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.
Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, Republicans repeatedly warned of a government takeover of health care. But the ACA didn’t do that — instead, it built upon, and expanded, private insurance as well as Medicaid.
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.
During the Democratic primary campaign, it was Sen. Bernie Sanders, not Clinton, who called for a single-payer system. Clinton criticized that idea, saying early this year, “I don’t believe number one we should be starting over. We had enough of a fight to get to the Affordable Care Act.”
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%, 59%, 71%.”
It’s true that some insurers have requested high rate increases for 2017 premiums on the exchanges. Any increase above 10% has to be submitted and approved by government regulators for the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1. But other plans have proposed decreases.
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% from this year if the rates hold. The change in premiums would vary widely — from a drop of 13% in Providence, R.I., to a hike of 25% in Nashville. That’s higher than the increase for 2016, which was only 2% for those areas.
Also, 80% 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.
Clinton: "But everybody else, the 170 million of us who get health insurance through our employers got big benefits. Number one, insurance companies can’t deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition. Number two, no lifetime limits, which is a big deal if you have serious health problems.
"Number three, women can’t be charged more than men for our health insurance, which is the way it used to be before the Affordable Care Act. Number four, if you’re under 26, and your parents have a policy, you can be on that policy until the age of 26, something that didn’t happen before."
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 pre-existing 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.