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Our Fact Checks of the First Debate

Posted by sschleicher - 27. September 2016

Fact-Checking the First Presidential Debate

clinton-trump-ccDonald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton squared off over the Islamic State militant group, jobs and climate change.

By TURNER COWLES and DAVE HORN on Publish Date September 27, 2016. 

Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump kept fact-checkers busy throughout their first debate on Monday night as they sparred over their policies and records on the economy, national security, the environment and their personal pasts. In keeping with how he has run his campaign, Mr. Trump stretched the facts more often than Mrs. Clinton did; a couple of times, Mrs. Clinton literally called out for fact-checkers from the stage. (Here’s how we analyzed it live, and the highlights.)

Foreign Policy and National Security

On Mr. Trump saying Mrs. Clinton had been “fighting ISIS your entire adult life.”

In reality, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, began as an Al Qaeda affiliate that sprang up in Iraq as the Sunni insurgency amid the power vacuum created by the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003. It was largely defeated and pushed into Syria during the Obama administration’s first term, when Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state. It eventually split from the original Al Qaeda and rebranded itself as ISIS, sweeping back into Iraq in 2014, when she was out of office.

—Charlie Savage

_____

On Mrs. Clinton blaming Russia for conducting cyberattacks, saying Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia were playing a “long game.”

She’s right, but the United States has not yet publicly named Russia as the attacker against the Democratic National Committee, much less the State Department, the White House and the Joint Chiefs.

“The United States has much greater capacity,” she said, seeming to threaten that the United States could respond in kind. She appeared to be referring to Washington’s offensive cyberability, made clear in the American attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, code-named “Olympic Games,” which played out while she was secretary of state. Again, the United States has never admitted to that cyberoffensive action.

Mr. Trump seemed to try to deflect responsibility away from Moscow. “It could be Russia,” he said, “but it could also be China.” United States intelligence officials disagree: This most recent round of attacks, they concluded with “high confidence,” indeed originated from Russia.

—David E. Sanger

_____

On Mr. Trump saying the Islamic State would never have come into power if the United States had stayed in Iraq.

The assertion is impossible to disprove, but it’s unlikely that 10,000 troops remaining in Iraq would have made much of a difference — especially in Syria and Libya, where the United States never had troops.

—David E. Sanger

_____

On Mr. Trump saying that the United States should have taken Iraq’s oil.

It is an assertion that he made a few weeks ago, and one that was roundly criticized at the time. Seizing Iraq’s oil — or the resources of any country — is illegal under international law, and doing so would have likely prompted condemnation from around the world. In purely practical terms, seizing Iraq’s oil would have required tens of thousands of American troops to protect Iraq’s oil infrastructure, which is spread out across the country and largely above ground. It also is probably safe to assume that Iraqis themselves would have objected to their country’s main source of wealth being used to enrich another country.

—Matthew Rosenberg

_____

On Mr. Trump’s accusation that the withdrawal of troops left a vacuum in Iraq and Syria, which allowed the Islamic State to take root.

In fact, Mrs. Clinton advocated arming moderate rebels in Syria and said afterward that Mr. Obama’s refusal to do so may have left a vacuum there. She also privately backed a Pentagon proposal to leave a larger residual force in Iraq than the administration ended up leaving.

—Mark Landler

_____

On Mr. Trump’s assertion that many NATO countries do not contribute their full share to NATO.

Mr. Trump was correct in asserting that many NATO countries do not contribute their full share to NATO — a complaint that Mr. Obama and a former secretary of defense, Robert Gates, have also voiced. But he was wrong about NATO failing to fight terrorism. NATO was in Afghanistan starting in 2003 — part of the battle against Al Qaeda.

—David E. Sanger

_____

On Mr. Trump’s opposition to the Iraq war.

Mr. Trump said he opposed the war in Iraq before it began. But during the buildup to the war, he expressed his support in an interview with Howard Stern, according to audio unearthed by BuzzFeed.

—Steve Eder

_____

On Mrs. Clinton’s assertion that the United States needs an “intelligence surge” to help prevent terrorist attacks by homegrown violent extremists.

The United States already collects and shares more intelligence than ever. The F.B.I. has been successful in arresting suspects who are in contact with terrorist figures overseas. The greater challenge for law enforcement today is often that homegrown terrorists commit no crime until an attack. And the F.B.I. is not allowed to conduct open-ended investigations without evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Nor is it allowed to collect intelligence solely related to people’s views. Admiring Osama bin Laden or the Islamic State or expressing hatred for the United States is not a crime.

—Matt Apuzzo

_____

On Mr. Trump’s claim that the United States is “not updating” its nuclear arsenal and the Iran nuclear deal.

Mr. Trump is wrong. The United States has a major nuclear modernization program underway, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. On the Iran nuclear deal, he complained that the United States paid $1.7 billion in cash to Iran. It did. But it was Iran’s money, for military goods never delivered to Iran after the Iranian Revolution. (The principal was $400 million; the remaining $1.3 billion was interest owed in the ensuing three decades.)

 

—David E. Sanger

Economy

On Mr. Trump saying that China is “devaluing their currency” to gain an economic advantage.

This is an outdated accusation. Countries that hold down the value of their currency can sell goods in other countries more cheaply. And many economists see evidence that China suppressed the value of its currency for years, contributing to its rise as an industrial power. But in recent years, China has sought to stabilize and even increase the value of its currency, part of a broader shift in its economic policies. There is no evidence that China is presently engaging in currency devaluation.

—Binyamin Appelbaum

_____

On Mr. Trump’s claim that Ford is leaving the United States and taking “thousands of jobs” with it.

Mr. Trump described a dire situation for the United States’ industrial economy, saying that “Ford is leaving,” referring to the auto giant, and that “thousands of jobs are leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. They’re all leaving.”

Ford is moving its manufacturing of many smaller cars to Mexico, but has said that the move will not result in job losses in the United States.

Ohio and Michigan have, indeed, suffered major manufacturing job losses over the past generation. But in the past year, Ohio has gained 78,300 jobs, and Michigan has gained 75,800 jobs. In August, the unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in Michigan and 4.7 percent in Ohio, both in line with the national rate.

—Neil Irwin

_____

Mrs. Clinton on Mr. Trump’s tax plan:

Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Trump’s tax plan would increase the federal debt by “over $5 trillion,” and that it would penalize middle-income families.

The conservative Tax Foundation estimates that Mr. Trump’s plan would cost a minimum of $4.4 trillion. A liberal group, Citizens for Tax Justice, pegs the minimum cost at $4.8 trillion. But the final bill could be significantly greater. Mr. Trump has offered multiple versions of some elements of his plan. A tax break for small businesses, in particular, could add more than $1 trillion to the final bill.

The Trump campaign, however, insists that the final cost would be just $2.6 trillion. This is based on a stripped-down version of Mr. Trump’s plan — one that is inconsistent with his campaign’s public promises. It also assumes that lower tax rates would encourage much stronger economic growth, reducing the cost.

Would it hurt the middle class? Mr. Trump’s plan would reduce the average tax burden for low-income, middle-income and upper-income households — but it would not cut everyone’s taxes. Indeed, a new analysis finds roughly 7.8 million families with children would pay higher taxes under Mr. Trump’s plan.

—Binyamin Appelbaum

_____

On Mr. Trump and NAFTA:

Mr. Trump said that the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, “is the worst trade deal” in American history, and possibly in world history.

More than 20 years after its passage, NAFTA remains a political lightning rod. But the evidence suggests it wasn’t a big deal in economic terms. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service concluded in 2015 that the “net overall effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy appears to have been relatively modest.” The reason: Trade with Canada and Mexico comprises a small portion of American economic activity.

—Binyamin Appelbaum

_____

On Mr. Trump’s claim that “we have a trade deficit of almost $800 billion a year,” blaming trade deals for this.

He has the number wrong. The United States trade deficit was about $500 billion in 2015, and is on track for a similar number this year. He is likely referring to the trade deficit in goods, which was $762 billion last year. But that was counteracted by a $262 billion surplus in services.

In other words, while the United States imports more physical goods than it exports, it exports more services, including things like financial services, tourism, and software.

—Neil Irwin
_____

On Mr. Trump and the Federal Reserve.

Mr. Trump said the Federal Reserve is “doing political things” by holding interest rates at a low level. He charged that the Fed would raise rates as soon as Mr. Obama left office.

This is a baseless accusation. The Fed has held borrowing costs at historically low levels since the financial crisis to encourage economic growth. Some Fed officials would like to raise rates slightly. Some want to wait a little longer. But Fed officials are uniform in dismissing the idea that politics is playing a role in this debate, and outside experts see no evidence that the Fed is misleading the public.

In attacking the Fed, Mr. Trump is plowing across a line that presidential candidates and presidents have observed for the past several decades. There has been a bipartisan consensus that central banks operate most effectively when they are shielded from short-term political pressures. Indeed, President Richard M. Nixon’s insistence that the Fed should not raise rates in the early 1970s played a role in unleashing a long era of inflation — and in convincing his successors that it was better to leave the Fed to its technocratic devices.

—Binyamin Appelbaum

_____

On Mrs. Clinton’s changing position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Mrs. Clinton said she had “hoped it would be a good deal” but that when it was negotiated, she did not agree with the terms. In fact, Mrs. Clinton spoke out more than 40 times in favor of the trade deal, saying it would be a “strategic initiative that would strengthen the position of the United States in Asia,” without making her support contingent on how it would turn out.

—Mark Landler

Energy and the Environment

On Mrs. Clinton’s accusation that Mr. Trump said climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

Mr. Trump responded, “I do not say that.”

But in 2012, Mr. Trump tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Over the past year, Mr. Trump has repeatedly called climate change a hoax, and said that he is “not a believer” in the established science of human-caused climate change.

—Coral Davenport

The Candidates

On Mr. Trump’s loan from his father.

Mrs. Clinton said it was $14 million in loans from Mr. Trump’s father that helped him get his real estate business off the ground. Mr. Trump said it was just a “small” loan. A recent Wall Street Journal article notes a series of loans and gifts that Mr. Trump received from his father, citing a casino disclosure document from 1985 showing that Mr. Trump owed his father and his father’s company about $14 million.

—Steve Eder

_____

On Mr. Trump’s claims that the 2008 Clinton campaign was behind questions of President Obama’s birthplace.

In defending himself for raising questions about Mr. Obama’s birthplace, Mr. Trump said that Mrs. Clinton’s confidant Sidney Blumenthal pushed those questions on a McClatchy reporter when Obama was running for president in 2008.

A former McClatchy journalist has said that Mr. Blumenthal encouraged him in 2008 to explore Mr. Obama’s connections to Kenya, including whether he was born there, but Mr. Blumenthal has flatly denied this.

—Megan Twohey

_____

On Mr. Trump’s comments toward women:

At the end of the debate, Mrs. Clinton slammed Mr. Trump for comments he made about a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, pointing out that he had called her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.”

Mr. Trump expressed confusion as to where those comments came from, but Ms. Machado has shared them in multiple interviews this year and Mr. Trump himself has admitted that he openly pushed her to lose weight when he took over the Miss Universe pageant.

—Megan Twohey

Crime

On Mr. Trump’s statements on “stop-and-frisk.”

Mr. Trump objected to Lester Holt’s characterization that “stop-and-frisk,” the New York Police Department practice targeting minority and high-crime areas for searching people, had been found to be unconstitutional racial profiling. Mr. Trump said that the judge who issued that ruling had the case taken away from her, and that New York’s new mayor had opted not to go forward with defending the policy.

Both Mr. Holt’s and Mr. Trump’s statements are true. In 2013, a federal judge in New York, Shira A. Scheindlin, struck down the practice as unconstitutional, citing data showing that blacks and Hispanics were being disproportionately stopped. Michael R. Bloomberg, then the mayor, appealed the ruling.

Later in 2013, a federal appeals court removed Judge Scheindlin from the case. But then Bill de Blasio became mayor, dropped the litigation and repudiated the policy, mooting the litigation before it could be resolved at a higher level.

—Charlie Savage

_____

On Mr. Trump’s claims that murders are up in New York City.

Mrs. Clinton said they are down. Mrs. Clinton is correct. Crime statistics show that murders are down year on year, to 246 from 257. A spokesman for the New York Police Department weighed in on Twitter to say that murders and shootings are down significantly. “#NYC is on pace to have one of the safest years on record for crime.”

—Steve Eder

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