“The Obama Justice Department has decreased the prosecution of violent gun crimes by 30 percent.”
--Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), in an interview with Capital New York , published May 30, 2013
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) offered this statistic as one of the reasons why he pushed an alternative to the Manchin-Toomey legislation to tighten background checks. (Both failed to get enough votes to emerge from the Senate.) As he put it, “the Obama administration has not made it a priority to prosecute felons and fugitives who try to illegally buy guns.”
We had previously examined one of Cruz’s other reasons, which we found worthy of a Pinocchio because he placed a partisan frame on the data. But we hadn’t seen this statistic before. How does this hold up?
Cruz drew this statistic from a report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which documented how prosecutions of weapons violations have shifted up and down, sometimes in dramatic fashion, since 1986. The report showed that prosecutions had fallen from a high of 11,015 in 2004 to 7,774 in 2012, for a decline of 29 percent.
“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal”
— Former President Richard Nixon, as quoted in a new Sen. Mitch McConnell ad titled “Demand Answers”
This slick and hard-hitting video ad by Sen. Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign seeks to highlight McConnell’s warnings in 2012 about possible shady doings by the Internal Revenue Service and tie President Obama personally to the scandal. The ad closes with the words: “Intimidation. Retaliation. Secretive...We demand answers.”
We have no issue with the first part of the 2 ½ minute video, which shows excerpts from a pair of speeches the Senate minority leader gave to the American Enterprise Institute and the Conservative Political Action Conference. This section depicts McConnell as prescient, warning about the problems some tea party groups were apparently having with the IRS, as the ad quickly follows with news clips about the revelations this year.
But, starting at about 1:50, with clips of the IRS’s Lois Lerner refusing to testify before Congress, the end of the ad raises serious questions because of its manipulative editing and juxtaposition of words and images.
Let’s take a closer look.
Lerner, of course, is the career official who was in charge of the IRS division responsible for targeting conservative groups. After images of her appear, the words “Zero Accountability” appear on the screen. Then, there are quick cuts of testimony by former IRS commissioners Douglas Shulman (a George W. Bush appointee) and Stephen Miller (a career employee), saying variations of “don’t know” or “I did not know.”
“We are below the Kyoto levels now. We are below the Waxman-Markey levels. …We are doing things but nobody is doing enough.”
— Secretary of State John F. Kerry, remarks at Youth Connect with BBC’s Hardtalk, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 26, 2013
“The United States of America today is below Kyoto levels in emissions. People don’t know that. The United States today is actually below the Waxman-Markey legislation mandates that didn’t pass. So we’re doing things — automobile efficiency, standards, efficiencies, building codes, fleet purchase, all kinds of things, but not enough. No one is doing enough.”
— Kerry, remarks with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Kiruna, Sweden, May 15
We became interested in these comments after a reader directed our attention to an illuminating fact check, by Brad Klapper of the Associated Press, concerning a range of “iffy claims” made by Kerry in Africa. Oddly, at least two of the comments that the AP checked are not in the official State Department transcript. But we confirmed the accuracy of Kerry’s remarks by listening to a recording of the session.
In any case, Kerry has made this same point about the United States meeting Kyoto emissions targets at least twice this month while making impromptu remarks. (By contrast, this observation did not appear in his official speech to the Arctic Council Ministerial Session.)
Could this claim possibly be correct?
The Kyoto agreement, officially known as the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was an international treaty negotiated in 1997 that sought to force industrialized countries to meet targets in reducing greenhouse gases. The United States, under the Clinton administration, signed the agreement but it was never ratified by the Senate.
The announcement that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is not seeking reelection will leave the Capitol a much less interesting place to fact check. As one of our colleagues put it, “The entire fact checking industry may have to hold a national day of mourning.”
Bachmann is not just fast and loose with the facts; she is consistently and unapologetically so. No other lawmaker earned as high a percentage of Four-Pinocchio ratings as Bachmann — and she earned an average of more than Three Pinocchios as a presidential candidate. Thus she provided a window into the no-holds-barred politics that has come to characterize modern-day Washington.
Just this year, she has earned four Four-Pinocchio ratings. Below are links to those columns — as well as a round-up of her worst campaign-related comments. Click on the headline to read the full column.
Bachmann claimed that President Obama spent $1.4 billion on perks in the White House. But most of this money was for Secret Service protection and helicopters — and Obama’s spending appeared to be lower than that for George W. Bush.
“Congressman Barrow’s Plan: Put the IRS in Charge of Your Healthcare. Fed Up?”
— banner on “mobile billboards” launched this week by the National Republican Congressional Committee
The NRCC this week sought to explicitly tie the Internal Revenue Service scandal to the president’s health-care law, targeting four possibly vulnerable Democratic lawmakers with mobile billboards in their congressional districts.
The lawmakers are John Barrow of Georgia, Ann Kirkpatrick and Ron Barber of Arizona and Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota. Barrow and Peterson would seem to be odd targets because both voted against the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare.”
But the NRCC justifies the attack because both men have voted against repealing the law. (The lawmakers say they would like to fix a bad law, rather than toss it out completely.)
But what about the key claim — that the IRS would be “in charge” of a person’s health care? Does that make sense? Let’s take a closer look.
Until the scandal erupted over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups applying for a tax-exempt status, few people had paid much attention to IRS’s role in the health care law, including the NRCC. But it has an important role in implementing the law, particularly in collecting the taxes and penalties that help fund the expansion of health care to millions of Americans.
“There is a reason that six of the 10 wealthiest counties in the United States are suburbs of Washington, D.C.--a city that produces almost nothing of actual economic value.”
--Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), remarks on the Senate floor, May 23, 2013
Sen. Mike Lee made this comment as he tangled with a fellow Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, about whether to appoint members of a conference committee to negotiate a nonbinding budget blueprint with the House. Lee blocked the move because he feared it might lead to a deal on lifting the debt ceiling.
“In case no one’s noticed, the way Washington works stinks,” Lee argued, warning of a “back-room deal.”
As a long-time denizen of the Washington area, the Fact Checker was struck by the assertion that Washington “produces almost nothing of actual economic value.” What does that mean? What does the data show?
First of all, Lee is correct that six of the 10 wealthiest counties are suburbs of Washington, D.C. As Forbes magazine put it, “The nation’s capital is a great place to be these days. The economy may still be struggling to break out in much of the country, but not in Washington, where local federal spending has doubled over the past decade, boosting federal agency employment and contract spending. Lawyers and lobbyists have rolled in from anywhere and everywhere.”
“So now we find out these people are making decisions based on our politics and beliefs, and they’re going to be in charge of our health care. There’s a huge national database that’s being created right now. Your health care, my health care, all the Fox viewers health care, their personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest secrets will be in that database, and the IRS is in charge of that database? So the IRS will have the ability potentially ...to deny health care, to deny access, to delay health care.”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), on Fox News, May 15, 2013
“When people realize that their most personal, sensitive, intimate, private health-care information is in the hands of the IRS that’s been willing to use people’s tax information against political opponents of this administration, then people have pause and they pull back in horror.”
— Bachmann, on ABC News/Yahoo, May 20
With the Internal Revenue Service in the news, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has taken the opportunity to marry that scandal with her ongoing battle against the president’s health-care law, a.k.a. “Obamacare.”
The picture she has sketched is pretty frightening — that the “most personal, sensitive, intimate, private health-care information is in the hands of the IRS” via a vast database. Indeed, even though our colleagues at PolitiFact and FactCheck.Org have beaten us to the punch on this language, the issues she has raised have generated enough buzz on the blogosphere that we believe we should weigh in as well.
What is Bachmann talking about?
Since the health-care mandate is effectively a tax — most Americans will either need to have health insurance or pay a penalty — the IRS was given an important role in administering various tax credits and penalties that are part of the law. This is part of a long-term trend to provide social benefits via the tax code. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson noted in her 2010 annual report that “the increasing use of the IRS to administer benefit programs is placing significant strains on the IRS’s limited resources and requiring the IRS to perform tasks that go well beyond its current mission statement.”
REP. PAUL GOSAR: “Are you aware that in July 2012 Senator Harry Reid claimed Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for the last 10 years and claimed to have the information supporting that? Are you aware of that? I’m sure you are.”
FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER DOUG SHULMAN: “I have a recollection of reading that in the paper.”
GOSAR: “Do you know how Mr. Reid obtained that information? Did you look into this?”
SHULMAN: “I have no idea how he...”
GOSAR: “Doesn’t that alarm you that — all of a sudden, this pertinent information comes up, you’re the head of this agency, and you’re not asking questions? Shame on you. Absolutely shame on you.”
— Exchange at House Oversight Committee hearing, May 22, 2013
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) brought up the question of Mitt Romney’s taxes after inquiring about two other cases involving alleged Internal Revenue Service leaks — one supposedly involving White House aide Austan Goolsbee and another involving not-for-profit journalism organization ProPublica. Former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman responded that Inspector General inquiries were launched in the first two instances, but he seemed puzzled by the Romney reference.
Small wonder. Reid’s assertion was not very credible to begin with — he earned Four Pinocchios for making an unsupported claim. Let’s quickly review the history.
Reid took aim at Romney after the Republican nominee took the unusual step of refusing to release more than two years of his tax returns. Reid, on the floor of the Senate, charged that “the word’s out that he [Romney] hasn’t paid any taxes for 10 years.” (At other times, he asserted the period was 12 years.) Reid originally said he learned this from a person who had invested with Bain Capital, Romney’s former firm, but then he said that “a number of people” had told him this claim.
“Why does Benghazi go on? No one was ever fired? So, people made tragic errors. No one’s accepting responsibility and no one was fired.”
— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), on CNN’s “State of the Union,” May 19, 2013
Paul’s comment this week jumped out at us because we remember the headlines back in December:
“4 Are Out at State Dept. After Scathing Report on Benghazi Attack” — The New York Times
“Four State Department officials disciplined following Benghazi probe findings” — The Washington Post
“Four State Department officials were removed from their posts,” The Times said, while The Post said they “were disciplined.” Eric J. Boswell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, “resigned,” both reports said.
We will leave aside the question of responsibility — we recall then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking responsibility but perhaps that is in the eye of the beholder — and focus on whether anyone has been “fired.”
Depending on the dictionary, you get a variety of definitions: To discharge from a position; to dismiss from employment; having lost your job. Moira Bagley, spokesman for Paul, says that, for the senator, “fired” means “actual job termination,” meaning no longer working at the State Department.
The dismissals were announced after the completion of the Accountability Review Board report, which fixed the blame for the poor security that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, including the U.S. ambassador, at the Assistant Secretary level and below. Besides Boswell, two other officials in Diplomatic Security lost their positions, as well as a deputy assistant secretary in the Near East bureau.
“That’s a very serious offense that happened where Republicans on the Hill, we voluntarily provided these e-mails to, took one of them, doctored it and gave it to ABC News in an attempt to smear the president.”
— White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” May 19, 2013
“I think one of the problems that there’s so much controversy here is because one of the e-mails was doctored by a Republican source and given to the media to falsely smear the president.”
— Pfeiffer, on Fox News Sunday, May 19
“They received these e-mails months ago, didn’t say a word about it, didn’t complain ... And then last week a Republican source provided to Jon Karl of ABC News a doctored version of a White House e-mail that started this entire fear. After 25,000 pieces of paper are provided to Congress they have to doctor e-mail to make political hay, you know they’re getting desperate here.”
— Pfeiffer, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” May 19
When a White House aide uses the same word — “doctored” — on three television shows, you know it is a carefully crafted talking point. On top of that, he says that this was done to “smear the president.”
These are strong words concerning the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. But is this a case of the White House communications chief taking liberties with the facts?
Under pressure, the White House in March provided the e-mails to Capitol Hill Republicans surrounding the development of its talking points on the Benghazi attack when John Brennan was nominated to be CIA director. The talking points became an issue because they were used by U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice on the Sunday public affairs shows the week after the attack. Republicans, however, were not permitted to have copies of e-mails, but could only take notes on them.