CNN aired two GOP presidential debates on Dec. 15: a prime-time event starring nine candidates and an earlier debate featuring four second-tier contenders, based on an average of recent polls.
Not every candidate uttered statements that are easily fact checked, but following is a list of 12 suspicious or interesting claims. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.
“When you had the World Trade Center go, people were put into planes – that were friends, family, girlfriends – and they were sent back for the most part to Saudi Arabia. They knew what was going on. They went home and they wanted to watch their boyfriends on television.”
– Donald Trump
Trump slightly modified a claim that the Sept. 11 hijackers had sent their wives home before the attacks — which earned him Four Pinocchios — but it’s still completely false. Now, it’s no longer wives — The Fact Checker previously documented that virtually none of the hijackers were married – but “friends, family, girlfriends” who were sent home to watch.
But the comprehensive Sept. 11 investigation found that the hijackers had largely cut off contact with their families — and none had their families in the United States. One hijacker, Ziad Jarrah (who was on United 93) had a girlfriend of Turkish descent — who lived in Germany and visited him in the United States — but there is no evidence she knew what was going to happen.
Jarrah mailed her a letter just before the attacks, which arrived weeks later, apologizing for letting her think that he planned to marry her. “I did not run away from you, I did what I had to do, you should be proud,” he wrote.
“The prior program only covered a relatively narrow slice of phone calls … primarily landlines. The USA Freedom Act expands that so now we have cellphones, now we have Internet phones, now we have the phones that terrorists are likely to use.… The old program covered 20 percent to 30 percent of phone numbers to search for terrorists. The new program covers nearly 100 percent.”
– Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.)
Cruz’s description of the impact of the USA Freedom Act is not accurate.
The bill ended the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records and scaled back the collection program. The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima described this bill as a “milestone in the post-9/11 world,” as it placed significant limits on the government’s data collection.
The old program did cover a percentage of calls, as Cruz said. And now, under the new bill, the potential universe of records that the government has access to could be 100 percent of records. But it’s not how Cruz described it.
The bill limited data collection to the “greatest extent reasonably practical.” The government now needs a court order to collect up to “two hops” of call records related to a suspect. The government now needs to prove it has reasonable suspicion that the suspect whose phone records it is seeking to collect is linked to a terrorist organization. As The Post reported, this means the government “can’t collect all data pertaining to a particular service provider or broad geographic region, such as a city or area code.”
This bill does authorize phone companies to have access to cellular phone records. But the bill would not dramatically increase cellphone data collection, PolitiFact found. The law does not affect how phone companies maintain or collect their records — because cellular service providers always have had access to cellular metadata.
“The metadata program was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.”
– Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.)
Rubio made this argument during his debate over the provisions of the USA Freedom Act with Cruz. Cruz misstated that the bill expanded the government’s access to records, but Rubio’s retort also is misleading.
It depends what Rubio meant by “at our disposal.” The government still has a metadata program, but it is now a targeted program rather than a bulk collection program, under the USA Freedom Act. The bill ended the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records and scaled back the program.
The bill limited data collection to the “greatest extent reasonably practical.” But the bill also allows the government to pursue metadata records with a court order, and it must prove that it has reasonable suspicion that the suspect whose phone records it is seeking to collect is linked to a terrorist organization.
As we noted earlier, the bill does not change how cellphone companies maintain or collect metadata.
“People are pouring across the southern border.”
Trump is ignoring data that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades. The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled to 12.2 million between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million, according to demographers at the Pew Research Center.
In 2000, considered the peak of the flood of illegal Mexican migration, more than 1.6 million people were apprehended, according to Department of Homeland Security data. Those numbers have plunged to about 400,000 per year since 2012 and are down 28 percent in the first part of fiscal 2015 compared with last year.
The Pew Hispanic Center’s 2012 report on Mexican immigration also found a sharp downward trend in net migration from Mexico, since the peak of nearly 7 million in 2007.
“That means you stop the Obama administration’s policy of releasing criminal illegal aliens. Do you know how many aliens Bill Clinton deported? 12 million. Do you know how many illegal aliens, George W. Bush deported? 10 million.”
Cruz is using some slippery phrasing to come up with a really big numbers under the rubric of “deportation.” Under Department of Homeland Security definitions, there is a simple form of voluntary deportation known as “return” — a “confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal.”
There is also a more formal type of deportation, known as “removal” — “the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal. An alien who is removed has administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent reentry.” That’s a more serious form of deportation — trying to reenter the United States again is deemed a felony — and that’s generally the number used in media reports.
If you look at this chart, you can see the formal type of deportation has soared under Obama, even as “total deportations” have declined. The shift stems from a combination of new laws, administration policies and changes in immigration patterns. Skeptics of immigration have accused the administration of cooking the numbers to make its deportation policies look better, but Cruz himself is mixing apples and oranges.
“One of the things I would immediately do, in addition to defeating them here at home, is bring back the warrior class — Petraeus, McChrystal, Mattis, Keane, Flynn. Every single one of these generals I know. Every one was retired early because they told President Obama things that he didn’t want to hear.”
– Carly Fiorina
Fiorina appears to have forgotten the circumstances under which David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal departed the administration.
Petraeus, a retired four-star general, resigned in 2012 as CIA director after an FBI investigation turned up evidence that he was involved in an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, his biographer. Petraeus later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials that he gave to Broadwell.
In the case of McChrystal, he was fired in 2010 by President Obama when he was the top commander in Afghanistan after Rolling Stone magazine published an article in which the general’s top aides were scornful of administration officials.
While one could reasonably argue that Gen. James Mattis and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn departed over policy differences during the Obama administration, Fiorina is also wrong to list Gen. John Keane. He retired in 2003, during the George W. Bush administration, and never served under Obama. Keane later told Fox Business News: “I have never spoken to the president. That’s not accurate, and I never served this administration. I served the previous administration.”
“To put things in perspective, in the first Persian Gulf War, we launched roughly 1,100 air attacks a day. We carpet-bombed them for 36 days, saturation bombing, after which our troops went in and in a day and a half mopped up what was left of the Iraqi army.”
Cruz oddly refers to “carpet-bombing” — a type of air campaign bombing sections of a city that has not been used since during the Vietnam War. [Update: There is not a formal definition of “carpet bombing," though it is generally considered the dropping of a large number of unguided bombs on a geographic area. There are conflicting analyses by experts as to exactly which military actions qualify as “carpet bombing." Some experts told us this technique was still used during the Gulf War, while the precision-guided bombs were being introduced. The use of unguided bombs decrease since then. For more on the definition of “carpet bombing," see PolitiFact’s fact-check.]
In defending his promise to “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion,” Cruz said he would use “overwhelming air power to utterly and completely destroy ISIS” — as the United States did during the first Gulf War. Cruz must have missed the memo that the United States developed laser-guided “smart bombs” that were introduced into warfare during the Gulf War.
A February 1991 New York Times article heralded the invention of the laser-guided bomb, which “greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the attacks.” Precision bombs were used during an American raid on Libya in 1986, the Times reported, but the method was not perfected and the bombs appeared to have missed their targets.
“But a new generation of powerful, relatively cheap miniature computers and guidance systems has rendered allied bombs and missiles in use against Iraq capable of achieving almost incredible accuracy. This technical revolution, military experts say, has profoundly changed the face of war,” the Times reported.
“One of the most troubling aspects of the Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight Bill was that it gave President Obama blanket authority to admit refugees, including Syrian refugees without mandating any background checks whatsoever.”
Cruz attacked Rubio on the 2013 Gang of Eight immigration bill that Rubio co-sponsored, but inaccurately described the refugee designation provision.
FactCheck.org examined this claim closely. The bill authorizes the president to designate refugee status to certain groups of people based on humanitarian concerns or when it “is otherwise in the national interest.” This differs from the current law, which requires refugees to show they can’t, or won’t, return to their home country because of persecution, or fear of persecution.
But obtaining a refugee designation would not automatically mean that the group would be resettled into the United States as refugees, FactCheck.org found. Experts interviewed by FactCheck.org said while the provision allows such groups of people to be considered for refugee resettlement more easily than they would have under current law, it does not waive security or other admissibility requirements to be admitted into the United States as resettled refugees.
“ISIS put out a fatwa on disabled children and killed dozens of them because of their disability.”
– Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.)
Santorum cited an unverified Internet rumor in his closing statement.
A Fox News article reported Iraqi activists’ claims that ISIS militants reportedly have “authorized the terror group’s members to kill newborn babies with Down syndrome, as well as other disabled children.” The activists also claimed that 38 babies have been killed since an “oral fatwa” was issued. But Fox News could not confirm the information.
This claim comes from a Facebook post by Mosul Eye, a blog and Facebook group run by someone described as “an independent historian inside Mosul.” Several other blogs and websites also have reported this claim, but no one has able to independently verify it.
“Here’s what I want to tell the Arab world and Turkey. We’re not going to send 100,000 troops. You’re going to do the fighting this time, and we’re going to help you. We paid for the last two wars; you’re going to pay for this one.”
– Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.)
While the United States was largely on the hook for the cost of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Graham appears to have forgotten that the first Persian Gulf War — waged in 1991 under President George H.W. Bush — was largely underwritten by Arab allies.
“U.S. allies provided $54 billion against the estimated $61 billion of incremental costs,” the Defense Department said in a 1992 report to Congress. “Roughly two-thirds of these commitments were from the Gulf states directly threatened by Iraq, with the other one-third largely coming from Japan and Germany.”
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates paid about $32 billion in cash and in kind.
“New York Police Department had a very active program using intelligence in certain Muslim communities — consistent with our Constitution, consistent with civil rights — so that they can have the intelligence as to where these sermons are being given, and who is being radicalized. And they stopped and prevented dozens and dozens of attacks in New York.”
– former New York governor George Pataki
Pataki falsely claimed success for this controversial NYPD program.
The Associated Press revealed in 2011 that the Demographics Unit in NYPD’s intelligence unit was covertly monitoring mosques, and that the department was watching for the “likelihood of them being infiltrated by al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.” In the initial report, the AP cited a former NYPD official as saying in a deposition that there was only one way to measure the program’s success: “They haven’t attacked us.”
But the program never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation, the AP revealed in 2012. Assistant Chief Thomas Galati testified as part of a federal civil rights case that none of the information collected by the Demographics Unit led to a case.
“Related to demographics, I can tell you that information that have come in has not commenced an investigation,” Galati testified.
There have been repeated claims in the media — including ones made by the NYPD — that the department has helped prevent 14 terrorist plots against New York since 9/11, ProPublica reported. But the figure “overstates both the number of serious, developed terrorist plots against New York and exaggerates the NYPD’s role in stopping attacks,” according to ProPublica. In response to this report, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said “we’ll never know” how many plots the department truly thwarted.
A group of Muslims sued the city of New York, claiming the department’s surveillance violated their constitutional rights. It was dismissed, but it was revived in October 2015 after an appeals court decided the plaintiffs “had standing to sue and had presented valid claims under the Constitution,” the New York Times reported.
The program was shut down in 2014.
“I’d like to stop sending $350 billion overseas to buy oil from people who hate our guts, wouldn’t you?”
Graham completely overstates the contribution of Arab nations to U.S. oil imports.
The total annual value of crude oil imports is more than $300 billion. But according to the Energy Information Administration, for the year to date, Canada is responsible for about 42 percent — compared to just 15 percent for Saudi Arabia and 6 percent for other Arab nations. While Saudi Arabia is the second biggest supplier of crude oil to the United States, another friendly U.S. neighbor, Mexico, ranks third.
Canada and Mexico together account for more than 50 percent of U.S. oil imports. Last time we checked, they don’t hate Americans’ guts.
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