ABC News aired the eighth GOP presidential debate on Feb. 6,  a prime-time event starring the seven top-tier candidates, based on an average of recent polls.

Not every candidate uttered statements that are easily fact checked, but the following is a list of 15 suspicious or interesting claims. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.

“I’m the only one up here, when the War in Iraq, I was the one who said, don’t go, don’t do it, you’re going to destabilize the Middle East. So I’m not the one with the trigger.”

–Donald Trump

Trump continues to say he opposed the Iraq War ahead of the invasion. But the evidence is slim he warned against it prior to the invasion on March 20, 2003.

The Fact Checker’s extensive review of news coverage prior to the invasion surfaced just two references of Trump and his views. First was a two-sentence reference in a March 25, 2003, article in The Washington Post’s coverage of the Oscars after-party:

Donald Trump, with Amazonian beauty Melania Knauss at his side, pronounces on the war and the stock market: “If they keep fighting it the way they did today, they’re going to have a real problem.”

Looking as pensive as a “Nightline” talking head, the Donald concludes, “The war’s a mess,” before sweeping off into the crowd.

Then, Trump said on Fox News during the weekend after the invasion: “I think the market’s going to go up like a rocket!”

Trump clearly was outspoken about his opposition starting in 2004, the year he reportedly considered a presidential bid. (Instead, he launched his popular TV series, “The Apprentice.”) The most direct criticism of the Iraq War by Trump was in an August 2004 cover story of Esquire magazine:

“My life is seeing everything in terms of “How would I handle that?” Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we’re in. I would never have handled it that way. Does anybody really believe that Iraq is going to be a wonderful democracy where people are going to run down to the voting box and gently put in their ballot and the winner is happily going to step up to lead the county? C’mon. Two minutes after we leave, there’s going to be a revolution, and the meanest, toughest, smartest, most vicious guy will take over. And he’ll have weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam didn’t have.

What was the purpose of this whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who’ve been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!”

“In eight years, Bill Clinton deported 12 million people. In eight years, George W. Bush deported 10 million people.”

— Ted Cruz

Cruz is using slippery phrasing to come up with 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.

“The fact that we’re seeing the launch, and we’re seeing the launch from a nuclear North Korea is the direct result of the failures of the first Clinton administration. The Clinton administration led the world in relaxing sanctions against North Korea. Billions of dollars flowed into North Korea in exchange for promises not to build nuclear weapons. They took those billions and built nuclear weapons.


Ted Cruz significantly overstates the monetary benefits of the Clinton deal to North Korea.

Clinton’s deal was called the Agreed Framework. Essentially, an international consortium was going to replace the North’s plutonium reactor with two light-water reactors; in the meantime, the United States would supply the North with 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil every year to make up for the theoretical loss of the reactor while the new ones were built. (North Korea’s program was clearly created to churn out nuclear weapons; the reactor at Yongbyon was not connected to the power grid and appeared only designed to produce plutonium.) There were also vague references to improving relations and commerce.

The consortium was called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). KEDO’s final annual report, issued in 2006, shows that 30 or so countries funding the project spent about $2.5 billion before it was shut down after the Bush administration accused North Korea of cheating on the Agreed Framework. (Most of the funds, about $2 billion, were contributed by South Korea and Japan alone.)

But this money did not go to North Korea. According to Joel S. Wit, who was in charge of implementing the Agreed Framework during the Clinton administration, it went to the companies that were building the reactors in South Korea, Japan and the European Union.

Between 1995 and 2003, the United States did spend about $500 million supplying the fuel oil that was required under the deal. (Another $100 million in fuel oil was supplied between 2007 and 2009, during Bush’s ill-fated deal.) But North Korea did not get those funds either; it just got the oil.

However, some experts note that North Korea did benefit broadly from South Korea pursuing joint projects with North Korea, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tourism at Mt. Kumgang. The Congressional Research Service in 2011 estimated that Kaesong, which opened during the Bush administration, provided about $20 million in wage revenue a year to North Korea. Hyundai Asan also paid North Korea $12 million for a 50-year lease on the entire Kaesong site. CRS cited a 2004 estimate that North Korea could “receive $9.55 billion in economic gains over the course of nine years if the KIC were to be developed fully and operated successfully,” mainly from sales and corporate taxes. Kaesong, however, has been closed periodically because of tensions between the two countries.

“They [China] have total, absolute control, practically, of North Korea.”


Not by a long shot. China has leverage over its client state, given that much of Pyongyang’s international trade is with Beijing, but how much leverage is subject to debate. Moreover, China is often reluctant to use that leverage, because officials view North Korea has a useful buffer state with South Korea. A collapse of North Korea—and reunification on the Korean Peninsula—is not currently viewed in China’s interests.

Every American administration has dreamed that China will push North Korea to halt its nuclear ambitions. But China always disappoints.

The limits of China’s leverage are best illustrated by the fact that North Korea has repeatedly tested a nuclear device despite Beijing’s vehement objections. And the unwillingness of China to use even its limited leverage was demonstrated by a New York Times article that appeared the morning of the debate – detailing how China sidestepped United Nations sanctions prohibiting luxury goods to North Korea in order to build a ski resort for North Korea’s leaders.

“Let me tell you the facts of what occurred for those who are interested in knowing. On Monday night, about 6:30 p.m., CNN reported that Ben was not going from Iowa to New Hampshire or South Carolina. Rather, he was, quote, ‘Taking a break from campaigning.’ They reported that on television, CNN’s political anchors, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer, said it was highly unusual and highly significant. My political team saw CNN’s report breaking news and they forwarded that news to our volunteers, it was being covered on live television.”


In explaining how his campaign team falsely told Iowa caucus goers that Ben Carson had was dropping out of the race, Cruz falsely blamed CNN’s reporting.

The night of the Iowa caucus, CNN reporter Chris Moody tweeted at 7:41 p.m. EST that Carson had planned to catch a flight before caucus results were in. Moody added that Carson was “just making a brief stop at home in FL tonight and campaign says he’ll be back on the campaign trail by Wednesday.”

Then, during the network’s live coverage, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash called Carson’s decision “very unusual,” according to CNN’s media reporter Dylan Byers. But Tapper and Bash — whom Cruz named during Saturday’s debate — didn’t say Carson was dropping out, Byers wrote.

Cruz backer Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) then retweeted Moody along with a message: “Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope.” Then the campaign sent a message to Iowa supporters suggesting Carson was dropping out.

The day after the Iowa caucus, Cruz apologized to Carson and said his campaign staff were citing a CNN report. CNN said in response that it “had not characterized Carson’s actions that way.”

After Cruz repeated this claim during the debate, CNN said in a statement: “What Senator Cruz said tonight in the debate is categorically false. CNN never corrected its reporting because CNN never had anything to correct. The Cruz campaign’s actions the night of the Iowa caucuses had nothing to do with CNN’s reporting. The fact that Senator Cruz continues to knowingly mislead the voters about this is astonishing.”

“We should be putting people into Guantanamo, not emptying it out, and we shouldn’t be releasing these killers who are rejoining the battlefield against the United States.”

–Marco Rubio

Rubio sure likes this talking point about recidivist terrorists, but he overstates the facts.

Rubio refers to ex- Guantanamo Bay detainees released under President Obama. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence releases semiannual reports of the rate of recidivism among released Guantanamo detainees.

There are two categories in the report: ex-detainees who are “confirmed of re-engaging” and those “suspected of re-engaging.” “Confirmed” is self-explanatory; “suspected” is defined as “plausible but unverified or single-source reporting indicating a specific former GTMO detainee is directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities. For the purposes of this definition, engagement in anti-US statements or propaganda does not qualify as terrorist or insurgent activity.”

The latest report on detainees transferred as of July 15, 2015, shows 117 of 653 (17.9 percent) were confirmed as reengaging and 79 of 653 (12.1 percent) were suspected of reengaging.

The report also divides the numbers between the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. The breakdown shows most of the former detainees were released under the Bush administration. Further, virtually all (94 percent) of the ex-detainees confirmed or suspected of reengaging were released under the Bush administration.

“The insurance companies are getting rich on Obamacare.”


Trump must not be reading the financial section of newspapers these days. For many insurance companies, the Affordable Care Act has been a money-loser.

For instance, UnitedHealthcare Group, one of the biggest insurance companies, announced in January that it had lost $720 million in the new exchanges in 201r, after enrolling 500,000 people. UnitedHealthcare had aimed to be a major player in the Obamacare marketplace but it announced it might pull out completely in 2017 after a review in the coming months. The company has already halted advertising for new plans.

“She [Hillary Clinton] put classified information on her computer because she thinks she’s above the law.”


Rubio’s phrasing suggests that Clinton purposely put classified information on her emails. There has been no evidence to show that is the case.

Clinton did set up a private email server rather than rely on the State Department’s own unclassified system, and in doing so she skirted State Department practices. (Not until later was a law passed that would have prohibited such a set-up.)  In reviewing her emails for public release, the State Department and other intelligence agencies have determined that some emails are too sensitive to be released, with at least 22 actually reaching the level of “top secret.”

But this is an after-the-fact conclusion. As we have written, the Clinton controversy has exposed serious shortcomings in how the State Department handles sensitive communications. In the view of intelligence officials, State Department officials have been sending highly sensitive information on the unclassified system — with the expectation that if a FOIA request is made, department officials could then redact the emails and prevent any classified information from becoming public.

Recently it was revealed that State Department Inspector General concluded that classified information also had been transmitted over the personal email account of  Colin L. Powell and also the accounts of aides to Condoleezza Rice.

The State Department has a separate system for handling classified information, and thus far no one has accused Clinton of taking information from that system and using it in her private email system.

“As you know, in the first Persian Gulf War, it was 1,100 air attacks a day. Obama is launching between 15 and 30. “


“We actually have a case where we don’t want to bomb the oil.”


The Defense Department says that as of Feb. 3, the United States has conducted 7,753 air strikes since the campaign began on Aug. 8, 2014. All told, the U.S. and its allies have conducted 10,113 strikes—an average of under 20 a day, at a cost of about $11 million a day.

But DOD also says that 1,170 “oil infrastructure” targets that have been damaged or destroyed.

“Right now, we’re the highest-taxed country in the world.”


As a self-proclaimed billionaire, Trump probably personally faces high tax rates. But the statistics don’t lie—the United States isn’t anywhere near the top among industrialized nations.

In 2014, according to comparative tables of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), revenue as a percentage of the gross domestic product—the broadest measure of the economy—was 26 percent for the United States.

Out of 34 countries, that put the United States in the bottom third—and well below the OECD average of 34.4 percent.

At the top of the list was Denmark, often cited by Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders as a model. Denmark topped the list with revenue at 50.9 percent of GDP.

“Under Chris Christie’s governorship of New Jersey, they’ve been downgraded nine times in their credit rating.”

We’d like to note a point of clarification: New Jersey’s bond credit was lowered three times by three separate ratings agencies, for nine collective downgrades.

Since Christie took office, New Jersey’s bond rating was downgraded three times from each of the three major ratings agencies: Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch.

Christie set a new record in New Jersey for the highest number of downgrades under one governor.

“You know, we wouldn’t be a free country if it wasn’t for them, and we have 22 veterans per day committing suicide.”

–Ben Carson

Suicide is a serious concern among veterans, and Americans at large. In fact, suicides among veterans happen at a higher rate than Americans in general. But this widely cited statistic is a rough and outdated estimate based on partial data.

The figure comes from the VA’s 2012 Suicide Data Report, for which researchers analyzed death certificates of veterans from 21 states, from 1999 to 2011. They took the percentage of veteran deaths identified as suicides, out of all suicides from those states during that period. Then they applied that percentage to the number of suicides in the United States in a given year. That comes out to 22 suicides a day.

But the sample size was fewer than half the states, and did not include some states with the largest veteran populations (such as Arizona, California, Texas and North Carolina). Researchers who wrote this report provided a major caveat about their findings, saying the public should interpret their findings “with caution.” The data were collected from a sample of states, and it’s difficult to rely on information reported in death certificates, the researchers wrote.

The researchers have not yet updated the report, and said they hope to do so early this year. There is a broader effort to accurately quantify the suicide problem among veterans, through a joint project of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Defense Department.

Jeb Bush: “But what Donald Trump did was use eminent domain to try to take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City. That is not public purpose, that is down right wrong. And here’s the problem with that. The problem was, it was to tear down the house.”

Donald Trump: “Jeb wants to be a tough guy tonight. I didn’t take the property.”

Bush: “And the net result was — you tried.”

Trump: “I didn’t take the property.”

Bush: “And you lost in the court.”

Trump: “The woman ultimately didn’t want to do that. I walked away.”

Bush: “That is not true. And the simple fact is to turn this into a limousine parking lot for his casinos is a not public use.”
–exchange at the debate

Here’s the short version: Bush nailed it.

Eminent domain refers to the government’s right to acquire private property for public use.

In 1994, Trump and the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority unsuccessfully tried to seize the home of Vera Coking, an elderly widow in her 70s who had lived in the home for 37 years. The house was located near the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Trump and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority wanted to take properties to build a new parking lot and public park at the plaza.

Coking reportedly refused an offer of at least $251,000 from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, according to A years-long court battle ensued.

Eventually, in 1998, the state Superior Court ruled in favor of Coking, saying there was no guarantee “that the company would not later use the land simply to expand the business.” The judge ruled that “Trump, not the public, stood to benefit from the proposed seizures and that the deal was ‘analogous to giving Trump a blank check with respect to future development on the property for casino-hotel purposes,’” the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in 1998.

The Inquirer called the ruling “the first serious setback to the use of eminent-domain proceedings for casino projects in Atlantic City,” and it was hailed by the Institute for Justice (co-counsel for Coking) as a landmark victory in a “classic David versus Goliath battle.”

Moderator David Muir: Senator Cruz, you have said, ‘Torture is wrong, unambiguously, period. Civilized nations do not engage in torture.’ Some of the other candidates say they don’t think waterboarding is torture. Mr. Trump has said, I would bring it back. Senator Cruz, is waterboarding torture?

Ted Cruz: “Well, under the definition of torture, no, it’s not. Under the law, torture is excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems, so under the definition of torture, it is not. It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture.”

–exchange at the ABC debate

 This is a very complicated topic, but we’ll unravel some of it here.

Under the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture, the definition of torture is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.”

According to the United States code, torture is defined as “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.”

According to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture: “Torture is not an act in itself, or specific type of acts, but it is the legal qualification of an event or behaviour, based on the comprehensive assessment of this event or behaviour. Therefore, the difference between these different qualifications, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment or ill-treatment depends on the specific circumstances of each case and is not always obvious.”

“Waterboarding” describes the interrogation technique of pouring water into their nose and mouth while the subject is on their back, simulating the sensations of drowning. The subject also may be immersed in water. Such techniques show water or any other liquids “can be used in order to impose physical and mental suffering to prisoners,” according to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

There has long been a controversy over whether waterboarding meets the definition of torture. In 2002 and 2003, the Justice Department provided guidance that deemed the practice legal. But the practice was prohibited after that. From a 2008 Washington Post article:

In 2006, [then-CIA Director Michael V.] Hayden said, he officially prohibited CIA operatives from using waterboarding after a Supreme Court decision forcing the administration to respect a Geneva Conventions article barring “outrages upon personal dignity” and “humiliating and degrading treatment” of U.S. detainees. He said he doubts the practice would be considered legal now.

[Then-White House spokesman Tony] Fratto said the tactic could not be used again unless the president obtained new advice about its legality, personally approved it and notified Congress. “I’m not aware that anyone has plans to use it in this program,” Fratto said.

He said that although lawyers had determined that waterboarding was legal when it was used in 2002 and 2003, new laws passed since then would have to be considered. “We have made clear that the law has changed. That has given greater clarity to these questions,” he said. But he declined to rule it out, saying, “We are not going to speculate on the future.”

President Obama has rejected the technique, and called it torture. In 2014, the International Red Cross declared for the first time that waterboarding is torture.

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