Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, on June 21 gave a speech attacking Donald Trump and his business record. She made a lot of claims, all of which are impressively documented, with links, in a fact sheet issued by the Clinton campaign. Trump certainly has given opposition researchers a wealth of material to mine.
Rather than go deeply into the details of each claim, we are going to focus on some Clinton claims that are in dispute, such as when she highlights a comment that Trump later claimed was misinterpreted.
The quotes are in the order in which they were delivered. As is our custom in such roundups, we do not provide a Pinocchio rating.
Trump also tweeted responses during Clinton’s speech and we fact checked one claim that actually involved numbers.
“One of John McCain’s former economic advisers actually calculated what would happen to our country if Trump gets his way. He described the results of a Trump Recession: we’d lose 3.5 million jobs, incomes would stagnate, debt would explode, and stock prices would plummet.”
Mark Zandi, a well-respected economist, did issue such a report. But Clinton, just like Obama four years ago, misleadingly suggests Zandi had an important policymaking role for the 2008 Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Zandi is a registered Democrat who had advised both Republicans and Democrats; he was one of 32 people listed as advising the McCain campaign — which by his account was mainly to monitor current economic and financial conditions.
According to the donor database of OpenSecrets.org, Zandi in 2015 made a $2,700 contribution — the maximum possible — to the Clinton campaign.
“He said – quote – ‘having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country’ – at a time when millions working full-time are still living in poverty.”
“And how would he pay for all this debt? He said, quote, ‘I would borrow, knowing if the economy crashed, you could make a deal. It’s like, you know, you make a deal before you go into a poker game.’”
Trump indeed made the comments, suggesting he would force holders of U.S. debt to accept lower payments, in an interview on CNBC. But then in the same interview he contradicted himself, particularly when anchor Becky Quick pressed whether he really wanted to renegotiate debt.
Quick: “You’re not talking about renegotiating sovereign bonds that the U.S. has already issued.”
Trump: “No, I don’t want to renegotiate the bonds, but I think you can do discounting. I think depending on where interest rates are, I think you can buy back. I’m not talking about with a renegotiation, but you can buy back at discounts, you can do things at discounts. I’m not even suggesting that we don’t borrow money at very low rates long term so we don’t have to worry about when they come due.”
Ultimately, economists were both alarmed and puzzled by Trump’s comments, saying it would destroy the credit of the United States. He says he was misinterpreted — that he just wanted to buy back debt at lower prices — but his actual policy position remained unclear.
“He just says that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.”
This line refers to a 2012 tweet by Trump:
Early in 2016, Trump explained on “Fox and Friends” that this was a joke: “Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change. I’d be — received environmental awards. And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change.”
But there is little doubt that Trump still believes climate change is a hoax, as he has used the phrase in tweets and speeches.
“He’s written a lot of books about business — but they all seem to end at Chapter 11. Go figure. And over the years, he intentionally ran up huge amounts of debt on his companies and then he defaulted. He bankrupted his companies — not once, not twice, but four times.”
Interestingly, Clinton used the exact same phrasing that Carly Fiorina had used during a Republican primary debate: that Trump declared bankruptcy “not once, not twice but four times.” Our friends at PolitiFact rated this claim “Mostly True.”
Perhaps the Clinton campaign decided that Fiorina’s language was “fact checker approved.” The campaign cited the fact check in its back-up for the speech.
As we wrote previously, Trump’s companies have, indeed, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which means a company can remain in business while wiping away many of its debts. The bankruptcy court ultimately approves a corporate budget and a plan to repay remaining debts; often shareholders lose much of their equity.
Trump’s Taj Mahal opened in April 1990 in Atlantic City, but six months later, “defaulted on interest payments to bondholders as his finances went into a tailspin,” wrote The Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow. In July 1991, Trump’s Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy. He could not keep up with debts on two other Atlantic City casinos, and those two properties declared bankruptcy in 1992. A fourth property, the Plaza Hotel in New York, declared bankruptcy in 1992 after amassing debt.
PolitiFact found two more bankruptcies filed after 1992, totaling six. Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts filed for bankruptcy again in 2004, after accruing about $1.8 billion in debt. Trump Entertainment Resorts also declared bankruptcy in 2009, after being hit hard during the 2008 recession. After the two properties filed for bankruptcy, Trump reduced his share to 10 and 27 percent of the share in the two companies.
Did Trump “intentionally” run up huge debts? It was a tough time for the casino industry in Atlantic City, and Trump cited the 1990 recession as a major “external force” beyond his control. But O’Harrow wrote that Trump “took extreme risks in a shaky economy, leveraged the Taj deal with high-cost debt, and ignored warnings that Atlantic City would not be able to attract enough gamblers to pay the bills, documents and interviews show.”
The Clinton campaign cited a New York Times article, which found high debt and slow revenues had led to his casinos to fail. Trump put up little of his own money, and “assembled his casino empire by borrowing money at such high interest rates — after telling regulators he would not — that the businesses had almost no chance to succeed,” the Times reported.
“He’s been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits in the past 30 years. And a large number were filed by ordinary Americans and small businesses that did work for Trump and never got paid — painters, waiters, plumbers — people who needed the money, and didn’t get it — not because he couldn’t pay them, but because he could stiff them.”
Clinton’s statement relies on findings by USA Today’s analysis of at least 3,500 legal actions that Trump and his businesses have been involved in over 30 years. These are legal actions for and against Trump and more than 500 businesses listed on his personal financial disclosure form with the Federal Election Commission.
One reason Trump has been involved in so many lawsuits is that he uses litigation to negotiate for lower property tax bills for his properties. Some of the legal actions involved relatively small claims, like a lawsuit against neighbors of his Miami golf course demanding reimbursement for damages to expensive plants and palms planted along the property. Trump also frequently sued companies that were using the Trump name without permission.
USA Today reported that a “large number” of the 3,500 legal actions were taken by ordinary people who claimed Trump refused to pay them for their work. The news outlet reviewed “at least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings,” that involved people like a dishwasher, plumber, bartenders and waiters who claimed Trump did not pay them.
“The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years,” according to USA Today. Trump and his daughter Ivanka said workers would not be paid in full if the Trump Organization was not happy with the quality or timing of their work. Indeed, Trump and his companies won many of these disputes.
During Clinton’s speech, Trump tweeted commentary, including this:
Numbers in a tweet are catnip for fact checkers. Unfortunately, his math did not add up. (It’s also a bit silly to blame a secretary of state for a trade deficit, which is mostly the result of decisions by businesses and consumers.)
The U.S. trade deficit with China was $268 billion in 2008 and increased to $315 billion in 2012, according to the Commerce Department — the period that would cover Clinton’s four years as secretary of state. That’s an increase of $47 billion, or 17.5 percent. So Trump overshoots the mark by more than double. [Note: Some readers suggested Trump was measuring from 2009 to 2013. That does show an increase of 40 percent, in part because the Great Recession weakened trade in 2009. But that’s the wrong window of time, because it leaves off her first year as secretary of state and includes a year when she was not secretary.]
Moreover, the claim of “millions” of lost jobs from a $50 billion trade deficit is absurd. A billion dollars of exports is estimated to create about 6,000 jobs. It’s difficult to calculate the loss of jobs from deficits (as that is a mix of export and imports) but if you wanted to be super-simplistic, some trade foes might suggest you could use the same metric to roughly calculate job losses. But even this calculation results in just 280,000 jobs over four years — a far cry from “millions.” And keep in perspective, the U.S. economy sometimes creates that many jobs just in a single month.
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