“So I may have short-circuited it and for that I, you know, will try to clarify because I think — you know, Chris Wallace and I, we’re probably talking past each other be — because, of course, he could only talk to what I had told the FBI and I appreciated that.”
— Hillary Clinton, remarks to joint convention of black and Hispanic journalists, Aug. 5, 2016

All presidential campaigns try to seize on misstatements or gaffes made by their opponents. Regular readers may recall our series of “gaffe checks” during the 2012 campaign, such as President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” and Mitt Romney’s “I like to fire people.”

But the Trump campaign has taken this to a new level, trying to spin attack gold out of dropped letters or odd turns of phrase.

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A few days ago, the Trump campaign tried to claim that Hillary Clinton pledged to raise taxes on the middle class — a silly attack, because it was clear from the context of her statement that she was pledging not to raise taxes. PolitiFact asked a linguistic professor to run Clinton’s remarks through a phonetics computer program and found that when she said “aren’t,” she hit the “n” but somehow missed the “t.” But she nonetheless said she would not raise taxes.

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Now, Trump has seized on an odd turn of phrase for another line of attack. He claims that Clinton said she “short-circuited” when talking about the FBI investigation of her emails. That statement was made Friday, Aug. 5, and within a day the Trump campaign released a video ad on Facebook that portrays the former secretary of state as a malfunctioning robot. Trump has further attacked her mental capacity, declaring, “I think the people of this country don’t want somebody that’s going to short-circuit up here.”

But this another case of creating a false narrative. Clinton did not say she herself “short-circuited.”

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The Facts

During an appearance before black and Hispanic journalists, Clinton answered a question about remarks that she had made about the FBI’s statements on her controversial email set-up as secretary of state — statements that earned Four Pinocchios and and a Recidivism Watch. During an interview on Fox News, Clinton had claimed that FBI Director James Comey had said her answers to the public “were truthful,” when, in fact, he had only said that there was no evidence she had lied to the FBI; he took no position on her public statements.

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Clinton explained that she was trying to say that her answers to the FBI were consistent with what she has said in public but had conflated the two thoughts to wrongly suggest that Comey had vouched for her public statements.

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In this case, you don’t need a computer program to hear the word “it.” Listen for yourself:

The “it” is clearly there, though somewhat obscured because the previous word ended with “-ed.” Indeed, the ASC Services LLC transcription service clearly heard an “it” as well and rendered her comment this way: “So I may have short-circuited it.”

The Bottom Line

There are fewer than 100 days till the election, and clearly we have entered the silly season. Contrary to the narrative spun by the Trump campaign, Clinton did not say she herself “short-circuited.” She merely said she short-circuited her answer on Fox News — an answer that, after all, earned her Four Pinocchios. Her statements on the email issue certainly are worthy of scrutiny, but mischaracterizing her comments in this manner is simply wrong. Reporters also should be careful about falling for the Trump campaign’s spin on this comment.

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