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Trump’s claim that Clinton lacks the ‘physical stamina’ to be president

Donald Trump says his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton "lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on" Islamic State militants (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post, Photo: ERIC THAYER/The Washington Post)

“To defeat crime and radical Islamic terrorism in our country, to win trade in our country, you need tremendous physical and mental strength and stamina. Hillary Clinton doesn’t have that strength and stamina.”
— Donald Trump, speech in West Bend, Wis., Aug. 16, 2016

“Importantly, she also lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on ISIS.”
— Trump, speech in Youngstown, Ohio, Aug. 15, 2016

Two days in a row, in prepared speeches, Trump asserted that that his rival Clinton lacks “mental and physical stamina” to do the job as president.

That’s surely no accident, but a campaign official did not respond to a query about why the GOP presidential nominee was making this claim. We assume Trump’s rhetoric is related to a not-so-quiet campaign among right-leaning news entities to highlight “concerns” about Clinton’s health, often shared on social media with #HillarysHealth.

Our colleague David Weigel has already taken a good look at the smorgasbord of junk science being used to promote such claims. But now that Trump has raised the issue himself, we thought it would be a valuable service to collect all of the claims in one place — and assess whether any hold water.

The Facts

First, we should note that both candidates have released summary letters attesting to their health. Neither has met the standard set by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), when he ran for president in 2008 at the age of 71. McCain permitted reporters to view 1,173 pages of medical documents.

Clinton, who would be 69 on inauguration day, in July 2015 released a letter from Dr. Lisa Bardack, an internist in Mount Kisco, N.Y., who has served as her doctor for 15 years. The eight-paragraph letter described Clinton “as a healthy 67-year-old female whose current medical conditions include hypothyroidism and seasonal pollen allergies.”

The letter disclosed that Clinton suffered from deep vein thrombosis in 1998 and in 2009, an elbow fracture in 2009 and most notably, a concussion in 2012. (The elbow injury and concussion, when she was secretary of state, were extensively reported at the time.) The letter says her concussion symptoms, including double vision, were resolved within two months. The letter concluded that Clinton “is in excellent physical condition and fit to serve as president of the United States.”

Trump, who would be 70 on inauguration day, in December 2015 released a four-paragraph letter from Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, a gastroenterologist in New York. Bornstein said he had treated Trump for 36 years. The letter, written with Trumpian rhetoric, proclaimed that “if elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” It provided few specifics — Trump apparently takes a statin drug and baby aspirin each day — and some medical professionals have noted it was oddly worded for an official document released by a medical doctor.

(For example, see this interesting rundown of concerns about Bornstein’s letter by Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an OB/GYN in San Francisco.  Gunter noted in an Aug. 16 blog post that the letter referred to a PSA “test score” and that Trump’s medical examination showed “only positive results” — often a bad thing in medical parlance. The letter even foreshadows Trump’s complaint about Clinton, saying Trump’s “physical strength and stamina are extraordinary.”)

Now here are the various allegations about Clinton — and what the evidence shows.

Purported doctor’s records showing seizures and vascular dementia
The documents suddenly emerged Aug. 8 via a Twitter account titled @HillsMedRecords that was quickly deleted. The documents allegedly showed the devastating results of two office visits to Bardack in 2014., which debunks Internet rumors, quickly determined the alleged records were forgeries. After all, the documents even got the doctor’s title wrong.

On Aug. 16, Bardack, in a statement released by the Clinton campaign, affirmed the alleged records “are false, were not written by me and are not based on any medical facts.” She reiterated that Clinton is in excellent health.

Clinton demonstrates ‘seizure-esque’ symptoms
Fox News host Sean Hannity has devoted a number of shows to “concerns” about Clinton’s health, in particular a June 10 clip of Clinton rapidly shaking her head at a group of reporters who tried to corner her for questions about her selection of a running mate. “It almost seems seizure-esque to me,” Hannity declared Aug. 10, although the two doctors on his show refused to confirm his diagnosis. “It looks like violent, out-of-control movements on her part.”

As further evidence, Hannity revisited the incident Aug. 11 and pointed to the reaction of one reporter, saying, “Watch the reporter, like, pull back as she — the reporter got scared.”

On Aug. 12, the reporter in question, Lisa Lerer of the Associated Press, penned an account of the encounter with Clinton. “For the record, I wasn’t scared for a moment,” she wrote about the “unfounded speculation.” As she explained, “Perhaps eager to avoid answering or maybe just taken aback by our volume, Clinton responded with an exaggerated motion, shaking her head vigorously for a few seconds.”

Indeed, Clinton was simply dodging the reporters’ questions as they gathered around her in a Washington muffin shop. “You guys have got to try the cold chai,” she answered.

Clinton needs help getting up stairs
On Aug. 7, photographs circulated on the Web of Clinton needing help getting up a flight of stairs. The conservative and pro-Trump Drudge Report in particular drew attention to the photographs, with the headline “Hillary Conquers the Stairs,” as staff aides appear to steady Clinton.

But the photographs were five months old, taken when she slipped while walking up the stairs at a South Carolina facility for former felons. (The photo caption at the time made that clear.) Everyone slips, every so often — and plenty of other photographs show that Clinton has no trouble navigating stairs.

Clinton wears a defibrillator
Again in August, photographs surfaced of Clinton apparently wearing a boxy contraption underneath her clothing. “One explanation is that the object is a defibrillator,” social media posts proclaimed. A defibrillator will deliver an electric shock if it detects an abnormal heart rhythm.

Snopes quickly determined the photos came from a video shot in February 2016 — and that the bulge in her back could not be from a defibrillator. Instead, it appeared she was using a wireless microphone, which requires use of a wireless transmitter. Other photographs of the candidate from the same day, wearing the same clothes, showed no bulge.

Clinton is accompanied by a doctor who carries a Diazepam pen
Conservative websites also have fanned speculation that one of Clinton’s Secret Service agents is actually a doctor who carries a Diazepam pen in case she has a seizure. (Some coughing fits by Clinton, also highlighted by conservative media, were said to be reactions to her anti-seizure medicine.) But the “doctor” was indeed a Secret Service agent, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Todd Madison — and he was likely carrying a flashlight.

The Pinocchio Test

Given Trump’s poor track record with the facts, it should be little surprise that, through innuendo, he is trying to surface debunked Internet rumors from the fringes of the right. But these are also half-baked, ridiculous and easily disproved, making it especially shocking that he would try to highlight them in prepared speeches.

Both major-party candidates have issued letters from their doctors attesting to their health. Both could clearly do more, especially given the standard set by McCain eight years ago. But in the absence of additional information, there’s little reason for a major-party nominee such as Trump to traffic in rumors and innuendo.

Trump has claimed twice, without proof, that Clinton lacks the physical and mental stamina to be president. In the absence of any evidence, he earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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