Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each appeared for 30 minutes on NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum, answering questions on national security from moderator Matt Lauer and audience members. Here’s a roundup of dubious claims made by the candidates. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios during live events.
“It was a mistake to have a personal [email] account.”
The key issue was that Clinton had a private server and she never used her designated State Department email account, which would have kept records of emails subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
“Classified material has a header which says ‘top secret,’ ‘secret,’ “confidential.’ Nothing — and I will repeat this, and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice — none of the emails sent or received by me had such a header.”
When the email controversy were arose, Clinton asserted, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.” Then, when the State Department started retroactively classifying some of the emails, the statement evolved to: “I’m confident that this process will prove that I never sent nor received any email that was marked classified.” Now Clinton has made it even more specific, referring to headers saying “top secret” and so forth.
That’s because FBI Director James B. Comey disclosed that there were three emails sent to Clinton’s server that bore the marking “(c)” but did not have a header. The “(c)” stands for “confidential.” The State Department says that two of the emails were wrongly marked with a (c).
Strictly speaking, classification markings do not render information classified, and the absence of classification markings do not render it unclassified. Comey said that 110 emails — which were not a part of the 2,000 retroactively classified — were found to “contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.” Moreover, Comey said “there is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
In other words, Clinton’s focus on the “header” is misplaced.
“There is no evidence my system was hacked.”
Although the FBI could find no evidence that Clinton’s emails were hacked, the FBI report makes clear that there were numerous attempts on her private server and that it lacked the types of safeguards that would have been expected for such sensitive communications. Moreover, an aide to Bill Clinton using the Clinton private server was hacked. The report also noted that “hostile foreign actors” were able to break into the email systems of close personal aides of Hillary Clinton, obtaining emails.
Matt Lauer: “It’s an alarming, alarming story. The population of veterans has a rate of suicide far above the general population.”
Clinton: “Twenty — twenty suicides a day.”
Clinton cited the updated, correct statistic that there are 20 veteran suicides a day. We awarded Trump the rare Geppetto Checkmark for using this statistic correctly after it was released. But during his appearance at the forum, Trump reverted to the outdated, misleading statistic of 22 veteran suicides a day.
The difference between these two statistics isn’t just numerical. The updated statistic is the result of the most comprehensive, data-driven study of veteran suicides to date. The outdated one was a rough and outdated estimate based on partial data; even the researchers who arrived at the 22 figure had warned against using it.
The Department of Veterans Affairs worked with the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a study of veterans’ mortality records, for the first time piecing together 55 million veteran records over 35 years using military, health and mortality data.
Researchers found that in 2014, an average of 20 veterans died from suicide a day. This is an actual count from veteran records collected from all 50 states. Among the suicides in 2014, 65 percent were of veterans 50 years and older. And researchers found that from 2001 to 2014, the rate of suicide among veterans who used VA services increased at 8.8 percent, compared to 38.6 percent among veterans who did not use VA services.
Regular readers know we’ve urged politicians to add context to this claim of 20 suicides a day: Veterans generally have higher suicides rates than civilian populations, though the degree of difference varies for specific populations. The way Clinton used it doesn’t show any context, and this statistic alone is meaningless and says nothing useful about veteran suicides.
“I will not let the VA be privatized. And I do think there is an agenda out there, supported by my opponent, to do just that. I think that would be very disastrous for our military veterans.”
This is a very misleading point that Clinton often makes when speaking about veterans issues.
Clinton previously referred specifically to proposals by Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative veterans advocacy group, to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs. The proposal, written by a bipartisan task force commissioned by the group, would give veterans the choice to receive subsidized private care and would create a new, nonprofit government corporation to oversee the VA’s medical facilities.
There are elements in the plan that open up veteran health care to the private market. But the term “privatization” usually refers to the wholesale transfer of government services to the private industry. That does not accurately describe the group’s proposal.
Moreover, Trump does not support such a privatization of the VA, as he correctly said during the forum. In his July 2016 speech unveiling his proposal for veterans issues, he said that “veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center.”
Trump supports giving veterans the option of private health care if they live far away from a VA medical facility, or can’t get an appointment within a certain time. This is the same provision in the 2014 Veterans Choice Act, a bipartisan bill signed into law by President Obama, in response to the VA scandal.
“Here at home, for goodness’ sakes, we have to finally pass a law prohibiting people on the terrorist watch list from being able to buy a gun in the United States of America.”
Democrats frequently point out that people on the terrorist watch list can purchase a gun, but the proposal they’ve made in Congress wouldn’t ban such purchases automatically.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation to give authority to the attorney general to decide whether or not a suspected terrorist could buy a gun. Anyone who was subjected to a federal terrorism investigation within five years of the attempted gun purchase would be flagged in the background-check system, and the Justice Department would be able to review those cases.
The government uses a “reasonable suspicion” standard to nominate and include someone in the Terrorist Watchlist, which includes the “no-fly list.” Belonging to a terrorist organization, or being listed on one of the watch lists, does not automatically stop someone from buying a gun. There has to be another factor that disqualifies the person from buying a gun under federal or state law, such as a felony conviction or illegal immigration status.
“Now, my opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn’t. You can go back and look at the record. He supported it. He told Howard Stern he supported it.”
Clinton is correct here, as we have documented extensively in this timeline of his statements. There is no evidence that Trump opposed the war in Iraq when it started. More on this below, because Trump once again made this false claim in the forum.
“With respect to Libya, again, there’s no difference between my opponent and myself. He’s on record extensively supporting intervention in Libya, when Gaddafi was threatening to massacre his population.”
This is also correct. Here is a video of Trump urging intervention, first unearthed by BuzzFeed.
“They are not going to get ground troops. We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we’re not putting ground troops into Syria. We’re going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops.”
This is an odd statement by Clinton, given that there are currently at least 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, serving as trainers and advisers, or on special assignment. Clinton’s comment was widely mocked on Twitter.
From the context, Clinton appears to be referring to combat troops, but somehow mangled it as “ground troops.” Before she made this comment, Clinton appeared to acknowledge the troops on the ground by saying that the Arab forces fighting the Islamic state were going to have support from the United States. “We’re going to work to make sure that they have the support — they have special forces, as you know, they have enablers, they have surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance help,” Clinton said.
“When I became secretary of state, we had 200,000 troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Clinton is close to correct here. Troop levels in Iraq were falling when President Obama took office, while he boosted troops in Afghanistan in a brief surge that increased the troop level from about 50,000 at the start of his term to 100,000 in August, 2010. In June 2010, there were 88,000 troops still in Iraq, down from 150,000 before Obama took office. The Congressional Research Service says that in both theaters, there was an average of 186,300 troops in the two countries in fiscal year 2009.
“I happened to hear Hillary Clinton say that I was not against the war in Iraq. I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from ’04. You can look at before that.”
It is perplexing to The Fact Checker when interviewers like Matt Lauer don’t rebut Trump on this point, which is one of the simplest facts to debunk. Lauer has little excuse for letting this pass unchallenged.
The truth is that Trump did not oppose the Iraq War since before the August 2004 Esquire story (which was 17 months after the invasion).
We have found no evidence of his early opposition. Trump expressed lukewarm support the first time he was asked about it on Sept. 11, 2002, and was not clearly against it until he was quoted in the August 2004 Esquire cover story titled “Donald Trump: How I’d Run the Country (Better).”
On the campaign trail, Trump also has pointed to a July 2004 Reuters article as proof he opposed the war before the Esquire feature. The Reuters article is a preview of the August 2004 Esquire story, but just one month earlier. In any case, by the middle of 2004, many Americans had turned against the war, making Trump’s position not particularly unique. [Update: In light of Trump’s repeated false claim, Esquire has added an editor’s note to its August 2004 story. The note reads: “The following story was published in the August 2004 issue of Esquire. During the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed to have been against the Iraq War from the beginning, and he has cited this story as proof. The Iraq War began in March 2003, more than a year before this story ran, thus nullifying Trump’s timeline."]
Lauer: In 2013, on this subject, you tweeted this, quote, “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military, only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?”
Trump: Well, it is — it is — it is a correct tweet. There are many people that think that that’s absolutely correct.
Lauer is referring to this tweet by Trump:
But what’s untold in this tweet and in Lauer’s questions is male-on-male sexual assault in the military. Trump appears to wrongly believe these assaults are the result of the mixing of men and women in the armed services.
Trump was using figures from a 2012 Pentagon report on sexual assault in the military, which found about 26,000 active duty members experienced unwanted sexual contact. According to the Pentagon, 53 percent of those cases involved sexual assaults of men, mostly by men. GQ magazine covered the issue in depth.
The updated report released in 2015 shows the estimate changed to 18,900 service members who were subjected to unwanted sexual contact. That included 10,400 men and 8,500 women.
In 2015, the Government Accountability Office found that male-on-male sexual assault was underreported. About 40 percent of women reported sexual assault compared to 13 percent of men. Yet more than one-third of the 122 male service members interviewed said they heard of male-on-male sexual assault happening, and more than a quarter interviewed believed it happened occasionally.
In other words, Trump’s tweet was incorrect. Lauer, in his questions, also appeared unaware how many of these sexual assaults were male on male.
“He [Obama] said when we go out — and he took everybody out. And really, ISIS was formed. This was a terrible decision.”
Here, again, Trump criticizes Obama for a policy position he had advocated at the time. “I would announce that we have been victorious in Iraq and all the troops are coming home and let those people have their civil war,” he told CNBC in 2006. “I just said, announce victory, get them home…. Let’s say, ‘Victory, Tremendous.’ Have a big thing in the streets. Then get out real fast before you get shot. Let’s get home.”
“If we’re going to get out, take the oil. If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS, because ISIS formed with the power and the wealth of that oil.… One of the benefits we would have had if we took the oil is ISIS would not have been able to take oil and use that oil to fuel themselves.”
Trump frequently suggests the United States should have seized Iraq’s oil, even though Iraq is a sovereign nation and the United States went to war against Iraq in 1991 because it had seized Kuwait’s oil fields. In the forum, Trump said the United States could have kept troops in Iraq to secure the oil fields — though, as noted above, that is the opposite of his position that the troops needed to be withdrawn immediately.
“They’ll probably be different generals, to be honest with you. I mean, I’m looking at the generals, today, you probably saw, I have a piece of paper here, I could show it, 88 generals and admirals endorsed me today.”
Trump suggests he would replace the generals in the army because he does not like the how they are waging war under Obama. It’s unclear how quickly such a wholesale reshuffling could be accomplished. He mentioned the generals and admirals who had endorsed him — but they are all retired. Active duty personnel do not get involved in politics.
“I think when he [Russian President Vladimir Putin] calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, okay?”
As we have noted before, Putin did not called Trump “brilliant” or a “genius.”
Here’s a variety of the correct translations of what Putin actually said:
“He’s a very colorful person. Talented, without any doubt.”
“He’s a very lively man, talented without doubt.”
“He is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that.”
This has been frequently noted, but Trump refuses to change his false characterization of Putin’s statement.
“Hillary Clinton six months ago said the vets are being treated essentially just fine, there’s no real problem, it’s over-exaggerated. She did say that.… She said she was satisfied with what was going on in the Veterans Administration.”
Trump likely is referring to Clinton’s claim that the VA scandal has “not been as widespread as it has been made to be,” and that “overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment.”
The VA scandal that unfolded in 2014 after whistleblowers alleged that dozens of veterans died at the Phoenix VA while waiting for medical care. The VA Office of Inspector General later acknowledged that wait lists may have contributed to the veterans’ deaths. Patient and appointment record falsification and manipulations were then found to be a systemic, years-long problem.
We awarded Two Pinocchios to Clinton’s claim. Her campaign later clarified that Clinton does believe there is a systemic problem of delays in veterans’ access to health care and processing their disability claims. Clinton’s campaign had said she was making the point that the VA’s problems are not to the extent that Republicans make them seem. But it’s important to note that both Republicans and Democrats have heavily criticized the VA for mismanagement and lack of accountability.
Clinton’s campaign pointed to three surveys (two of which were funded by the VA) where the majority of veterans showed general satisfaction with the VA’s health care. Yet the crux of the VA scandal is with problems over access to care — over scheduling and manipulation of wait-time data. Post-care satisfaction surveys do not necessarily reflect the population of veterans at the center of the VA scandal, which dealt particularly with patients’ access to care.
Lastly, a technical point: Trump almost always calls the VA the “Veterans Administration,” but the agency was renamed to Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989.
“I think it’s very sad, when he [Obama] lands in Saudi Arabia, and he lands in Cuba, and there aren’t high officials to even greet him. This is the first time in the history — the storied history of Air Force One.”
Trump once again repeats a Four-Pinocchio claim. We found many examples, involving many presidents including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, when the president landed in a foreign country and was not greeted by the head of government or head of state.
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