Fact-checking the first Clinton-Trump presidential debate


In the first debate between presidential contenders Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump repeatedly relied on troublesome and false facts that have been debunked throughout the campaign. Clinton stretched the truth on occasion, such as when she tried to wiggle out of her 2012 praise of the Trans Pacific Partnership as a “gold standard.” But her misstatements paled in comparison to the list of Trump exaggerations and falsehoods.

Trump once again asserted that the 2008 Clinton campaign was responsible for spreading the myth that President Obama was born in Kenya, when that is false. He claimed that “thousands” of American jobs will leave the country when Ford shifts small-car manufacturing to Mexico, but no one here will lose their jobs. He also falsely claimed that he was against the Iraq War, when all available evidence demonstrates that he supported it until the rest of the country began to turn against it in 2004. He also once again falsely said he started his business with a “small loan” from his father.

Here’s a roundup of 23 of the most noteworthy claims that were made. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.

“So Ford is leaving. You see that, their small car division leaving. Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. They’re all leaving. And we can’t allow it to happen anymore.”

Ford is moving its small car production to Mexico, but the expansion will not affect U.S. workers.

The company has said that while production of Ford Focus models will shift to Mexico, its plant in Michigan will build other, larger vehicles. Ford and many other automakers are finding Mexico more attractive for several reasons.

“The cost of labor is indeed greater in the United States, which makes producing labor-intensive small cars in Mexico more profitable. The United States also has advantages, though — inexpensive electricity, experienced technicians and access to sophisticated materials and equipment — often means building larger and more expensive cars is cheaper in this country,” our colleague Max Ehrenfreund wrote.

“The only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.”

Clinton exaggerates here. We know of three years in the 1970s when he did pay federal income taxes. But there were at least five years in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s when Trump did not pay any, or nearly any, income taxes.

“Under my plan I will be reducing taxes tremendously.”

Trump’s tax plan would raise federal income taxes on more than half of America’s single parents and one-fifth of families with children, according to an analysis by Lily Batchelder, a New York University expert on tax policy who formerly worked for Obama’s National Economic Council.

While the Trump campaign called it “pure fiction,” the right-leaning Tax Foundation has said the group was able to replicate her findings. Kyle Pomerleau, director of federal projects at the Tax Foundation, posted on Twitter that Batchelder’s results “seem reasonable to me.”

ICYMI: @lilybatch ‘s new study finds that many families would see a tax increase under Trump’s new plan.http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2842802&download=yes 

.@lilybatch We were able to replicate many of the numbers in the report. The results seem reasonable to me.

“Independent experts have looked at what I’ve proposed, what Donald has proposed. And basically they’ve said this. … [Under Trump’s tax plan] we would lose 3.5 million jobs and maybe have another recession. My plans — and they’ve said ‘OK, we can do this,’ and I intend to get it done — we will have 10 million more jobs because we will be making investments where we can grow the economy.”


Mark Zandi, a well-respected economist, did issue a report saying that if Trump’s economic plans were fully implemented, 3.5 million jobs would disappear, incomes would stagnate, debt would explode, and stock prices would plummet. But the report also said it was highly unlikely that Trump would get many of his plans approved by Congress, even if it is controlled by Republicans, because so many of his positions are so a departure from Republican principles. Even so, the report said the U.S. economy would likely suffer under a Trump presidency.

His report also said that if Clinton were able to fully implement her economic plans, the economy would add an additional 3.2 million jobs during the first four years of her presidency. Combined with anticipated job creation under current law, that adds up to 10.4 million jobs. But the report also said that Clinton would face significant roadblocks to getting her economic plan through Congress, resulting in far fewer job gains.

“I don’t mind releasing. I’m under a routine audit, and it’ll be released.”

Trump cites an Internal Revenue Service audit as his justification for not releasing his federal income tax returns, but the audit does not prohibit from releasing the returns. Richard Nixon, who started the tradition of presidents and presidential candidates releasing their returns, did so in the middle of an audit.

Moreover, Trump has not released his tax returns from before 2009, which are no longer under audit, according to his attorney.

Presidential candidates have no legal obligation to release their returns, but there has long been a tradition to do so for the sake of transparency. Hillary Clinton has released three decades’ worth of tax returns.

While Trump has not released the returns, his long history of litigation has given the public a sense of what is in his returns. Tax information made public so far show Trump did not pay any, or nearly any, income taxes at least five times in the past 40 years.

“As far as tax return, you don’t learn that much” from tax returns.


Trump is being misleading. Tax experts say that tax returns provide insight about a person’s finances in several key areas.

First, the tax return reveals a person’s annual income. A person’s net worth is not disclosed, but voters would gain an understanding of a person’s cash flow. Second, voters would understand the sources of a person’s income, such as how much comes from certain businesses, speeches, dividends, capital gains and so forth.

Third, a tax return would disclose how much a person gives to charity. Mitt Romney gave almost $2.3 million to charity in 2011, while Bill and Hillary Clinton gave $3 million to charity in 2014. We know these figures because of information in their tax returns.

Trump claims he has given $102 million to charity in the past five years, but a Washington Post investigation found not a cent in actual cash — mostly just free rounds of golf, given away by his courses for charity auctions and raffles. Trump’s tax return would clear up exactly how much he has really given to charity — indeed, whether he has given anything at all.

Fourth, a tax return would reveal how aggressive Trump has been on his taxes. There is no black-and-white approach to taxes; there are many gray areas subject to interpretation, especially regarding deductions. Trump frequently suggests that he knows how to game the system, so voters would learn whether he takes the same approach to his taxes.

Finally, the tax returns would disclose what percentage of Trump’s income actually goes to taxes.

TRUMP: “You called it the gold standard of trade deals. You said it’s the finest deal you’ve ever seen.”


TRUMP: “And then you heard what I said about it, and all of a sudden you were against it.” 

CLINTON: “Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts. The facts are — I did say I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated.”

Trump is right. Clinton is subtly adjusting her words here when confronted with a question about her consistency on policy positions.

But the fact is she never used the word “hoped.” Instead, she was more declarative, using the phrase “gold standard” when she was Secretary of State.

“This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field,” she said in Australia in 2012. “And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

“You’ve taken business bankruptcies six times.”
—Hillary Clinton

“On occasion — four times — we used certain laws that are there.”

—Donald Trump

Clinton is correct.

Trump’s companies have 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,” The Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow found. 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 uncovered 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.

Why the discrepancy? Perhaps this will give us an idea: Trump told Washington Post reporters that he counted the first three bankruptcies as just one.

“In Chicago, they’ve had thousands of shootings. … Stop and frisk worked very well … it brought the crime way down [in New York City].”

Trump cherry-picks the increase in violence in Chicago, but this is not indicative of overall crime rates, which have been declining for years. Moreover, while Trump says stop-and-frisk policies should be enacted in Chicago as it was implemented in New York City, those policies have not been correlated with crime.

While violent crime overall has been declining for about two decades, there was a sharp increase in the violent crime rate in 2015. Homicides have continued to spike in major cities this year, though the rates remain far below their peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Law enforcement officials, including the FBI, have voiced concerns about the uptick in crime in 2015.

Criminal justice experts warn against comparing crime trends from short periods of time, such as month over month or year over year. An annual trend can show a trajectory of where the trend might be headed, but still does not give a full picture. Many criminal justice experts say crime trends are determined over at least five years, preferably 10 or 20 years, of data.

Trump praises stop-and-frisk policies under former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. But it’s debatable whether the stop-and-frisk policies had such a direct impact on crime, as Trump suggests. Crime is affected by many factors, and New York’s decline in crime mirrored the decline in many other major cities at the time. Moreover, crime was declining for four years before Giuliani took office, and it continued to decline for 14 years after he left.

We awarded Three Pinocchios to Trump’s claim attributing stop-and-frisk policies to the decline in crime.

Trump also claimed that “murders are up” in New York. That is incorrect. Homicides in New York are down so far this year from the same point last year, according to the New York Police Department. But homicides did see an uptick in New York City in 2015, similar to trends in numerous other cities.

“If you’re too dangerous to fly, you are too dangerous to buy a gun.”

Democrats, including Clinton, frequently point out that people on the terrorist watch list can purchase a gun. But the proposal that Democrats have made in Congress wouldn’t ban such purchases automatically. We have awarded Two Pinocchios to this claim for lack of context.

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.

“He actually advocated for the actions we took in Libya and urged that Gaddafi be taken out, after actually doing some business with him one time.”


Clinton is right that Trump emphatically urged the United States to remove Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi  from power.

Here’s Trump, in February 2011, urging an intervention on his video blog. “I can’t believe what our country is doing,” Trump said. “Qaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people, nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around we have soldiers all have the Middle East, and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage and that’s what it is: It’s a carnage.”

Trump added: “Now we should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives. This is absolutely nuts. We don’t want to get involved and you’re gonna end up with something like you’ve never seen before…We have go in to save these lives; these people are being slaughtered like animals. It’s horrible what’s going on; it has to be stopped. We should do on a humanitarian basis, immediately go into Libya, knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively, and save the lives.”

“I did not support the war in Iraq.”


This is just totally false.

We have found no evidence of his early opposition to the invasion. 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).”

But by the middle of 2004, many Americans had turned against the war, making Trump’s position not particularly unique. In light of Trump’s repeated false claim, Esquire has added an editor’s note to its August 2004 story, saying, “The Iraq War began in March 2003, more than a year before this story ran, thus nullifying Trump’s timeline.”

We have awarded this claim Four Pinocchios, compiled a timeline of all of Trump’s comments prior to the invasion in March 2003, and even a video documenting how this is a bogus claim.

Trump said he had “numerous conversations with Sean Hannity” prior to the invasion, expressing his opposition to the war. These appear to be private conversations. Hannity told Erik Wemple Blog that Trump “would watch the show and call after and we argued a lot about” the war. We should note that Hannity is one of Trump’s biggest boosters and has never asserted that Trump made these private claims to him until recently, even though this has been a constant source of controversy during Trump’s campaign. Hannity has also not offered any evidence to back up his claim that he and Trump had such conversations at the time.

Clinton: “You know, I made a mistake using a private email.”
Trump: “That’s for sure.”
Clinton: “And if I had to do it over again, I would, obviously, do it differently. But I’m not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that.”
Lester Holt: “Mr. Trump?”
Trump: “That was more than a mistake. That was done purposely. OK? That was not a mistake.”

Regarding Clinton’s statement, the key issue with the email controversy was that Clinton had a private server not just a private email 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.

The accuracy of Trump’s claim depends on whether he is referring to her decision to use a private server, or if he is suggesting that Clinton purposefully intended to mishandle classified information. On the former point, yes, Clinton chose on purpose to use a private email server. On the latter, the FBI would disagree.

FBI Director James B. Comey has said Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling classified information through her private server. Our colleagues Matt Zapotosky and Rosalind Helderman noted: “But Comey also has said that investigators found particularly lacking any intent on Clinton or her staff’s part to mishandle classified information, and that would undermine any possible criminal case against them.”

Click here for our round-up of 14 fact-checks about the Clinton email controversy.

“In addition, I was just endorsed by ICE. They’ve never endorsed anybody before on immigration. I was just endorsed by ICE.”

How can a federal agency, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, endorse a candidate? Trump is actually referring to the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, which is the union representing ICE officers. In a statement released by the campaign, National ICE Council President Chris Crane said it was the union’s first-ever endorsement.

“We have a trade deficit with all of the countries that we do business with, of almost $800 billion a year.”

Trump is basically right. The trade deficit in 2015 was $762 billion, according to the Census Bureau.

“You even at one time suggested that you would try to negotiate down the national debt of the United States.”

“Wrong. Wrong.”

Clinton is correct. Trump in May caused a stir when he suggested the United States should borrow more and renegotiate new terms later. “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal,” Trump said on CNBC. The comments caused angst in the financial markets, as the U.S. Treasury securities are considered the world’s safest investment precisely because the United States is at low risk of default. Renegotiating the terms would be seen as a form of default.

Trump later walked away from his comments, claiming he had been misquoted.

“Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and very close friend of Secretary Clinton. And her campaign manager, Patti Doyle, went to — during the campaign, her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard. … Patti Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened. Blumenthal sent McClatchy, highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it. They were pressing it very hard. She failed to get the birth certificate.”

To support the debunked notion that Clinton’s campaign originated “birther” rumors during the 2008 presidential campaign, Trump pointed to these two examples. But they don’t add up to much of anything.

James Asher, former D.C. bureau chief of McClatchy, has said that longtime Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal “strongly urged” him to “investigate the exact place of President Obama’s birth, which he suggested was in Kenya.” McClatchy assigned a reporter to go to Kenya, and the reporter found the allegation was false, Asher said. (We reached out to Asher several times but did not receive a response.)

Blumenthal, declining to elaborate further, said in a statement to The Fact Checker: “This is false. Period. Donald Trump cannot distract from the fact that he is the one who embraced and promoted the birther lie, and bears the responsibility for it.”

Solis Doyle did say in a recent CNN interview that in December 2007, a volunteer coordinator in Iowa forwarded an email perpetuating the birther conspiracy. Clinton “made the decision immediately to let that person go,” Solis Doyle said in the interview.

As in the instance with the Iowa volunteer coordinator, the campaign denounced isolated instances of Clinton’s staffers questioning whether Obama was Muslim. We found that there’s no evidence that she or her campaign were “pressing it very hard” though some of her supporters did perpetuate the claims in the bitter 2008 primary campaign against Obama.

“As multiple, independent fact checkers have affirmed in the years since, neither the 2008 campaign nor the candidate ever questioned the President’s citizenship or birth certificate. Period,” said Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin.

“The 28 countries of NATO, many of them aren’t paying their fair share. Number two — and that bothers me, because we should be asking — we’re defending them, and they should at least be paying us what they’re supposed to be paying by treaty and contract. I read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that NATO is opening up a major terror division. And I think that’s great. And I think we should get — because we pay approximately 73 percent of the cost of NATO. It’s a lot of money to protect other people. But I’m all for NATO. But I said they have to focus on terror, also. And they’re going to do that. And that was — believe me — I’m sure I’m not going to get credit for it — but that was largely because of what I was saying and my criticism of NATO.”

Trumps mixes up a lot of things here.

The United States pays about 22 percent of the common-fund budget for the North American Treaty Organization. But the volume of the U.S. defense expenditures effectively represents 73 percent of the defense spending of the Alliance as a whole. But that does not mean that the United States pays 73 percent of the costs of running NATO.

The figure reflects the fact that United States, as a world power, projects its might across the globe. Experts say it is all but impossible to calculate how much of overall U.S. defense spending is devoted exclusively for NATO, but there is little dispute that most members are not meeting their commitment to have defense expenditures should amount to 2 percent of each country’s gross domestic product.

As for Trump patting himself on the back for spurring NATO to focus on terror, he’s kidding himself. The plan was in the works long before Trump starting saying NATO was obsolete.

“Violent crime is one-half of what it was in 1991. Property crime is down 40 percent. We just don’t want to see it creep back up. We’ve had 25 years of very good cooperation.”

This data checks out, according to research by the Brennan Center for Justice. Nationally, the violent crime rate has fallen by 51 percent since 1991, and property crime has fallen by 43 percent.

“President Obama and Secretary Clinton created a vacuum the way they got out of Iraq, because they got out — what, they shouldn’t have been in, but once they got in, the way they got out was a disaster. And ISIS was formed. …But they wouldn’t have even been formed if they left some troops behind, like 10,000 or maybe something more than that. And then you wouldn’t have had them.”

As Clinton noted in her response, the terms of departure from Iraq were originally set by the George W. Bush administration. The Bush administration signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq in 2008 that established a deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

Clinton, as Secretary of State, had pushed for some troops to remain in Iraq but the administration was not able to reach an agreement and so U.S. troops left Iraq. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in his memoir, pinned the blame on Obama: “To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them. Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President’s active advocacy, [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki was allowed to slip away.”

To a large extent, the Islamic State of today is simply an outgrowth of al-Qaeda of Iraq, which emerged after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

At best, one could argue that actions that Obama failed to take (over Clinton’s opposition) helped contribute to the growth of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. Islamic State certainly has become an important player in the Middle East, taking advantage of the civil war in Syria and the disarray in the Iraqi government to claim vast areas of both countries. In the past couple of years, the group’s activities have gathered attention in the United States; it was only in 2014 that President Obama dismissed Islamic State as a “JV team.”

Clinton was Secretary of State when Obama made decisions that could be seen as contributing to the rise of the Islamic States, but ironically she was one of the loudest forces for keeping a residual force in Iraq and for intervening in Syria, such as arming the rebels. Both steps advocated by Clinton might have thwarted the emergence of the terror group. Moreover, Clinton was not Secretary of State when Obama all but ignored the Islamic State as it moved back into Iraq in late 2013.

But — and here’s the irony Trump criticizes Obama for a policy position he had advocated be taken even sooner than 2011. “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,” Trump 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.”

“We have gangs roaming the street. And in many cases, they’re illegally here, illegal immigrants. And they have guns. And they shoot people. And we have to be very strong. And we have to be very vigilant.”

Indeed, there are victims of homicide by undocumented immigrants, including by those in gangs. But there are two important data points to remember when Trump talks about this.

First, the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants do not fit Trump’s description of aggravated felons, whose crimes include murder. U.S. Sentencing Commission data shows homicides are a small percentage of the crimes committed by noncitizens, whether they are in the United States illegally or not.

Second, illegal immigration flows across the Southern border in fiscal 2015were at the lowest levels since 1972, except for in 2011. The apprehensions in fiscal 2016 so far have exceeded fiscal 2015, but still indicate an overall decline.

“I said it to you once, had we taken the oil — and we should have taken the oil — ISIS would not have been able to form either, because the oil was their primary source of income. And now they have the oil all over the place, including the oil — a lot of the oil in Libya, which was another one of her disasters.”

ISIS does not control oil in Libya. Trump has been called out before on this point, but he keeps saying this false claim.

As for keeping the oil in Iraq, This is nonsensical. The Bush administration invested a lot of diplomatic effort in assuring Middle Eastern allies that the United States was not invading because of Iraq’s oil fields. Moreover, oil revenue was crucial to ensuring a functioning Iraqi state — which is why insurgents often targeted the oil sector in Iraq.

In any event, seizing the oil of a sovereign nation after invading it would be considered a “grave breach” of the Geneva Conventions, one of the cornerstones of international law, as well as other international agreements. Maybe Trump’s staff should arrange a tutorial on international law.

Our colleague Steven Mufson looked deeply at whether, international law aside, such a proposal was even feasible. One expert said it was “beyond goofy.”

“You know, your campaign manager said that you built a lot of businesses on the backs of little guys.”


Clinton is referring to this statement by Kellyanne Conway, back when she was supporting Trump rival Ted Cruz, the Texas senator.  Conway, who now defends Trump with fervor, told CNN on March 8: “For Trump, the debates are fought with peril. The Trump victims. The reason the messaging has gotten better is they are starting to talk about victims of Trump University, victims of Trump in Atlantic City. Before it was conservative apostasies, and now it is, you built your business on the backs of the little guy.”

By Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee



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