Trump vs Clinton: A debate fact-check cheat sheet

By Glenn Kessler

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off tomorrow in the first presidential debate. Photos / Washington Post and Bloomberg
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off tomorrow in the first presidential debate. Photos / Washington Post and Bloomberg

Presidential candidates rarely come to the debates with fresh facts. Instead, they rely on claims that have been scattered in their stump speeches for many months - claims that have already been investigated.

So here's a quick guide to old favourites viewers will likely hear during the presidential debates that start tomorrow.

The list is longer for Donald Trump because, frankly, he has been exceptionally fact-challenged in this campaign.

Debate moderators, please clip and save.



"I was totally against the war in Iraq."

False, false, false. We have carefully documented how Trump supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


"Clinton caused all these problems with her stupid policies. Look at what she did with Libya."

Trump conveniently forgets that he also supported intervention in Libya, specifically advocating the aim of removing leader Muammar Gaddafi.


"The rise of Isis is the direct result of policy decisions made by Obama and Clinton."

This is false. The terrorist group emerged as a direct result of the US invasion of Iraq.

"Obama took everybody out of Iraq. And really, ISIS was formed."

Trump apparently has forgotten that he also called for the immediate withdrawal of US troops.


"92 million Americans are not part of the economy, a silent nation of jobless Americans."

This is a phony statistic. Trump is counting retirees, students, stay-at-home parents and the disabled - people who say they are not seeking jobs.

"Since President Obama came into office, another 2 million Hispanics have joined the ranks of those in poverty."

From the start, this was a cherry-picked, false factoid. But Trump keeps saying it even though new census data now shows that nearly one million Hispanics have been lifted out of poverty under Obama.

"Fifty-eight per cent of African-American youth is unemployed."

Another false fact. Trump basically triples the official rate by counting students and people in training programmes as "unemployed" even though they are not seeking jobs.


"Our veterans, in many cases, are being treated worse than illegal immigrants."

Ridiculous on every level. Yet Trump keeps saying it, despite his campaign's inability to provide any credible evidence.

"Since 2013 alone, the Obama Administration has allowed 300,000 criminal aliens to return back into United States communities."

Some fuzzy maths is at work here. The official estimate of "criminal aliens" released is about ¼ of Trump's number, which lumps together people not considered criminal aliens.

"Your crime numbers are so crazy, they're going through the roof" because of illegal immigration.

Totally false. There is no evidence this is the case.

"Illegal immigration costs our country more than US$113 billion a year."

This is a figure from a group that wants to dramatically reduce legal immigration. Caveat emptor.

"Hillary Clinton plans to admit 620,000 Syrian refugees."

There is no such plan. This is a made-up figure.

"People are pouring in, pouring in, and they're doing tremendous damage if you look at the crime, if you look at the economy."

This is doubly wrong. Illegal immigration flows are at their lowest level in two decades. And there is no documented correlation between illegal immigration and crime.


"Over 300,000 veterans died waiting for care."

Trump often repeats a misreported figure in the media, based on a government report about inadequate records-keeping. No one really knows the figure, but it's not this high.


"Hillary Clinton started talks to give US$400 million, in cash, to Iran."

Clinton had nothing to do with this transaction, part of a settlement of long-standing claims dating from the 1979 Iran Revolution. (Critics have charged the payment was tied to the release of hostages.)


"Nafta was signed by Bill Clinton."

Nope, the North American Free Trade Agreement was negotiated and signed by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, though Bill Clinton was an avid supporter and got congressional approval.


"You know who started the birther movement? Hillary Clinton."

Another ridiculous claim - and ironic, given that Trump is the most famous birther of all.


"Nato is unfair, economically, to the United States. We pay a disproportionate share."

Trump is mixing apples and oranges here. The United States projects military might across the globe, so defence budgets cannot be easily compared with the European countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.


"Obama went on an apology tour."

Trump resurrects a GOP golden-oldie from the 2012 campaign. There was no apology tour.

"I think it's very sad when 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 of Air Force One."

It appears to be news to Trump, but the airport ceremony is an unimportant part of the trip. Presidents are frequently not greeted by their counterparts when they arrive in an overseas airport.


"I built a business after my father gave me a small loan of a million dollars."

This is a fable. Trump benefited from millions of dollars in loans from his father, as well as his father's connections in New York real state and local government. His father also saved him from almost certain financial ruin in 1990.

"Trump University got an A rating from the Better Business Bureau."

Actually, the BBB rated Trump University a D-minus, its second lowest grade.

"Vladimir Putin said I'm a genius."

No. The Russian President only said Trump was a "colourful" figure.



"Everything I did was permitted."

Nope, it was not permitted. She also did not comply with the requirement to turn over business-related emails before she left government service.

"Classified material has a header which says 'top secret,' 'secret,' 'confidential.' None of the emails sent or received by me had such a header."

Clinton often relies on legalistic wording when talking about the email controversy. The reality is that there do not need to be any markings for an email to contain classified information.


"We now have 15 million new jobs that have been created in the last 7 1/2 years."

This is wrong. Clinton only counts back 6½ years to get this number. The real number for Obama's presidency is 10.5 million jobs.


"The average CEO makes about 300 times what the average worker makes."

Clinton sometimes bungles this talking point. This version would be especially wrong. The "300" figure comes from the pay ratio of top corporate chief executives to workers at their companies; it is not a comparison of all CEOs and all workers.


"Hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than truck drivers or nurses."

This a hyper-technical factoid. Clinton is talking about the tax paid on every additional dollar of earnings, known as the marginal tax rate. She's barely right on nurses, wrong on truck drivers. But the effective tax rate - a more important number - is higher for hedge fund managers.


"I worked with Democrats and Republicans to create the Children's Health Insurance Programme."

Clinton overstates her backstage role in the creation of Chip. She didn't work directly with Republicans.

Social security

George W. Bush's "plan was to give the Social Security Trust Fund to Wall Street."

Democrats love to bring up the long-dead GOP plan for Social Security, falsely deriding it as "privatisation". But it was really only a modest, voluntary programme.


"I will not let the Department of Veterans Affairs be privatised."

Neither will Trump, though Clinton likes to pretend he does.


"We have to pass a law prohibiting people on the terrorist watch list from being able to buy a gun in the United States of America."

The proposed legislation actually wouldn't ban such purchases automatically.


"The economy does better when you have a Democrat in the White House."

Clinton is citing an actual study. But the study said this was mostly due to "good luck," not policy choices by Democratic presidents.

- Washington Post

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