The Big Read: Fact-checking the second Clinton-Trump presidential debate

By Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Glenn Kessler

In the second presidential debate, Donald Trump once again relied on many dubious and false claims that have been repeatedly been debunked. His Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, on occasion made a factual misstep, but it didn't even compare to Trump's long list of exaggerations.

LISTEN: Senior correspondent for Politifact Louis Jacobson speaks to Newstalk ZB about the debate

Here's a round-up of 25 interesting and suspect claims.

Donald Trump

"One of the women, who is a wonderful woman, at 12 years old, was raped at 12. Her client she represented got him off, and she's seen laughing on two separate occasions, laughing at the girl who was raped."

Trump mixes up a story about a long-ago criminal case. Clinton did not laugh at a rape victim.

In 1975, Clinton - then Hillary Rodham - was a 27-year-old law professor running a legal aid clinic in the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. After a 41-year-old factory worker was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl, he asked the judge to replace his male court-appoined attorney with a female one. The judge went through the list of a half-dozen women practicing law in the county and picked Clinton.

In her autobiography, Living History, Clinton wrote, "I told [prosecutor] Mahlon [Gibson] I really don't feel comfortable taking on such a client, but Mahlon gently reminded me that I couldn't very well refuse the judge's request." Gibson has confirmed that account in interviews with Newsday and CNN , saying Clinton told him: "I don't want to represent this guy. I just can't stand this. I don't want to get involved. Can you get me off?"

Ultimately, the prosecution's case fell apart for a number of reasons, including investigators mishandling evidence of bloody underwear, so in a plea agreement the charges were reduced from first-degree rape to unlawful fondling of a minor under the age of 14. Not until 2008 did the victim, Kathy Shelton, realise that Clinton had been the lawyer on the other side. She has since attacked Clinton for putting "me through hell" and she appeared at a news event with Trump before the debate.

The rape case re-emerged when Washington Free Beacon in 2014 discovered unpublished audio recordings from the mid-1980s of Clinton being interviewed by Arkansas reporter Roy Reed for an article that was never published.

In the recorded interview, Clinton is heard laughing or giggling four times when discussing the case with unusual candor; the reporter is also heard laughing, and sometimes Clinton is responding to him.

Here are the four instances:

"Of course he [the defendant] claimed he didn't [rape]. All this stuff. He took a lie detector test. I had him take a polygraph, which he passed, which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs." (Both Clinton and the reporter laugh.)

"So I got an order to see the evidence and the prosecutor didn't want me to see the evidence. I had to go to Maupin Cummings [the judge] and convince Maupin that yes indeed I had a right to see the evidence before it was presented. (Clinton laughs lightly between "evidence" and "before.")

"I handed it [a biography of her expert witness] to Mahlon Gibson, and I said, 'Well this guy's ready to come up from New York to prevent this miscarriage of justice.'" (Clinton laughs, as does the reporter.)

"So [Judge] Maupin had to, you know, under law he was supposed to determine whether the plea was factually supported. Maupin asked me to leave the room while he examined my client so that he could find out if it was factually supported. I said 'Judge I can't leave the room I'm his lawyer!' he said 'I know but I don't want to talk about this in front of you.'" (Reporter says, "Oh God, really?" And they both laugh.)

Bill Clinton "had to pay an $850,000 fine to one of the women. Paula Jones, who's also here tonight."

Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, alleged that in 1991 Clinton, while governor, propositioned her and exposed himself. She later filed a sexual harassment suit. The case was dismissed by a federal judge, who ruled that even if her allegations were true, such "boorish and offensive" behaviour would not be severe enough to constitute sexual harassment under the law. That ruling was under appeal when Clinton in 1998 settled the suit for US$850,000, with no apology or admission of guilt. All but US$200,000 was directed to pay legal fees.

Your [Obamacare] health insurance is going up . . . 68 per cent, 59 per cent, 71 per cent."

Premiums are expected to increase overall in 2017, but Trump is cherry-picking from the highest proposed increases in the insurance marketplace.

State-by-state weighted average increases range from just 1.3 per cent in Rhode Island to as high as 71 per cent in Oklahoma. But the most common plans in the marketplace will see an average increase of 9 per cent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's July analysis. These plans have been used as the benchmark to calculate government subsidies.

The vast majority of marketplace enrollees (about eight in 10) receive government premium subsidies. They are protected from a premium increase (and may even see a decrease) if they stay with a low-cost plan. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, "anecdotal examples of premium hikes or averages across insurers can provide a skewed picture of the increases marketplace enrollees will actually face"

"You owe the president an apology, because as you know very well, your campaign, Sidney Blumenthal - he's another real winner that you have - and he's the one that got this started, along with your campaign manager, and they were on television just two weeks ago, she was, saying exactly that. So you really owe him an apology."

To support the debunked notion that Clinton's campaign originated "birther" rumours during the 2008 presidential campaign, Trump once again referenced longtime Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal and Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle. But he's grasping at straws - and once again refused to apologise for his own role in promoting the birther fable.

James Asher, former Washington, DC, bureau chief of McClatchy, has said that Blumenthal "strongly urged" him to "investigate the exact place of President Barack 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 said 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.

Monica Lewinsky pictured in June last year, was again drawn into a political debate. Photo / AP
Monica Lewinsky pictured in June last year, was again drawn into a political debate. Photo / AP

"Hillary Clinton attacked those same women, attacked them viciously."

Trump has used this line of attack throughout the campaign, sometimes saying Hillary Clinton was an "enabler" of her husband's affairs, saying she would "go after these women and destroy their lives"

One of the interviews that Clinton's critics have pointed to is a January 27, 1998 interview on the Today Show, saying it showed Clinton was discrediting allegations by then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky. This interview took place a week after her husband was accused of having an affair with Lewinsky, and Clinton blamed Republican foes for making false attacks against her husband.

Specifically, critics have pointed to this quote by Clinton:

"I mean, look at the very people who are involved in this, they have popped up in other settings," Clinton told Matt Lauer. "This is the great story here, for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it, is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president."

This interview, by many accounts, was certainly pivotal to saving Bill Clinton's presidency, as his wife forcefully backed him. But by Hillary Clinton's account at the time her husband had not yet admitted the Lewinsky affair to her. That did not happen until August 15, 1998, according to her memoir.

Moreover, at the time of the interview, Lewinsky also denied there had been a relationship. Her lawyer had submitted an affidavit on January 12 from her saying she "never had a sexual relationship with the president." Lewinsky did not begin to testify before the independent prosecutor about the full extent of the relationship until July 27, six months after the Today Show interview. Lewinsky testified for 15 days, after which the president finally confessed to his wife.

Bill Clinton came under fire from Trump. Photo / AP
Bill Clinton came under fire from Trump. Photo / AP

"Bill Clinton was abusive to those women."

While Trump has ramped up the attacks on the Clintons and the sex allegations against Bill Clinton, the record shows that Trump dismissed or minimised these very allegations for many years. Trump dismissed the women involved as losers and not attractive. Trump even suggested that Americans would have been more forgiving if Clinton had slept with more beautiful women.

Here are some examples:

In 1998, Trump attacked Paula Jones, who had sued Clinton, alleging sexual harassment: "Paula Jones is a loser, but the fact is that she may be responsible for bringing down a president indirectly."

In 1999, Trump faulted Bill Clinton for the way he handled the Lewinsky scandal, and complained about his choice in women: "He handled the Monica situation disgracefully. It's sad because he would go down as a great president if he had not had this scandal. People would have been more forgiving if he'd had an affair with a really beautiful woman of sophistication. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were on a different level. Now Clinton can't get into golf clubs in Westchester. A former president begging to get in a golf club. It's unthinkable."

During a 2001 interview, Trump again expressed sympathy for Bill Clinton, arguing that the former president's biggest mistake was answering questions about his sex life. Trump said he likes Clinton, and finds it all too easy to understand why the then president found it hard to answer the question: "Did you f. . . Monica?"

"What he should have done is fought for years not to answer it," Trump said in the interview. "I mean, isn't it amazing and terrible that a guy - a president - is put in that position? He could have gone down as truly great and, instead, you know, he'll be viewed somewhat differently, which is really a shame."

"When I look at the Iran deal and how bad a deal it is for us, it's a one-sided transaction where we're giving back $150 billion to a terrorist state, really, the number one terror state."

Trump always makes it sound like this is US. taxpayer money - and he always uses a too-high estimate. Because of international sanctions over its nuclear programme, Iran had billions of dollars in assets that were frozen in foreign banks around the globe. With sanctions lifted, in theory those funds would be unlocked.

But the Treasury Department has estimated that once Iran fulfills other obligations, it would have about $55 billion left. (Much of the other money was obligated to illiquid projects in China.) For its part, the Central Bank of Iran said the number was actually $32 billion, not $55 billion.

"In San Bernardino, many people saw the bombs all over the apartment."

There is no evidence this was the case in the 2015 terrorist attack that killed 14 people. There have been unconfirmed second- or third-hand reports - a friend of a friend of a neighbour - that a neighbour claimed to have noticed suspicious activity but did not report anything for fear of doing racial profiling. The religion of this supposed neighbour is unknown, but presumably a fear of racial profiling would suggest the neighbour was not Muslim.

"You [Clinton] get a subpoena, and after getting the subpoena, you delete 33,000 e-mails, and then you acid wash them or bleach them, as you would say, very expensive process."

Trump is technically correct on the timeline, but Clinton's staff had requested the emails to be deleted months before the subpoena, according to the FBI's August 2016 report. Moreover, there's no evidence Clinton deleted the emails in anticipation of the subpoena, and FBI director James Comey has said his agency's investigation found no evidence any work-related emails were "intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them."

PolitiFact compiled a helpful timeline of events relating to Clinton's release of her emails, based on the FBI report. From their timeline:

On July 23, 2014, the State Department agreed to produce records pertaining to the 2012 attack in Libya, for the House Select Committee on Benghazi's investigation. In December 2014, Clinton aide Cheryl Mills told an employee of the company that managed her server to delete emails on her server unrelated to government work that were older than 60 days.

On March 4, 2015, the Benghazi Committee issued a subpoena requiring Clinton to turn over her emails relating to Libya. Three weeks later, between March 25 and March 31, the employee had an "oh s--" moment and realised he did not delete the emails that Mills requested in December 2014, he told the FBI. The employee then deleted the emails and used a program called BleachBit to delete the files.

"I was against the war in Iraq. Has not been debunked."

This is just totally false.

We have found no evidence of his early opposition. Trump expressed lukewarm support the first time he was asked about it on September 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.

"Our taxes are so high, just about the highest in the world."

Trump is simply wrong when he says the United States is the highest taxed nation in the world.

The Pew Research Center, using 2014 data, found that the tax bill for Americans, under various scenarios, is below average for developed countries.

In 2014, according to comparative tables of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), revenue as a percentage of the gross domestic product - the broadest measure of the economy - was 26 per cent for the United States.

Out of 34 countries, that put the United States in the bottom third - and well below the OECD average of 34.4 per cent.

"As soon as my routine audit is finished, I'll release my taxes."

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.

"Gadhafi's out, it's a mess. And by the way ISIS has a good chunk of their oil."

Trump is simply wrong.

The toppling of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi - at the hands of Libyan rebels aided by US and NATO air power - has led to highly unstable governance as the country's tribes have vied for influence and power. There are rival governments based in the capital of Tripoli and the eastern city of Tobruk, and neither has fully recognised the "unity" government established by United Nations mediators.

The National Oil Corporation (NOC) claims to be operating independently without taking orders from either of the country's rival governments, though a rival NOC appears to have been set up in the east. ISIS has attempted to step into the power vacuum. But not a single expert or news article that we consulted said that ISIS has grabbed a single oil field. Instead, militants appear to be trying to disrupt the flow of oil, mainly by scaring workers away.

Claudia Gazzini, a Tripoli-based senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told The Fact Checker it was not true that the Islamic State has control of any Libyan oil.

"While it is true that ISIS has attacked oil fields in the Sirte basin area and destroyed key equipment there, they have not sought to keep control of the oil fields," Gazzini said. "At the moment they appear to have adopted a hit-and-run strategy. There is no evidence that they are pumping out the crude oil and certainly no evidence that they are trading it. At the moment they just appear interested in starving the Libyan state of oil revenues."

The US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi. Photo / AP
The US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi. Photo / AP

"Ambassador Stevens sent 600 requests for help."

Trump made a ludicrous claim that US. ambassador Chris Stevens made 600 requests for help before he perished in the attack on a US diplomatic facility in Benghazi. This is a misunderstanding of a figure widely used by Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi but even they never claimed that these came from Stevens.

The Fact Checker delved deeply into this "600" figure. It is a subjective accounting of "requests and concerns," not actual requests for help. There is no dispute that security was inadequate in Benghazi and that the State Department failed to respond to all requests for security. But the shorthand description of "600 requests" has left a misleading impression - so much so that many reporters and lawmakers appear to believe that all of these requests were ignored. At least some of the requests were actually fulfilled - and the counting of "concerns" may be subject to dispute.

"We have an increase in murder within our cities, the biggest in 45 years."

Homicides were up 10.8 per cent nationwide in 2015, the biggest percentage jump in a single year since 1971, according to FBI data. But violent crime overall have been declining for about two decades, and are far below rates seen one or two decades ago.

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 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.

"Hillary Clinton wants to put all the miners out of business."

Trump takes Clinton's statement out of context. During a March 2016 town hall, Clinton was asked by a voter: "Make the case to poor whites who live in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, who vote Republican, why they should vote for you based upon economic policies versus voting for a Republican?"

Clinton gave a lengthy response, which included the line, "We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." It was part of her longer answer about how transitioning away from coal-powered plants has already affected mining communities, and her plan to help coal mine workers adjust after losing factory jobs, as explained in her November 2015 policy proposal for revitalizing coal communities.

Here's her full answer.

"Well, first of all, I was happy to carry those states you mentioned, and I carried the white vote in those states, too, that voted Democratic now, I don't want to get carried away here. Look, we have serious economic problems in many parts of our country. And Roland is absolutely right. Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let's reunite around policies that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these underserved poor communities.

"So for example, I'm the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right, Tim? And we're going to make it clear that we don't want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.

"Now we've got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don't want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.

"So whether it's coal country or Indian country or poor urban areas, there is a lot of poverty in America. We have gone backwards. We were moving in the right direction. In the '90s more people were lifted out of poverty than anytime in recent history. Because of the terrible economic policies of the Bush administration, President Obama was left with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and people fell back into poverty because they lost jobs, they lost homes, they lost opportunities, and hope.

"So I am passionate about this, which is why I have put forward specific plans about how we incentivize more jobs, more investment in poor communities, and put people to work."

"There wasn't 'check out a sex tape'. It was just take a look at the person that she built up to be this wonderful Girl Scout who was no Girl Scout."

This is easy to disprove. Let's look at the tweet, sent at 5.30am on September 30 regarding former Miss Universe Alicia Machado:

"Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?" Trump said.

Trump claims that Machado is "no angel." No sex tape has surfaced since Trump sent out the late-night tweet. But he clearly tweeted that people should "check out sex tape."

"You go into the inner cities and you see it's 45 per cent poverty. African-Americans, now, 45 per cent [are in] poverty in the inner cities."

It's unclear what Trump's source is on this one, and his campaign did not respond to our inquiry. In 2015, 24 per cent of black people lived below poverty levels, according to the Census. Black people at the highest rate of poverty among all racial groups (21 per cent of Hispanics, 11 per cent of Asians and 11.6 per cent of whites).

Moreover, the majority of black people do not live in the "inner city," as the NAACP tweeted during the debate.

Research shows that as of 2010, the majority of blacks, Asians and Latinos in metropolitan areas lived in the suburbs.

"There is a thing called clean coal."

Coal is not clean. When burned in power plants, it emits sulfur dioxides, nitrous oxides and mercury unless coal-fired power plants have scrubbers to remove those from the air, thanks to regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency that Trump was was "so restrictive that they are putting our energy companies out of business."

Coal also emits carbon dioxide, which the Supreme Court in 2007 said was a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. That carbon dioxide can only be removed from emissions at great cost and it is not currently in use except in areas where it can be used for enhanced oil recovery.

Finally, the act of mining coal is not clean. It either involves open pit mines or underground mines that often pollute waters. And coal-fired power plants also produce coal ash waste that is often kept in ponds that are prone to leaking.

Probably the major reason for the decline in coal use is the discovery of a way to tap into shale gas, which has brought down the price of natural gas. Many utilities are switching to natural gas.

"With all the problems this country has and all of the problems that you see going on, hundreds of thousands of people coming in from Syria when we know nothing about them."

This is wrong. The Obama administration has admitted 12,500 refugees over the past fiscal year, which slightly exceeded a goal of 10,000. Even so, this is about one-third accepted by Canada, with a much smaller population.

Trump in the past has claimed that Clinton wants to admit 620,000 refugees in her first term. Clinton has supported accepting up to 65,000 refugees from Syria in one year. This is 55,000 more than the Obama administration's plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year. The 620,000 figure that Trump often uses is based in the unverified assumption that Clinton would continue at that pace for every year of her first term, on top of the Obama administration's proposal for 100,000 total refugees for fiscal year 2017. (Multiply 155,000 four times and you reach 620,000.)

After Trump made his comment about "hundreds of thousands," moderator Martha Raddatz deftly noted that Clinton had asked for an increase from 10,000 to 65,000.

"Last year, we had an almost $800 billion trade deficit. Other words, trading with other countries. We had an $800 billion deficit. It's hard to believe. Inconceivable."

The United States has a trade deficit of about $500 billion in goods and services. Trump appears to be referring the deficit in goods, which was nearly $800 billion in 2015, according to the Census Bureau.

"I have a very, very great balance sheet, so great that when I did the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, the United States government - because of my balance sheet, which they actually know very well - chose me to do the Old Post Office. ... One of the primary area things, in fact, perhaps the primary thing was balance sheet."

This is not the full story. The federal government weighed several factors when considering bids for redevelopment of the Old Post Office building: 50 per cent were qualitative (including past performance of the developer, site plan and design concept) and 50 per cent were quantitative (developer's financial capability and capacity and the developer's financial offer).

Two factors weighed heavily in Trump's favour: the financial backing of major real estate investor Colony Capital and the design by prominent architect Arthur Cotton Moore.

Trump had submitted the bid with Colony Capital as the financial backer, and Trump Organization as the lead developer. The Washington Post's Jonathan O'Connell wrote: "Colony is a major global investor in real estate, which bolstered Trump's efforts to secure the deal. At the time, Colony had already invested $45 billion in more than 14,000 corporate and real estate assets, ranking it among the top real estate investment firms worldwide."

But after Trump Organization won the bid, Colony Capital backed out of the deal, saying "the project's timeline became too long for the firm." The Trumps instead contributed $40 million to $42 million in equity and borrowed $170 million from Deutsche Bank.

The selection of Moore "bolstered the organisation's experience restoring or managing historic buildings in New York," O'Connell wrote. Moore stepped down from the project less than a year after Trump won the bid. He told the New York Times: "I left because I couldn't support what they were doing to the building. They were covering up or tearing out everything that was historic."

Hillary Clinton

"[I] negotiated a treaty with Russia to lower nuclear weapons."

Clinton overstated the impact of the 2011 New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement, which she helped negotiate as Secretary of State.

New START placed tighter limits on deployed strategic weapons but Russia was actually already meeting the treaty's limits, for the most part, when the treaty's implementation began. Indeed, Russia has increased deployed nuclear weapons from 1,537 in February 2011 to 1,796 in September of this year. Also, the treaty does not restrict either country from stockpiling weapons, nor does it require them to destroy any existing weapons.

Russia's total nuclear warhead arsenal has been on a steady decline, from 40,000, since 1986. During Obama's presidency, Russia's nuclear warhead total has hovered around 4,500 since 2012.

"You know that we are now for the first time ever energy-independent."

Actually, the United States is still a net importer of crude oil and refined petroleum products. It imported 5.3 million barrels a day in July, according to the Energy Information Administration. That is, however, down sharply from the 13 million barrels a day of imports reached in 2006.

Clinton went onto say "We are not dependent upon the Middle East." That's correct, but it's been the case for years. Canada is the biggest source for American oil imports-more than the entire Persian Gulf combined.

"Since the Great Recession, the gains have all gone to the top."

Clinton's talking point is out of date. The Census Bureau reported in September that median income was up 5.2 per cent from 2014 to 2015, to $56,516. This is the first annual increase in median household income since 2007, the year before the Great Recession.

- Washington Post

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