Sunday, September 21st, 2014

McCaul’s explosive claim was readers' favorite

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul chairs the Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations and Management Subcommittee.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul chairs the Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations and Management Subcommittee.

Our review of U.S. Rep.Michael McCaul’s comment about terrorists putting explosives into baby dolls was the reader favorite last week. But we also checked eye-catching statements by Sen. John Cornyn and state Rep. Sylvester Turner.

To the Flashback:

Shortly after a Saudi man who attended college in Lubbock was accused of attempting "to use a weapon of mass destruction," McCaul, R-Austin, issued a statement about his "likely" connection to an international terrorist network.
   
Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari’s "intent to use baby dolls to conceal chemical explosives is a rare, little-known method used by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Yousef in the 1995 Bojinka plot in which they planned to blow up 12 jumbo jets over the Pacific Ocean," McCaul, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in his Feb. 28 statement.
   
We didn’t rule on Aldawsari’s intent or his guilt — that’s for the court to decide. But we learned that an FBI investigation suggests that Aldawsari could have been considering using a doll to conceal explosives in attacks on U.S. targets, including President George W. Bush’s Dallas home. Other reports also indicate that Mohammed and Yousef planned to use baby dolls to conceal explosives in a 1995 plot. We rated McCaul’s statement as True.

Confronting Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on March 9, Cornyn, R-Texas, cited information that he said was from the Border Patrol about people from countries other than Mexico who have been detained near the southwestern border for illegally entering the United States. Cornyn said there were about 45,000 arrests of people from 140 different countries, excluding Mexico, in the 19 months between the start of the 2009 fiscal year — Oct. 1, 2008 — and April 30, 2010.

At least four of those nations "have been designated by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism," Cornyn said. "How can you possibly claim that the approach of the administration is working when it comes to border security, in light of these statistics?"

We wondered whether Cornyn was right. Did the U.S. Border Patrol arrest people on the Mexico border who were from nations that the U.S. labels state sponsors of terrorism?

We found no reason to doubt the senator’s numbers. But his statement indicated the arrests at issue occurred at the U.S.-Mexico border. And in the larger context of his concerns about security on the Mexican border, his own numbers show that 87 percent of the apprehensions of people from "terrorism" countries took place elsewhere. Also, our spot-check found that the Border Patrol made three times as many of those arrests in 2005, during the Bush administration, than in 2009.

Because Cornyn's statement lacks such details (ahem, perspective), we rated it Half True.

In a March 31 floor debate, Turner, D-Houston, urged House colleagues to tap more of the rainy day fund to close the $4 billion deficit in the current budget. Turner, saying nursing homes would shutter without more funding, said: "Ninety percent of Texans say that they do not want the nursing homes to close. It polls higher than anything else."

Indeed, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 90 percent of respondents didn’t want state funding for nursing home care cut, and opposition to that idea polled "higher than anything else," as Turner said. Turner erred when he couched that as opposition to closing nursing homes — the poll didn’t ask about that. Still, it’s reasonable to assume that a comparable percentage of respondents would feel negatively about closures as well.
   
However, gauging the strength of statewide public opinion on the basis of a single, online poll of 800 voters is a questionable proposition. We rated Turner’s statement as Mostly True.

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