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Fact-checking Hillary Clinton's blistering attacks on Donald Trump's foreign policy
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson June 3, 2016
By Neelesh Moorthy June 3, 2016

Updated with additional fact-checks on Monday, June 6, 2016, at 6:40 p.m.

During a forceful, even mocking address on foreign policy Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lit into some of Donald Trump’s past comments, from nuclear proliferation to Vladimir Putin and climate change.

"He says climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese," Clinton said, "and he has the gall to say that prisoners of war like John McCain aren’t heroes."

Trump "praises" Russia’s Putin while tangling with allies in Germany, Mexico, Great Britain and even the Vatican, she continued.

"He says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia," Clinton  said.

We checked several of Clinton’s jabs against her Republican rival and found them to be largely accurate, but in some cases applied too broadly.

Climate change and China

Trump really did link the Chinese to the climate change "hoax" in a 2012 tweet, but there’s a bit more to the story.

Trump’s message, sent Nov. 6, 2012, said, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

So Clinton certainly has evidence to support her claim. But we should also note that Trump backed off his claim earlier this year, calling the Chinese link a "joke."

We rated Clinton’s statement Mostly True.

After Sen. Bernie Sanders attacked Trump’s climate change views in a Democratic presidential debate, Trump told Fox & Friends on Jan. 18, "Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax."

"A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change. I'd be — received environmental awards. And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke," he said. "But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change. They burn everything you could burn; they couldn't care less. They have very — you know, their standards are nothing. But they — in the meantime, they can undercut us on price. So it's very hard on our business."

That said, we found a litany of examples of Trump using the word "hoax" to describe climate change. (For the record, in 2014 we rated the claim that climate change is a "hoax" Pants on Fire.)

POWs not ‘heroes’

Clinton’s dig against Trump for his comment about McCain and prisoners of war dates back to a Trump event in Ames, Iowa, on July 18, 2015.

Referring to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, who spent five and a half years in a Vietnamese prison camp, Trump said "he’s not a war hero."

Trump went on to say, "He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured."

In one sense, Clinton has a point. Trump did say McCain is not a hero despite his POW record, although Trump has since taken those comments back and called McCain a hero.

However, Clinton’s speech was intended to more broadly attack Trump’s national security credentials. Trump has never made the general statement that POWs are not heroes, even if his comments against McCain insinuated it. In fact, he has insisted to the contrary on multiple occasions.

With that missing context, Clinton’s statement rates Half True.

In the press conference immediately after the rally, Trump said that all prisoners are war heroes, with the exception of Bowe Bergdahl.

"If a person is captured, they’re a hero as far as I’m concerned, unless they are a traitor," Trump said.

Trump also explained his comments about liking veterans who weren’t captured, saying that soldiers, both captured and not-captured, deserve credit.

"You have many people who didn’t get captured, I respect them greatly. You have many people who did get captured, I respect them greatly also," Trump said.

Trump then pivoted back to his main talking point: that McCain has failed to advocate for veterans in the Senate (a statement we have previously rated False).

Miss Universe pageant as foreign-policy experience

Clinton also said Trump "says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia."

We found that the attack is pretty close to the mark, though somewhat overstated, so we rated it Half True.

In an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier on May 6, 2016, Baier asked Trump about whether he had ever met Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, an issue Trump had previously been coy about. Trump told Baier that once again he would have no comment on the question, in order to protect Putin’s confidences.

Trump went on to say, however, "I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago, Miss Universe contest, which was a big, big, incredible event. An incredible success."

So Clinton certainly has a point that Trump referenced his leadership of the Miss Universe pageant as a credential. However, Clinton overstated the case modestly when she accused Trump of claiming the pageant as "foreign policy experience."

Trump definitely cited his pageant experience as evidence that he could work with Russia and Putin — but the discussion with Baier never broadened out to foreign policy generally.

Japan and nuclear weapons

Clinton charged Trump with poor judgment on whether Japan should become a nuclear-armed state. "It's no small thing when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons," Clinton said in her speech. 

Clinton’s evidence includes interviews and comments Trump has made on the campaign trail.

When Trump sat for a March 26 interview with the New York Times, he was asked directly, "Would you object if (Japan) got their own nuclear arsenal, given the threat that they face from North Korea and China?"

Trump responded in part, "There’ll be a point at which we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore. Now, does that mean nuclear? It could mean nuclear. It’s a very scary nuclear world. Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation. At the same time, you know, we’re a country that doesn’t have money."

In other interviews, Trump said that Japan, and the United States, might be better off if Japan had nuclear weapons. He declined multiple attempts by interviewers to backtrack from that view. We rated Clinton's statement Mostly True

Trade wars and the Great Depression

Clinton said she understood voters’ concerns about the negative impacts of free trade agreements that Trump opposes. Still, pursuing large tariffs against such trading partners as China and Mexico -- as Trump has suggested -- would be dangerously misguided, Clinton argued.

"I understand a lot of Americans have concerns about our trade agreements," Clinton said. "I do, too. But a trade war is something very different. We went down that road in the 1930s. It made the Great Depression longer and more painful."

Numerous experts we checked with said the Smoot-Hawley tariffs and the resulting trade war weren’t the only factor to worsen the Great Depression. However, they agreed that the trade war undeniably had a negative impact. Clinton took care not to overplay this argument in her speech, so we rated her statement True.

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Fact-checking Hillary Clinton's blistering attacks on Donald Trump's foreign policy