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Fact-checking the GOP Fox News debate in Michigan

Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich debate on March 3 in Detroit. (AP) Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich debate on March 3 in Detroit. (AP)

Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich debate on March 3 in Detroit. (AP)

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll March 4, 2016

After trailing him in most Super Tuesday primary elections just two days prior, Republican presidential candidates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz lobbed attack after attack on Donald Trump at the Fox News debate in Detroit.

Amid the onslaught of claims about experience, conservatism and even the size of Donald Trump’s, ahem, hands, we heard the candidates make some factual statements that we wanted to put on the Truth-O-Meter tonight.


Polls on polls on polls

At one point, Cruz, Trump and Rubio engaged in a numbers-fueled crosstalk debating who has the most support among Republicans and who has the best chance at beating Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich chimed in and said that in head-to-head polls for the general election, "I beat Hillary Clinton by more than anybody, by 11 points."

The RealClearPolitics average of recent polls shows Kasich faring better against Clinton than Rubio, Cruz or Trump. But focusing on the 11-point margin in his best poll is a bit of cherry picking. We rated Kasich’s claim Mostly True.

Rubio’s voting record

In an oft-used claim, Trump said Rubio "has the No. 1 absentee record" in the U.S. Senate.

He’s accurate if we look at the number of votes missed in the past year. In that time frame, Rubio has missed a higher percentage of votes — an absentee rate of 41 percent — than any other sitting senator, including those running against him.

But Rubio ties with Cruz for the highest career absentee rate among all the 2016 candidates who are current or former senators.

We rated Trump’s claim Mostly True.

Trump University

Rubio attacked Trump for taking people’s money without delivering results at the now-defunct real estate educational outfit, Trump University. With some participants paying as much as $35,000, the project has drawn investigations and lawsuits in at least three states.

Trump retorted, "We have an ‘A’ from the Better Business Bureau."

We’ve found that claim to be False.

The Better Business Bureau doesn't release details of its past ratings, but it did say Trump's program had ratings that ranged from A+ to D-. What we do know, from several published reports and archived Web pages, is that the university had a D in 2010 and under a later name, Trump Entrepreneur Institute, had ratings ranging from C to B, with no ratings after March 2014.

Trump's donations to Clinton

Cruz said Trump is not a trustworthy conservative in part because he's donated money to Clinton's past campaigns 10 times.

"Donald Trump has written checks to Hillary Clinton not once, not twice, not three times. Ten times," Cruz said. "And four of those checks were not to her Senate campaign. It wasn't that she was the New York senator and it was a cost of doing business. It was to her presidential campaign."

He has a point that Trump has made multiple campaign donations to Clinton, but he overstated the amounts. Trump ended up making seven donations in total: Five worth $4,100 to Clinton’s Senate campaign, and two donations worth $2,300 to her presidential campaign. The presidential donations were eventually refunded in their entirety.

We rated Cruz's claim Half True

What the 9/11 hijackers' wives knew

When the subject turned to terrorism, Trump resurrected a claim he has made before — that the wives of the 9/11 terrorists knew what was going to happen and fled the United States to Saudi Arabia just before the attacks.

"A man flies in the World Trade Center and his family gets sent back to where they were going —  and I think most of you know where they went and, by the way, it wasn't Iraq. But they went back to a certain territory. They knew what was happening. The wife knew exactly what was happening," Trump said.

We've rated that claim False

Of all the hijackers, not one had a wife, girlfriend or family member in the United States during the days or months leading up to the hijackings, according to the 9/11 Commission report

The commission concluded that most of the 19 hijackers had "broken off regular contact with their families" long before the attacks, except for one hijacker who had a girlfriend in Germany. He was on the plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Investigators concluded after extensive interviews that she knew nothing about the plot.

Clinton: Did she lie to the Benghazi family members?

In his closing statement, Rubio trotted out one of his most often-used critiques of Clinton: that she lied to the family members of Benghazi victims, and that disqualifies her from being president.

The lack of hard evidence makes it impossible to know what really happened between Clinton and these families, so we haven’t put this claim on the Truth-O-Meter. But you can read our account of this debate here.

The gist is that Rubio alleges Clinton told the families a story about what sparked the attacks that she knew at the time to be false. No one recorded these brief meetings that happened behind closed doors only three days after the Benghazi attacks. Family members and Clinton disagree on what was said.

There simply is not enough concrete information in the public domain for Rubio or anyone to claim as fact that Clinton did or did not lie to the Benghazi families.

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Fact-checking the GOP Fox News debate in Michigan