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Fact-checking the third presidential debate

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu October 20, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump met for the third and final presidential debate of 2016, in the wake of Trump’s baseless claims of a rigged election and the release of hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign manager.

Trump declined to say whether he would accept the result of the Nov. 8 presidential election.

"I will look at it at the time," he said. "I will keep you in suspense."

Clinton, who called Trump’s remarks "horrifying," defended her family’s foundation and the contents of the emails released by Wikileaks.

Beyond sparring over personal issues, Clinton and Trump also disagreed on foreign policy, immigration and domestic policy.

So just how accurate were their claims? Here are 36 claims from the two candidates, fact-checked.

Clinton: "I have major disagreements" with Trump on issues like marriage equality, abortion and Citizens United.

Trump is against gay marriage and is currently pro-life. He has been critical of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in the past.

Trump: "I believe if my opponent should win this race, which I truly don't think will happen, we will have a Second Amendment which will be a very, very small replica of what it is right now."  

This is a more tempered and more accurate version of Trump’s previous claim that Clinton "wants to abolish the Second Amendment." (We rated that claim False.)

Clinton has said and continues to say she supports the right to bear arms, but with stronger gun control.

Clinton: "What the District of Columbia was trying to do was to protect toddlers from guns and so they wanted people with guns to safely store them."

Trump criticized Clinton for not agreeing with the District of Columbia. vs. Heller decision, in which the Supreme Court upheld the individual right to bear arms. Clinton says she supports this decision but her defense of her opposition is Half True.

City leaders did specifically cite the danger posed to children in trying to keep in place gun regulations, but child safety wasn’t the sole topic cited by defenders of the city’s gun control ordinance. The Heller decision dealt with a much broader issue than protecting toddlers from firearm deaths or injuries.

Clinton: "We have 33,000 people a year who die from guns."

We rated this claim Mostly True. The number is accurate, but it leaves unsaid that the two-thirds of these deaths are suicides, not homicides.

Clinton: "Indeed, he said women should be punished, that there should be some form of punishment for women who obtain abortions."

A similar claim from Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer rates Half True.

Trump did say something to this effect, but within a matter of hours, his campaign retracted that statement. Trump said he meant doctors should be punished for providing abortions, not women who undergo the procedure. There’s no evidence this was a long-held position.

Trump: "Hillary wants to give amnesty. She wants to have open borders."

While her plan would make it easier for undocumented to avoid deportation, she has repeatedly said she supports border security.

In a brief speech expert from 2013, Clinton purportedly says, "My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable."

But we don’t have more context about what Clinton meant by "open borders" because she has not released the full speech. Her campaign has said she was talking about clean energy across the hemisphere.

We rated Trump’s claim Mostly False.

Trump: "The single-biggest problem is heroin that pours across our southern borders, just pouring, and destroying their youth and is poisoning the blood of their youth and plenty of other people."

Trump’s claim that heroin "pours across our southern borders" is True. The vast majority of heroin in the United States comes from Mexico and South America.

Clinton: "He said as recently as a few weeks ago in Phoenix that every undocumented person would be subject to deportation."

Trump said Aug. 31 that anyone in the country illegally who wants lawful status has to go back home and apply for re-entry, and that those who came illegally are subject to deportation.

But Trump also said "then and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those individuals who remain." That suggests he doesn’t intend to deport literally every undocumented person. We rated Clinton’s claim Mostly True.

Trump: "Hillary Clinton wanted the wall. Hillary Clinton fought for the wall in 2006 or thereabouts."

Clinton voted in 2006 for 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, but not for the taller, longer concrete wall that he vows to build. We rated this claim Half True.

Clinton: "He used undocumented labor to build the Trump Tower."

This is True. Between 1979 and 1980, Trump hired a contractor to demolish a Manhattan building to make way for the eventual Trump Tower. That contractor in turn hired local union workers as well as 200 undocumented Polish workers to meet the tight deadlines.

Trump: "She wants 550 percent more people than Barack Obama, and he has thousands and thousands of people."

We rated this claim True. Clinton supported allowing in 65,000 refugees when President Obama supported a 10,000 figure. (The refugees would be screened.) That’s a 550 percent increase.

Trump: "I don’t know Putin."

We gave Trump a Full Flop on whether he has a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2013, he said, "I do have a relationship." In 2014 he said, "I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin" and said the Russian leader had sent him a present. In 2015, he said, "I got to know him very well" due to their joint appearance on 60 Minutes. More recently, though, Trump has said, "I never met Putin -- I don't know who Putin is" and "I have no relationship with him."

Clinton: "You encouraged espionage against our people."

Trump said at a press conference in South Florida that he hoped Russia was able to find "the 30,000 emails that are missing." That was a reference to Clinton’s emails, not Americans’ emails more broadly. We rate this claim Half True.

Clinton: "We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election."

This is True. The Director of National Intelligence, which speaks for the country’s 17 federal intelligence agencies, released a joint statement saying the intelligence community at large is confident that Russia is behind recent hacks into political organizations’ emails.

Clinton: "He’s advocated more countries getting them, Japan, Korea, even Saudi Arabia."

Trump has said some countries, namely Japan and South Korea, might be "better off" if they were to develop nuclear weapons." In the same interview, he said he opposes nuclear proliferation.

Clinton: "I want us to have the biggest jobs program since World War II, jobs in infrastructure and advanced manufacturing."

Using rough estimates of public investment in several sectors, the size of Clinton’s proposals — at least $900 billion over 10 years — appears larger than any other 10-year investment since World War II. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that when we look at the size of the historical public investments as a share of GDP, there have been 12 years since World War II with larger public investments.

In terms of whether these investments will result in new, good-paying jobs, that’s all a matter of prediction. We rated her claim Half True.

Clinton: "His whole plan is to cut taxes, to give the biggest tax breaks ever to the wealthy and to corporations."

Trump’s tax plan would deliver more tax cuts to the top 1 percent (equivalent to 1.32 percent of GDP) than the Bush tax cuts (0.66 percent of GDP).

Trump: "Her plan is going to raise taxes and even double your taxes."

This is Mostly False. The vast majority of taxpayers would see no change to their tax bill or even tax cuts. The richest payers would see increases, but not even the typical richest taxpayer would see their taxes double.

Trump: "She did call (the Trans Pacific Partnership) the gold standard. And they actually fact checked, and they said I was right. I was so honored."

We rated his claim at the first presidential debate Mostly True. Clinton did use that language in 2012 when discussing TPP in Australia. It’s worth noting that at this point the deal was still under negotiation and because that was done behind closed doors, there’s no way to know how much it changed.

Trump: "Just like when you ran the State Department, $6 billion was missing. How do you miss $6 billion? You ran the State Department, $6 billion was either stolen. They don't know. It's gone, $6 billion."

Pants on Fire! In March 2014, a State Department Inspector General alert looked at previous audits and warned that files for over $6 billion worth of contracts from 2008 to 2014 — spanning the entirety of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 — "were incomplete or could not be located at all."  The paperwork was missing, but the $6 billion itself was not missing or stolen. It had been doled out in contracts.

Clinton: In the 1970s, Trump was "getting sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination in his apartment buildings." In the 1980s, "he was borrowing $14 million from his father to start his businesses." In the 1990s, "he insulted a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, called her an eating machine."

These charges are accurate.

The Justice Department sued Trump, his father and their company under the Civil Rights Act in 1973. In many instances, the government said, prospective black tenants were blocked from renting in his buildings.

The Wall Street Journal reported that a 1985 casino-license disclosure form shows that Trump’s father lent him $14 million between in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Trump was launching his real estate career.

Machado, then 19 and Miss Venezuela, was crowned Miss Universe in May 1996, the first year the organization was owned by Trump. Three months into her reign, Machado's weight became a storyline and Trump called Machedo an "eating machine," according to various news reports.

Trump: "She gave us ISIS, because her and Obama created this huge vacuum, and a small group came out of that huge vacuum because when -- we should never have been in Iraq, but once we were there, we should have never got out the way they wanted to get out. She gave us ISIS as sure as you are sitting there."

This is a more nuanced and more accurate version of Trump’s previous False claim that Clinton "invented ISIS with her stupid policies." ISIS’ roots predate Clinton’s tenure at the state department. The terrorist group can be traced back to 2004, when George W. Bush was president.

Experts told us it’s possible that Clinton-backed policies like voting for the war in Iraq (an action supported by many at the time) and intervening in Libya contributed to the power of ISIS.

Trump: The allegations of sexual assault against him "have been largely debunked."

False. Some of the women’s stories have been questioned, but none have been conclusively debunked. Five of the nine accounts have not been disputed. Four have been corroborated by the women’s family, friends or colleagues.

Trump: "I will tell you what isn't fictionalized are her e-mails, where she destroyed 33,000 e-mails criminally, criminally, after getting a subpoena from the United States Congress."

Clinton’s staff received a subpoena for Benghazi-related emails March 4. An employee managing her server deleted 33,000 of Clinton’s emails three weeks later. But the FBI found no evidence that the emails were deleted deliberately to avoid the subpoena or other requests. Clinton’s team requested for the emails to be deleted months before the subpoena came. We rated this claim Half True.

Clinton: "He also went after a disabled reporter, mocked and mimicked him on national television."

Trump: "Wrong."

We rated Trump’s denial False. There is video evidence showing that Tump did mimic the man’s oddly angled right hand while flailing his arms and shouting in a strange voice.

Clinton: "The Clinton Foundation made it possible for 11 million people around the world with HIV-AIDS to afford treatment."

Nine million people have lower-cost HIV/AIDS medicine thanks to the efforts of the Clinton Foundation. Costs have fallen dramatically and the initiative remains a key global player in maintaining a steady supply of affordable drugs.

Trump: "Saudi Arabia giving $25 million, Qatar, all of these countries. You talk about women and women's rights? So these are people that push gays off business -- off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money."

This is accurate. Several countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with harsh rules for women and kill gays have contributed to the Clinton FOundation.

Clinton: The Trump Foundation "took money from other people and bought a six- foot portrait of Donald."

Clinton is borrowing a line from President Barack Obama. Based on reporting from the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, this is True.

Clinton: "He is the first candidate ever to run for president in the last 40-plus years who has not released his tax returns."

Mostly True. Every other major nominee for the past 40 years have released their tax returns, except Gerald Ford.

Trump: "Buffett took hundreds of millions of dollars, Soros, George Soros, took hundreds of millions of dollars...Most of her donors have done the same thing as I do."

Trump previously invoked Clinton backers Warren Buffett and George Soros as a defense of his allegedly not paying federal income taxes for 18 years, but this is misleading.

Trump’s $916 million loss could have allowed him to have a $50 million personal deduction each year for 18 years. As for Buffet and Soros, their situations are not that similar. Buffet’s company, not himself, took a $514 million deduction in 2013. Soros has runs a hedge fund that suffered losses, but this deduction would have similarly not appeared on Soros’ personal tax returns.

Trump: "This is coming from Pew report and other places -- millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote."

When asked about his claims that the election is rigged, Trump offered a 2012 study from the Pew research center.

The Pew report, which estimates 24 million invalid or inaccurate voter registrations, does not say there is voter fraud. In fact, the center’s director of election initiatives said, "These bad records are not leading to fraud but could lead to the perception of fraud."

Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud are Pants on Fire.

Clinton: "There was even a time when he didn't get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged against him."

We found several instances of Trump whining about not winning the Emmys for the Apprentice between 2012 and 2014. Though he called the Emmys unfair and political, he never directly says the system is rigged against he. We rate Clinton’s claim Half True.

Clinton: "Once again, Donald is implying that he didn't support the invasion of Iraq. I said it was a mistake. I've said that years ago. He has consistently denied what is a very clear fact."

Trump: "Wrong."

Actually, Trump is wrong. In 2002, when asked if America should ago to war, he said, "I guess so." He didn’t voice full-throated opposition until almost a year and a half after the invasion.

Trump: "We gave them $150 billion back."

Trump added the word "back" to his previous claim that the United States is giving Iran $150 billion, making it much more accurate.

He is referring to the amount of previously frozen Iranian assets the Iran nuclear deal releases. (To be clear, this is money that already belongs to Iran.) The $150 billion is a high estimate, and most experts say the real figure is closer to $100 billion, while Iran is probably only able to access a fraction of that.

Trump: Obamacare "premiums are going up 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent. Next year they're going to go up over 100 percent."

Last year, Trump floated rates of 35 to 55 percent. Some insurance plans in the federal exchange will see price hikes at the levels that Trump is suggesting. But he was cherry-picking the high end of premium changes to come.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the standard insurance plan will increase by an average of 9 percent in 2017, with some cities seeing decreases of 13 percent while others see 25 percent.

Trump: "We take care of illegal immigrants, people that come into the country illegally, better than we take care of our vets."

This is False. Veterans are entitled to several more benefits that are not offered to civilians, much less undocumented immigrants, who aren’t eligible for Medicaid, Obamacare and Social Security and are barred from enrolling in colleges in some states.

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Fact-checking the third presidential debate