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Fact-checking the NBC 'commander-in-chief' forum

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu September 7, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump traded jabs about their records during NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum.

The 2016 nominees appeared back-to-back and took questions from NBC host Matt Lauer and veterans and troops at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York on Sept. 7.

Clinton defended her handling of highly sensitive information as secretary of state, claiming that none of the emails sent and received on her private server had a header marking them as classified. She acknowledged her use of the server as well as her support for invading Iraq were "mistakes."

"Now, my opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn't. You can go back and look at the record. He supported it," Clinton added. "I have taken responsibility for my decision. He refuses to take responsibility for his support. That is a judgment issue."

When it was his turn in the hot seat, Trump denied Clinton’s characterization and knocked her and President Barack Obama’s foreign policy as "the dumbest foreign policy." The Republican nominee also defended comments he’s made in the past about Russian President Vladimir Putin and a 2013 comment on sexual assault in the military (which he told Lauer was "a correct tweet").

"26,000 unreported sexual assults (sic) in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?" he wrote.

Trump and Clinton continued to make various claims about issues facing the military and veterans. We fact-checked several.

Clinton: "There is no evidence my system was hacked."

This is accurate as far as we know. Instead of using the State Department email system, Clinton used a personal email housed on private servers located in her Chappaqua, N.Y. home  As we’ve previously reported, there’s no evidence that these servers were compromised, but it is possible that sophisticated hackers accessed the system but left no trace.

Clinton: "Classified material has a header which says ‘top-secret, secret, confidential.’ Nothing, and I will repeat this and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice, none of the emails sent or received by me had such a header."

Three of email chains had a "(C)" indicating confidential information, though that’s not enough to consider them classified. And the FBI did find 81 email chains that contained classified information though they weren’t appropriately labeled. But Clinton is correct nothing in her emails had a header indicating classification status.

This carefully worded statement is accurate but needs additional information. We rated this claim Mostly True.

Clinton: "I think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake. And I have said that my voting to give President Bush that authority was, from my perspective, my mistake."

We’ve looked at Clinton’s statements about the Iraq war, and found she’s been expressing regret for her 2002 vote since at least her last bid for the White House.

"Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote, and I certainly wouldn't have voted for it," she said on the Today Show in 2006.

In her 2014 book Hard Choices, Clinton said she "got it wrong. Plain and simple."

Clinton: "With respect to Libya, again, there's no difference between my opponent and myself. He's on record extensively supporting intervention in Libya."

The record shows that Trump did endorse the attacks that unseated Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. Though he didn’t speak often on the topic, he was emphatic when he did comment. "We should go in, we should stop this guy," Trump said in 2011 on his own video blog. Clinton’s claim rates Mostly True.

Clinton: "I will not let the VA be privatized, and I do think there is an agenda out there, supported by my opponent to do just that."

Trump does support giving veterans access to private care. But that’s not the same thing as privatizing the entire system, which would eliminate the government care entirely. He has never proposed that. Mostly False.

Clinton: There are 20 veteran suicides a day.

This is True — Trump made the same claim in July. The VA examined veterans records from 1979 to 2014, and calculated an average of 20 veterans taking their own lives every day. This is an update to an estimate the VA made of 22 veterans in 2010.

When a veteran asked Trump what his plan is to "stop the 20 veterans a day from killing themselves," Trump tried to correct her and floated the old estimate. "Actually, it’s 22," he said, before broadening his range. "And it's almost impossible to conceive that this is happening in our country, 20 to 22 people a day are killing themselves."

Trump: "I was totally against the war in Iraq."

We rated this claim False. Trump didn’t often comment on the war before it happened, but what he did say does not amount to opposition.

While he came to that position when the war became difficult, he was more accepting of military action early on. And in 2002, when asked if American should go to war, he said, "I guess so."

Trump: "I was able to get more votes than anybody has ever gotten in the history of Republican politics."

This is accurate. Trump received 13.3 million votes in the GOP primary, beating George W. Bush’s previous record of 11.5 million votes. But it’s important to note that Trump was also supported by less than half of the party’s primary voters.

Trump: Obama "came in. He said when we go out — and he took everybody out. And really ISIS was formed."

Previously, Trump claimed Obama "founded ISIS," a claim we rated Pants on Fire. While his new claim is more tempered, it is still inaccurate. The terrorist group’s origins predate Obama’s presidency by five years.

Trump: "Barack Obama, as an example, lands Air Force One in China, and they don’t want to put out stairs to get off the plane. ... When he lands in Saudi Arabia, and he lands in Cuba, there aren’t high officials to even greet him."

Trump is right that there were no stairs waiting for Obama when he landed in Hangzhou, China, for the G20 summit. This was perceived as a snub by many, but both the White House and China deny this.

A Chinese official told the South China Morning Post that the United States turned down Beijing’s offer to provide Obama with a staircase. The White House says, after a back-and-forth with the Chinese over the driver who would bring the stairs to the plane and whether they could use their own stairs, they decided to use a small exit instead of the main doorway.

As for Cuba, neither Fidel Castro or Raul Castro were at the airport to greet Obama for the  historic meeting between U.S. and Cuban leaders in March — a sign of "no respect," Trump tweeted at the time. The Cuban foreign minister and other government officials were in attendance.

Trump: Putin "does have an 82 percent approval rating."

This rates True. Multiple American polls put Putin’s approval rating around 80 percent among the Russian public. That includes a recent study that adjusts for the possibility that respondents may have been lying to pollsters out of fear or social reasons.

Trump: "Well, I think when (Putin) calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, OK?" 

In December 2015, Putin called Trump "яркий" or "yarkii," which means "bright" as in "vivid," not as in "intelligent." A Russia expert told us Putin was using the word to mean "colorful" or "strong personality." Putin, in June 2016, denied that he called Trumo "brilliant." We rated  Trump's claim Mostly False. 

Trump: "Hillary Clinton six months ago said the vets are being treated essentially just fine, there’s no real problem, it’s over-exaggerated. She did say that."

Clinton has said problems at the VA have "not been as widespread as it has been made out to be," but she’s also acknowledged systemic problems within the system and has repeatedly urged reform.

Trump’s claim is misleading and leaves out the full story. We rate it Mostly False.

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Fact-checking the NBC 'commander-in-chief' forum