Call it the war over the wives.
An ad suggesting that Donald Trump's wife, Melania, might not be modest enough to be first lady started a series of nasty exchanges between Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz that have been the talk of the campaign for more than a week.
"I did not start this," Trump told Cooper seven days after the tweet. "He sent out a picture and he knew very well it was a picture ... "
"He didn't send out a picture," Cooper interrupted. "It was an anti-Trump super PAC."
When Cooper asked Trump if he had any proof that Cruz was behind the ad, Trump said, "No. Everybody knows he sent it out. He knew the people in the super PAC. He knew. I would be willing to bet he wrote the phrase," a reference to the words that accompanied the nude photograph of Mrs. Trump, a model, posed on a rug.
"Meet Melania Trump, your next first lady," the ad said. "Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday," a reference to the March 22 Utah primary.
"I didn't send the photo to everybody in the state of Utah. He did," said Trump. "It was his people, who were his friends."
For this fact-check, we'll look at whether Trump is correct that Cruz distributed this Facebook ad containing a nude photograph of Trump's wife.
Federal law says political ads must clearly identify their source, and this one lists the source as a political action committee called Make America Awesome. Such groups are called super PACs because they can spend limitless amounts of money advocating for or against a candidate or a point of view.
Super PACs have one major restriction: They can't coordinate their efforts with a candidate's official campaign, which is restricted in its spending.
If Cruz did arrange for the ad under the auspices of the super PAC, it would be a serious violation of federal law.
The super PAC says . . .
"The Cruz campaign had nothing to do with this ad whatsoever. We didn’t get the image or the idea for the ad from them," said Republican strategist Liz Mair, who is behind the super PAC.
Make America Awesome, based in Virginia, was founded in December and reports $20,752 in contributions through February, with most of the money that it spent going to small purchases of air time in nine states, according to the Federal Election Commission website.
"I would guess that including money that has come in since our last filing, we have raised about $35,000," said Mair.
There's also no evidence that the PAC is a front for the Cruz campaign.
When we checked the PAC's YouTube page, we found four commercials, only two of which are the standard length for broadcast. The Jan. 20 "Buyer Beware" commercial, obviously made on a shoestring budget, includes a light-hearted rundown of nine Republican presidential candidates as breakfast cereals.
They include Jeb Bush ("Good source of experience and wonkiness. The brand you know."), Ben Carson ("With extra nice guy doctorness."), Chris Christie ("100% RDA of telling it like it is.") and Ted Cruz ("Two Scoops of Conservatism!"). In the ad, the shopper buys the Trump cereal ("Guaranteed success and a free 'Screw the Liberal Establishment!' voucher inside") and ends up regretting the purchase.
Mormon women targeted
"The only ads we've run in favor of any candidate are the three Facebook ads we ran targeting Mormons in Utah and Arizona, of which the Melania one was one, and the one with the least money put behind it (about $300, maybe even less than that, honestly)," Mair wrote in an email.
The Melania ad, she wrote, "was targeted only to Mormon women of (if I recall correctly) ages 45-65 living in Utah and Arizona who self-identified as moderate, conservative or very conservative.
"The shot we used was chosen because of the presence of handcuffs, which was particularly bothersome to the target audience," Mair said. "However, there are definitely racier shots of her out there that would no doubt be considered more scandalous by a lot of voters across the entire political spectrum — too racy for us to use in Facebook ads, candidly."
Although the ads urge voters to support the Texas senator, he was only one of two viable alternatives to Trump currently on the ballot in those states.
In a March 27 interview with ABC News, Trump claimed Cruz or his campaign bought the rights to the Melania photo and gave it to the super PAC.
There's no evidence that Cruz, the campaign or Mair's group purchased rights to the photo, taken when she was Trump's girlfriend.
"The image was, at the time we concepted out and then created the ad, already republished all over the Internet at numerous sites," Mair told us in an email.
The photographer who took the image for the 2000 photo spread in British GQ, Antoine Verglas, told our friends at FactCheck.org that nobody contacted him to buy rights to the picture.
The magazine reprinted that photo, along with other pictures from the shoot, online March 4 under the headline, "The Future First Lady? Sexy Melania Trump's Nude Photo Shoot."
"As for Cruz himself," Mair said, "I think I've met him at gatherings attended by many people maybe once or twice in my life (and it will have been some time ago), and I have never spoken to him privately."
We contacted the Trump campaign but didn't get a response.
Trump said Cruz was responsible for the racy ad questioning whether people wanted Melania Trump to be first lady.
One of the tenets of PolitiFact is that the person making the claim is responsible for substantiating it.
Trump said on CNN that he has no real proof.
And all the evidence we found points to the ad being the work of a political action committee whose goal has been to block Trump's nomination. There’s no proof of Cruz working with that committee, which would be illegal.
We rate Trump's claim as False.https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/0c9f8bb8-bbff-4c6b-8ec6-c489e2fbab41
BuzzFeed, "Anti-Trump Group Runs Facebook Ads Seeking To Rally Mormon Voters," March 21, 2016 and "Donald Trump Threatened To 'Spill The Beans' on Ted Cruz's Wife — Twice," March 22, 2016
The Washington Post, "Let's uproot the pernicious, unproven claim that Ted Cruz attacked Donald Trump's wife," March 27, 2016 and "Donald Trump did a CNN townhall last night. And it was a classic," March 30, 2016
Emails, Liz Mair, Make America Awesome, March 30-31, 2016
YouTube, "Make America Awesome" channel, accessed March 30, 2016
FactCheck.org, "Trump's False Accusation," March 30, 2016
GQ, "The Future First Lady? Sexy Melania Trump's Nude Photo Shoot," March 4, 2016
Federal Election Commission, "Make America Awesome" filing, Dec. 7, 2015 to Feb. 29, 2016, accessed March 31, 2016
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