Fact-checking the second presidential debate: The past comes up again and again

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on stage during the second US presidential debate.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on stage during the second US presidential debate. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - The second presidential debate, held on Sunday (Monday Oct 10, Singapore time) in St Louis, was every bit the cage match as the first, as both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump repeatedly attacked each other on their pasts and other subjects.

A look at where they stuck close to facts and where they distorted them:

Trump said he had never kissed or touched women without consent.

Fact-check: Several women disagree. 

Ms Temple Taggart has said that Mr Trump gave her an unwelcome kiss on the mouth when she was a 21-year-old Miss Utah. Ms Jill Harth has claimed that Mr Trump groped her when she did business with him. And Ms Ivana Trump, Mr Trump's first wife, alleged in a deposition in their divorce that he raped her, an accusation she has since backed down from.

Clinton said Trump supported the Iraq war before it began.

Fact-check: There is evidence.

Mrs Clinton rejected Mr Trump's contention that he opposed the war in Iraq before it began, saying that his assertion had been "debunked".

Mr Trump, though, continued to say that he was against the war.

But Mrs Clinton's assertion was correct: Audio unearthed by BuzzFeed revealed Mr Trump, speaking in an interview with Howard Stern, voiced his support during the lead-up to the war.

Trump said Clinton deleted 33,000 e-mails from her private server after she got a subpoena.

Fact-check: True enough.

Mrs Clinton's aides did indeed delete about 33,000 e-mails from her private server, e-mails that she said were personal in nature.

The FBI, however, indicated that many of the deleted e-mails may in fact have been related to her work at the State Department.

Days after The New York Times disclosed Mrs Clinton's use of a private e-mail system, the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, asked that her e-mails be preserved and it subpoenaed those related to the attacks.

But about three weeks later, an unidentified computer specialist realised that he had not destroyed an archive of e-mails that was supposed to have been deleted a year earlier, according to the FBI report.

The specialist then used a program to delete an unknown number of e-mails.

Mrs Clinton told FBI investigators she was unaware that the aide had deleted the e-mails. The FBI did not find evidence to contradict that assertion.

Clinton said there was no evidence her e-mail has been hacked by a foreign power.

Fact-check: None yet, but ...

Mrs Clinton is literally correct - so far, there is no evidence that any foreign power, including Russia, got into the e-mail server she kept at her Chappaqua, New York, home.

But as FBI director James Comey has pointed out, the best hackers frequently leave no fingerprints.

It took more than a year to uncover the Chinese hacking of the Office of Personnel Management, and nearly a year for the Democratic National Committee to find out about the hacking now attributed by US intelligence agencies to the Russian government.

It seems hard to believe the Russians would not have followed e-mails from the State Department - a system they had penetrated - back to Mrs Clinton's servers.

Trump said Obamacare is leading to "astronomical" insurance rate increases.

Fact-check: A bit of a hyperbole.

Mr Trump is right that many Obamacare customers will see big increases next year that will be much higher than they have been the last two years. But the numbers he cited - increases of more than 60 per cent - are not typical.

Mr Charles Gaba, a blogger who analyses insurance filings, calculates that the average requested increase is around 25 per cent.

Most Americans get their insurance through work, Medicare or Medicaid. For those people, average premium increases are flat or modest by historical standards.

Trump said that last year, the United States had a trade deficit of US$800 billion.

Fact-check: Not that high.

The US trade deficit last year was about US$500 billion (S$686.4 billion). That's about as large as it has ever been. Yet Mr Trump has repeatedly cited the larger figure of US$800 billion throughout the course of his campaign.

Trump said Bill Clinton was impeached, lost his law licence and paid an US$850,000 fine to Paula Jones.

Fact-check: Mostly accurate.

As any student of American history knows, Mr Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice related to questions about his extramarital affairs. The ensuing trial in the Senate resulted in him keeping his job.

Mr Clinton had his Arkansas law licence suspended for five years. He paid an US$850,000 settlement - not a fine - in Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit, without admitting wrongdoing.

Trump accused Hillary Clinton of laughing about getting a man acquitted of raping a 12-year-old girl.

Fact-check: Not funny.

Ms Kathy Shelton was 12 in Arkansas in 1975 when Hillary Rodham, then 27, was appointed by a court to defend a man accused of raping her. Much later, Ms Shelton accused Mrs Clinton of getting her rapist off and even laughing about the case.

 

The prosecution's case was problematic, and Mrs Clinton's client pleaded guilty to a lesser offence. In the mid-1980s, Mrs Clinton was interviewed at length about the case by a reporter. In the interview, she said with a laugh that after her client passed a lie-detector test, it destroyed her faith in polygraphs. She did not laugh in the recorded interview about winning the man's acquittal.

Clinton said "since the Great Recession the gains have all gone to the top".

Fact-check: Not anymore.

Median household income rose sharply last year for the first time since the Great Recession, rendering Mrs Clinton's comments out of date. The median income, US$56,500, was up 5.2 per cent from the previous year, the largest single-year increase since record-keeping began in 1967. Moreover, the income gains were stronger for lower-income families.

Trump said hundreds of thousands of people are pouring into the US from places like Syria, and we have no idea who they are.

Fact-check: Way off.

This year, the Obama administration brought about 13,000 Syrian refugees into the country. Next year, Mr Obama has authorised an increase to 110,000 refugees from the whole world, including an increase of several thousand Syrian refugees.

Refugees go through the most rigorous vetting of any foreigners coming to live in the US, including searches of counterterrorism databases at the FBI. The whole process can take two years. Refugees from Syria now have an extra layer of scrutiny.

Mrs Clinton called on the administration to admit 65,000 Syrian refugees. The United Nations has identified more than 470,000 Syrians in need of new homes.

Trump said Clinton ignored 600 requests for increased security from the ambassador to Libya, and only communicated with Sidney Blumenthal.

Fact-check: Extremely misleading.

While the embassy in Tripoli did ask the State Department to reinforce security in Libya, there is no evidence that request ever went to Mrs Clinton herself. And there is nothing to support  Mr Trump's contention that the ambassador, who died in the Benghazi attack, had made that request over and over again.

It is true that Mrs Clinton did communicate with her confidante Blumenthal on Libya. But it is manifestly untrue to suggest that he was the only person she listened to on Benghazi.

 

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