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Rand Paul Revises History of Cheney Criticism

Sen. Rand Paul dismissed comments he once made about Dick Cheney’s motives for invading Iraq by claiming they were made “before I was involved in politics for myself.” That’s false. Paul made his remarks in a 2009 speech he delivered during a statewide tour he launched to raise his profile for his U.S. Senate race in 2010.

At a 2009 speech at Western Kentucky University, Paul questioned Cheney’s motives for supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He said Halliburton — where Cheney was once CEO — got a “billion-dollar, no-bid contract” in Iraq and delivered “shoddy” work. He also noted that Cheney opposed invading Iraq in 1991 as President George H.W. Bush’s defense secretary, but supported it as President George W. Bush’s vice president in 2003, suggesting the policy change was done to help Halliburton.

Paul, April 7, 2009: There’s a great YouTube of Dick Cheney in 1995 defending Bush No. 1, and he goes on for about five minutes. He’s being interviewed, I think, by the American Enterprise Institute, and he says it would be a disaster, it would be vastly expensive, it’d be civil war, we would have no exit strategy. He goes on and on for five minutes. Dick Cheney saying it would be a bad idea and that’s why the first Bush didn’t go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good idea to go into Iraq.

Paul’s past criticism of Cheney, which was first reported last year by Mother Jones, came up during a lengthy interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on the day that the Kentucky senator entered the presidential race. As Hannity started to ask a question about the time “you took a shot at Dick Cheney,” Paul cut him off: “Once again, before I was involved in politics for myself. That was a long time ago.”

But that’s not accurate. Paul did not officially enter the 2010 Senate race until Aug. 5, 2009, but he was already in campaign mode when he spoke at Western Kentucky University.

The video of Paul’s speech was posted to YouTube on April 7, 2009, by a Paul supporter, and the description said, “Dr. Rand Paul spoke at the Kentucky Federation of College Republicans Western Kentucky University Chapter Meeting.” Several weeks earlier, Paul had told the Associated Press on Feb. 26, 2009, that he would consider running for Senate in Kentucky if then-Sen. Jim Bunning retired, and he began touring the state and giving speeches, including the one at Western Kentucky University.

In a speech on April 4, 2009 — three days before his critical comments of Cheney — Paul told a crowd of gun owners that he was on a speaking tour to introduce himself to voters and discuss his conservative libertarian views, which he described as different from those of Democrats and even many Republicans in Washington.

Paul, April 4, 2009: What I’m doing today and throughout the last several months and for the next year is traveling around Kentucky, trying to become better known around Kentucky. There’s rumors that Senator Bunning may not run for office again. He’s still says he’s running for office and for as long as he does I won’t oppose him. But if Bunning steps down there needs to be some true believer who runs for office. … [A]nd if I were to run for office, in the end I would run more as an independent than I would as a specific party person because I think it’s more important, the issues than the party.

He said something similar at Western Kentucky University shortly after he gave his critique of Cheney and Halliburton.

“[W]e will not get bigger if we do the same old message, and so that’s what I feel like my job is for the next six months or a year,” he told the students. “I’m going to be going around Kentucky and giving speeches like this and trying to promote change and growth in our party.”

This is not the first time that Paul has sought to dismiss controversial past statements by saying those statements were made before he got involved in politics for himself.

As we wrote, a TV ad quotes Paul as saying it’s “ridiculous to think that Iran is a real threat to our national security.” The ad doesn’t disclose that the quote was from 2007 and was made when Rand Paul was campaigning for his father, Ron, who was running for the Republican presidential nomination. Earlier in the Fox News interview, Hannity asked about that quote and Paul said, “I also wasn’t campaigning for myself, I was campaigning to help my father at the time.” That is accurate.

But it’s not accurate for Paul to dismiss his comments about Cheney with the same kind of response. And that’s exactly what he did when he said: “Once again, before I was involved in politics for myself.” That’s revising history.

Other Claims

There were a few other statements that Paul made in his interview with Hannity that were either wrong or didn’t tell the whole story.

Paul said his proposal for a 17 percent flat tax would help low-income areas, which is his opinion, and he gave some examples of poor areas that he thinks could benefit.

Paul, April 7: Like, for example, Detroit has 20 percent unemployment. It’s a disaster. Appalachia, my state, eastern Kentucky, has a large amount of poverty. No one’s come up with a way to fix it because we’re always trying to tax them and then give them back a little bit to help them.

Detroit had an unemployment rate of 12.5 percent, as of February, not 20 percent. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the city’s unemployment rate was above 20 percent for much of the recession. It was 22.3 percent when President Obama took office in January 2009, and it peaked at a staggering 28.4 percent in June 2009. But the last time it was above 20 percent was July 2013.

It’s true that Detroit’s unemployment rate for February is still more than double the 5.5 percent national rate. But Paul used outdated data and, in doing so, made the rate seem worse than it really is.

As for Kentucky Appalachia, it does have a high poverty rate. The average rate from 2009 to 2013 was 25.2 percent in Kentucky and averaged 17 percent throughout the entire 13-state region, according to the latest economic report by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Paul says “no one’s come up with a way to fix it,” but it should be noted that the rate has declined significantly since the commission was formed in 1965 under a federal law signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The percentage of people in the Appalachian region living in poverty was 30.9 percent in 1960, and it dropped to 13.6 percent in 2000 before spiking again during the recession-wracked 2000s.

Paul also praised President Reagan’s tax cuts, but in doing so he overstated the number of jobs that were created during Reagan’s time in office.

In promoting his own tax-cut plan, Paul said Reagan “dramatically cut tax rates” and “tens of millions of jobs were created” — which would be more than 20 million jobs. This is an old claim from Paul and, as we have written before, there was a net total of 16.1 million new jobs created during Reagan’s eight years in office.

— Eugene Kiely