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Trump’s Attack on Clinton’s Character

Presumptive GOP nominee gets facts wrong on Benghazi, Middle East refugees, gifts from Brunei and more.


Donald Trump’s once delayed, and much anticipated, speech on Hillary Clinton’s character, included numerous false and misleading statements:

  • Trump falsely claimed that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens “was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed.” Two emails from Clinton show that she was awake after it was learned that Stevens had died in the attack on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi.
  • Trump misleadingly claimed that Clinton “accepted $58,000 in jewelry from the government of Brunei when she was secretary of state.” He didn’t mention that the gift was accepted on behalf of the United States, and that it was transferred to the General Services Administration.
  • Trump claimed without any evidence that Clinton “wants to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to settle Middle Eastern refugees in the United States.” The numbers don’t add up. The total refugee budget was $1.67 billion in fiscal 2016, so it is unlikely that Clinton could add “hundreds of billions” to the budget for refugee assistance.
  • Trump overstated his case when he claimed the U.S. “trade deficit with China soared 40 percent during Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state.” It went up 17 percent, and we note that trade is under the purview of the Commerce Department, not the State Department.
  • Trump blamed Clinton for the “disastrous strategy of announcing our departure from Iraq, handing large parts of the country over to ISIS and the ISIS killers.” The departure date was set by President George W. Bush. President Obama made the ultimate call to keep the scheduled departure date, not Clinton.
  • Trump falsely claimed that Clinton would “end virtually all immigration enforcement and thus create totally open borders for the United States.” Clinton supported a Senate immigration bill that would create a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, but it also would have included large investments in border security.
  • Trump falsely claimed that the private server that Clinton used as secretary of state “was easily hacked by foreign governments.” Attempts were made to hack into Clinton’s server, but the identity of the hackers has not been determined and there has been no evidence to date that any of them were successful.
  • Trump falsely claimed that “Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20 percent of America’s uranium holdings to Russia.” The transfer was approved by a committee headed by the Treasury Department and made up of nine voting members throughout government, including one from the State Department.
  • Trump claimed he was opposed to the Iraq war “before the war ever started.” There is no evidence of that.
  • Trump wrongly said that “real wages for our workers have not been raised for 18 years.” Average weekly earnings for production and non-supervisory employees are up 10 percent, adjusted for inflation and seasonal factors, over that time period.
  • Trump described the North American Free Trade Agreement as “Bill Clinton’s disastrous and totally disastrous NAFTA.” President Clinton signed the legislation to implement NAFTA, but the agreement itself was negotiated and signed by President George H. W. Bush.


Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, originally planned to deliver a speech attacking Hillary Clinton’s character on June 13. He postponed it because of the mass shooting a day earlier in Orlando by an avowed follower of the terrorist Islamic State. Trump gave his speech in New York on June 22.

In his speech, Trump described Clinton, the Democratic presumptive nominee, as “the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” and laid out his case against her. But his rhetoric was not always supported by the facts.

The 3 a.m. Call

Trump falsely claimed that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens “was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed.” Two emails from Clinton show that she was awake after it was learned that Stevens had died in the attack on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi.

We have written before about Trump’s repeated claim that “instead of taking charge” during the Benghazi attacks, then-Secretary of State Clinton “decided to go home and sleep.” Clinton says she was continuously engaged in responding to the attack from the moment she learned of it in the afternoon and “did not sleep all night.”

Trump has used the claim to suggest that Clinton failed the “3 a.m.” test, referencing Clinton’s famous “3 a.m.” campaign ad in 2008, in which she claimed she was more “tested” and prepared than Barack Obama to handle a late-night call to the White House about a dire emergency.

Trump, June 22: Among the victims is our late Ambassador, Chris Stevens. I mean, she — what she did with him was absolutely horrible. He was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed. That’s right. When the phone rang, as per the commercial, at three o’clock in the morning, Hillary Clinton was sleeping.

The embassy in Tripoli alerted the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., about the attack on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi at about 3:45 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Sept. 11, 2012. We detailed some of Clinton’s activities in the ensuing hours, and concluded that “the evidence shows Clinton was fully engaged in the immediate response, and subsequent congressional investigations concluded the government response to the attack — including Clinton’s — was appropriate.”

It is true that, at some point in the night, Clinton decided to leave the State Department and continue working from her home. But Clinton testified before a House Select Committee hearing on Benghazi that she was continuously engaged in responding to the attack, that she stayed in constant contact with various officials through secured phone lines at home, and “did not sleep all night. I was very much focused on what we were doing.”

Other than Clinton’s word, we can’t independently verify whether Clinton did sleep for a brief period that night. She testified that she was home alone. However, two emails made public contradict Trump’s claim that Stevens “was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed.”

Public records show that at 11:12 p.m., Clinton sent an email to her daughter, Chelsea (who is identified in the email under her alias “Diane Reynolds”). In that email, the secretary of state wrote: “Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al Qaeda-like group: The Ambassador, whom I handpicked and a young communications officer on temporary duty w a wife and two young children. Very hard day and I fear more of the same tomorrow.”

We also know that at 11:38 p.m., Clinton emailed State Department officials Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Victoria Nuland, to ask if the State Department should announce Stevens’ death that night or wait until the following morning.

Update, June 24: Trump acknowledged in a June 23 interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that he had no evidence to support his claim that Stevens “was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed.” Trump said “who knows if she was sleeping … she might have been sleeping.” 

Jewels from Brunei

Trump: Hillary Clinton accepted $58,000 in jewelry from the government of Brunei when she was secretary of state.

This is false. Clinton traveled to Brunei in September of 2012, and she did receive — on behalf of the U.S. — jewelry (“Mouawad Larme D’Amour 18k gold, sapphire, and diamond earrings, necklace, and bracelet”) worth an estimated $58,000, according to the Department of State’s Office of the Chief of Protocol.

However, Clinton did not keep the jewelry. The gifts were transferred to the General Services Administration, the chief of protocol report said.

This is standard practice when federal employees receive gifts from foreign countries. The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9, clause 8) prohibits all federal officials from receiving any “presents” from foreign governments, kings, or princes, without the consent of the Congress, as explained in a 2012 Congressional Research Service report.

“The Congress has consented generally, in the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, to the acceptance of gifts of ‘minimal value’ from foreign governments offered as souvenirs or marks of courtesy, and the acceptance of other gifts when a refusal of the gift may cause ‘offense or embarrassment’ or otherwise harm the foreign relations of the United States,” the CRS report says. “A tangible gift of more than minimal value accepted for reasons of protocol or courtesy may not be kept as a personal gift, however, but is considered accepted on behalf of and property of the United States.”

In Clinton’s case, the department’s chief of protocol noted that the jewelry was accepted because “[n]on-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government,” and the gifts would be transferred to the GSA.

Bogus Refugee Budget Claim

Trump: Hillary also wants to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to settle Middle Eastern refugees in the United States, on top of the current record level of immigration that we already have.

There’s no evidence that Clinton wants to spend that much.

Clinton has said that she would admit as many as 65,000 refugees from Syria, which is a 550 percent increase from the 10,000 Syrian refugees that President Obama said that he would authorize for admission in fiscal year 2016. However, Clinton has not specified how much she would be willing to spend on those refugees.

The total authorized budget for “Refugee and Entrant Assistance” was $1.67 billion in fiscal 2016. And $948 million of that was not for refugees, but for unaccompanied minors who immigrate to the U.S. illegally. The fiscal 2016 figure was also when the ceiling for global refugee admissions, not just those from Middle East nations, was 85,000. It’s hard to see how Clinton’s proposal to add 55,000 Syrian refugees to the 10,000 authorized by Obama would add “hundreds of billions” to the budget for refugee assistance.

The Administration for Children and Families, which includes the Office of Refugee Resettlement, has asked Congress for $2.18 billion for refugee and entrant assistance in FY 2017. That’s an increase of just over $510 million from the last fiscal cycle. And assistance for unaccompanied minors accounts for $373 million of that increase.

Trade with China

Trump: Our trade deficit with China soared 40 percent during Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state — a disgraceful performance for which she should not be congratulated, but rather scorned.

Trump greatly exaggerated the rise in the trade deficit with China while Clinton was secretary of state.

The trade deficit with China went up 17.5 percent in that time, not 40 percent. Clinton was secretary of state from January 2009 to February 2013, and we’d note that trade is under the purview of the Commerce Department. Still, to reflect the change during her tenure, we would start the clock in 2008, when the trade deficit with China was $268 billion. By the end of 2012, two months before Clinton left office, that trade deficit was $315 billion, an increase of $47 million, or 17.5 percent.

It’s possible to look at the trade deficit with China for the particular months Clinton was in office, but the figures are not seasonally adjusted (they show a 15 percent growth, anyway).

This isn’t the first time Trump has been wrong in citing statistics on the U.S. trade deficit with China. We have pointed out several times now that he is off the mark when he repeatedly claims that it’s $505 billion. The trade deficit with China was $367 billion in 2015.

In his speech, Trump went on to say that “Clinton gave China millions of our best jobs,” and in a tweet on June 21, he directly linked a rise in the trade deficit to the loss of “millions” of jobs. As our fact-checking colleagues at the Washington Post wrote, “[a] billion dollars of exports is estimated to create about 6,000 jobs.” That’s according to a Commerce Department analysis of U.S. jobs supported by exports. So, if one wanted to run a back-of-the-envelope calculation using that formula, the $47 billion increase in the deficit over four years would amount to 282,000 jobs. That’s not “millions.”

Worth noting is that the Commerce Department analysis found that U.S. jobs supported by all exports increased by more than 100,000 from 2008 to 2012, and have gone up further since.

Iraq Departure and Clinton

Trump blamed Clinton for the “disastrous strategy of announcing our departure from Iraq, handing large parts of the country over to ISIS and the ISIS killers.” The departure date was set by President George W. Bush. Obama did not change the scheduled departure date, and ultimately it was Obama’s call, not Clinton’s.

Trump: Then there was the disastrous strategy of announcing our departure from Iraq, handing large parts of the country over to ISIS and the ISIS killers. ISIS threatens us today because of the decisions Hillary Clinton has made, along with President Obama.

As we have written before, Bush signed an agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement, on Dec. 14, 2008, that said: “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.”

Nevertheless, Obama had three years to negotiate a new agreement prior to the Dec. 31, 2011, withdrawal date to keep some U.S. troops in Iraq. Leon Panetta, who was Obama’s defense secretary from July 2011 to February 2013, wrote in his 2014 book, “Worthy Fights,” that as the deadline neared “it was clear to me — and many others — that withdrawing all our forces would endanger the fragile stability” in Iraq. As a result, the Obama administration sought to keep 5,000 to 10,000 U.S. combat troops in Iraq.

But negotiations with Iraq broke down in October 2011 over the issue of whether U.S. troops would be shielded from criminal prosecution by Iraqi authorities. Panetta said the Obama White House did not press hard enough to reach a deal, and that the U.S. “had leverage” and could have “threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid” if Iraq didn’t agree to “some sort of continued U.S. military presence.”

Clinton was involved in the negotiations as Obama’s secretary of state and, at least publicly, supported the president’s decision. Days after Obama announced he would withdraw all troops by Dec. 31, 2011, Clinton was asked on “Meet the Press” if critics had a point that such a withdrawal would “endanger recent success in Iraq by not having any residual force.” She replied: “They should have raised those issues when President Bush agreed to the agreement to withdraw troops by the end of this year.”

She later defended Obama’s actions at a 2014 town hall meeting televised by CNN. This time, she blamed the Iraqi government.

Clinton, June 17, 2014: Some now say, well, you should have made him or you should have — but that’s not the way it works. You have to — if you’re going to having American troops in harm’s way — and we knew Iraq would be quite dangerous for a long time, unpredictable, at the very least — you have to have the host government, in this case Iraq, say, OK, here’s what we want. We’re signing this agreement which will protect American soldiers. We didn’t get that done. And I think, in retrospect, that was a mistake by the Iraqi government.

Trump is free to argue that Clinton should have done more to persuade Obama to renegotiate a withdrawal agreement with Iraq, but it was ultimately Obama’s call, not Clinton’s. And the initial departure date was set by Bush.

Clinton Doesn’t Support ‘Open Borders’

Trump falsely claimed that Clinton would “end virtually all immigration enforcement and thus create totally open borders for the United States.” Clinton supported the 2013 Senate immigration bill that, in addition to a path to earned citizenship for those currently in the country illegally, would have included significant investments in border security.

Trump: She’s pledged to grant mass amnesty and in a first 100 days, end virtually all immigration enforcement and thus create totally open borders for the United States, totally open borders.

Clinton has said she supports “comprehensive immigration reform,” and she has vowed that within the first 100 days as president, she would send a plan to Congress that would include “a path to full and equal citizenship” for those currently in the country illegally. She has also said that she would defend Obama’s executive orders that “provide relief from deportation for DREAMers and parents of Americans and lawful residents.”

But that’s a far cry from ending “all immigration enforcement” and “open borders.” Clinton’s campaign website says she supports “humane, targeted immigration enforcement.” Specifically, the website says she would “focus enforcement resources on detaining and deporting those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety.”

In her book, “Hard Choices,” Clinton said she supported the 2013 Senate immigration bill, S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. (page 459)

Clinton, “Hard Choices”: I only wish that the bipartisan bill passed in the Senate in 2013 reforming our immigration laws could have passed the House.

The bill would have funded an enhanced border security plan, additional border fencing, the implementation of an E-Verify system, and an exit visa system to stop visa overstays.

“Border security has always been a part of that debate,” Clinton said during a Democratic debate in November.

In short, Trump goes too far with his claim that Clinton’s support for an immigration overhaul that includes an earned path to citizenship would mean she would “end virtually all immigration enforcement, and thus create totally open borders in the United States.”

Clinton’s Server ‘Easily Hacked’?

Trump: Her server was easily hacked by foreign governments, perhaps even by her financial backers in communist China. Sure they have it. Putting all of America and our citizens in danger, great danger.

Trump is wrong. There were attempts to hack into Clinton’s server, but there’s no evidence to date that shows any attempts were successful.

We wrote about this topic earlier this month when Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the homeland security committee, said “you have to assume that our enemies and our adversaries had access to every email that ever went over her private server.” The senator’s office provided no evidence that hackers were successful in gaining access to Clinton’s emails — only evidence that attempts were made, including by hackers originating in China and Russia.

Update, June 24: Trump said in the June 23 interview with NBC that he read or heard that Clinton’s email was successfully hacked. Asked where he got that information, Trump said, “I will report back to you. I’ll give it to you.” When asked how he could make his claim “with such certainty” without evidence, Trump said, “I don’t know if certainty. Probably she was hacked.”

Russia and U.S. Uranium 

Trump: Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20 percent of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.

Trump is referring to the sale in 2010 of Uranium One, a Canadian-based company with uranium mining stakes in the West, to Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy agency. He is right about investors making contributions to the Clinton Foundation, but Trump vastly overstates the State Department’s role in approving that sale.

As we have written, the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States is required by law to investigate all U.S. transactions that involve a company owned or controlled by a foreign government, including the sale of Uranium One. As secretary of state, Clinton was one of nine voting members on the foreign investments committee, which also includes the secretaries of the Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce and Energy, the attorney general, and representatives from two White House offices — the United States Trade Representative and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. (Separately, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needed to approve (and did approve) the transfer of two uranium recovery licenses as part of the sale.)

Peter Schweizer — author of “Clinton Cash,” which Trump referred to in his speech — claimed in a TV interview last year that Clinton, as a committee member, had “veto power” and “could have stopped” the sale. But that’s not accurate. The committee can approve a sale, but it cannot stop a sale. “Only the President has the authority to suspend or prohibit a covered transaction,” according to guidelines adopted by the Department of Treasury, which chairs the committee.

Correction, June 23: Our original story incorrectly stated that Schweizer wrote in his book that Clinton had veto power over the sale. Schweizer said that in a TV interview, not in his book. We have revised our story to correct the record.  

Opposition to Iraq War

Trump: Though I was not in government service, I was among the earliest to criticize the rush to war, and yes, even before the war ever started.

As we have said before, there is no evidence that Trump opposed the war before it started. We wrote a timeline of all Trump’s public comments that we could find in 2002 and 2003, and found no instances of Trump voicing his opposition before the war started on March 19, 2003. Trump has stated during primary debates that his opposition was “loud and clear” and well covered by newspapers, claiming erroneously that he could provide “25 different stories” to prove his opposition. He has yet to provide any evidence.

Trump is right, however, that he was an early critic of the war. As our timeline showed, Trump said four months into the war that the U.S. was wasting money in Iraq that could be better spent in U.S. cities, and after six months he suggested it was a mistake going to war in Iraq. “I guess maybe if I had to do it, I would have fought terrorism but not necessarily Iraq,” Trump said in a TV interview on Sept. 11, 2003.

Wages Actually Are Up

Trump wrongly said that “real wages for our workers have not been raised for 18 years.” Average weekly earnings for production and non-supervisory employees are up 10 percent, adjusted for inflation and seasonal factors, over that time period.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ figures show average weekly earnings were $280.90 in May 1998, as expressed in 1982-84 dollars. The figure was $309.22 in May 2016, 18 years later. Here’s the BLS chart showing the increase:

BLS chart on real wages

Trump isn’t the only politician to claim that wages have stagnated. Democratic candidates Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made similar claims about real wages last year.

NAFTA and Free Trade 

Trump: Hillary Clinton supported Bill Clinton’s disastrous and totally disastrous NAFTA. Just like she supported China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization.

It is true that President Bill Clinton signed the enabling NAFTA legislation in 1993. However, the trade agreement was negotiated and signed by the prior president, George H.W. Bush in 1992. Also, the NAFTA bill could not have reached Clinton’s desk without Republican support in Congress.

The Senate passed the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, 61-38, on Nov. 20, 1993, with 34 Republican votes, and the House passed it three days earlier, 234-200, with 132 Republican votes.

So to call it “Bill Clinton’s disastrous NAFTA” ignores the trade agreement’s history.

As for China, the Clinton administration in 1999 negotiated the U.S.-China WTO trade agreement, as explained in a Congressional Research Service report updated in November 2001. It officially joined the WTO in December 2001, when President George W. Bush was in office.

Hillary Clinton supported both trade deals, but did not vote on either one. She did not join the Senate until January 2001.

Trump: We’ve lost nearly one-third of our manufacturing jobs since these two Hillary-backed agreements were signed.

Trump overstates the job losses. NAFTA took effect Jan. 1, 1994. As of December 1993, the U.S. had 16,815,000 manufacturing jobs and as of May it had 12,285,000 jobs — a decline of 4,530,000 jobs since NAFTA took effect, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a decline of 27 percent – closer to a quarter than a third.

But more importantly, Trump ignores the impact of jobs created elsewhere by trade agreements that offset manufacturing job losses, and he ignores other reasons for the loss of manufacturing jobs, such as technological advances that have reduced employment.

As we have written, a 2015 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service called NAFTA’s impact “relatively modest.” CRS said, “In reality, NAFTA did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics or the large economic gains predicted by supporters.” That’s because NAFTA, like all trade agreements, created and destroyed jobs. For example, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace did a report in 2004 called “NAFTA’s Promise and Reality” that said the NAFTA Trade Adjustment Assistance program provided assistance to 525,000 workers affected by the agreement as of September 2003. However, the report said that those jobs “were likely offset by other jobs gained” and resulted in “either a neutral or very small net positive effect on employment.”

China’s entry into the WTO had a greater impact. In fact, China, in 2010, displaced the U.S. as the largest manufacturing nation in the world, based on the value of each country’s manufacturing in U.S. dollars, according to a CRS report called “U.S. Manufacturing in International Perspective.” China’s manufacturing rise, which can be seen in Figure 2 of the report, has taken place since China entered the WTO.

But the CRS report also notes that “U.S. manufacturers’ large investments in automation … have eliminated many routine assembly jobs; only two in five workers in U.S. manufacturing establishments are now directly engaged in production.” So not all the job losses can be attributed to trade deals and those job losses were offset in part by job gains elsewhere.

— by Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley and D’Angelo Gore


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