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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

GOP Convention Opens in Cleveland

Republican speakers twist facts on immigration, crime, Benghazi and employment.


CLEVELAND — The 2016 Republican National Convention opened with the first day’s theme “Make America Safe Again.” But in some cases the facts weren’t safe from distortion:

  • Two security contractors at the CIA annex in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, repeated their claim that they were told to “stand down” and not help Americans under attack. But multiple official reports say such an order was never issued.
  • The sister of a slain Border Patrol agent said President Obama has left “border patrol agents thinly equipped,” and undermanned. In fact, both funding and staffing have increased under Obama.
  • A Senate candidate claimed “neighborhoods have become more violent” under President Obama. In fact, the violent crime rate has gone down 20 percent under Obama, as of the most recent FBI statistics for 2014.
  • Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Michael McCaul both wrongly claimed that Hillary Clinton supports “open borders.” She supported a bill that would have created a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, but it also would have increased border security.
  • Giuliani said that Clinton “advocated for the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya” and should be “accountable” for the country’s chaos. But he failed to mention that Trump, at the time, also supported the ouster of Gadhafi.
  • Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions claimed that wages “have fallen,” when they’re up under Obama. He blamed immigration for a low labor force participation rate, when it’s mainly the result of demographics, including the aging of baby boomers.

Note to Readers

Our managing editor, Lori Robertson, is on the scene in Cleveland. This story was written with the help of the entire staff, based in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Next week, we will dispatch our staffers in Philadelphia for the Democratic convention. We intend to vet the major speeches at both conventions for factual accuracy, applying the same standards to both.


The Republican National Convention convened on July 18 for a four-day affair that will culminate with the nomination of Donald J. Trump as the party’s presidential nominee. The first day focused on public safety under the theme “Make America Safe Again.”

The speakers — a mix of citizens, soldiers and politicians — accused Democratic President Barack Obama and his former secretary of state, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, of making the country less safe at home and abroad.

Benghazi: No ‘Stand Down’ Order

Two security contractors who were stationed at the CIA annex on the night of the Benghazi attacks in 2012 reiterated their oft-told claim that they were told not to help Americans under attack at the State Department’s nearby diplomatic facility. But several government investigations concluded there were no intentional delays in responding to the attacks, and no “stand down” order was issued. 

“Rather, there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the team should depart prior to securing additional security assets,” the GOP-controlled House intelligence committee said in a 2014 report, citing “eyewitness testimony, ISR video footage, closed-circuit television recordings, and other sources.”

Mark Geist and John Tiegen, both Marine Corps veterans and co-authors of the book “13 Hours” that was the basis for a movie by the same name, spoke together from the stage. They gave a lengthy recap of that night. Both said they were told to “stand down” by the CIA base chief, identified in their book as “Bob.”

Tiegen, July 18: We got told to stand down.

Geist: Opportunities taken when we defied the stand down orders and opportunities squandered when Hillary failed to protect her people on the ground. Had she done her job that night, we wouldn’t have had to compromise the annex.

We have explored this allegation before at some length. A quick recap:

The attack on the diplomatic facility started at about 9:42 p.m. Benghazi time on Sept. 11, 2012, according to a Defense Department timeline. The military quickly diverted an unmanned surveillance drone to Benghazi, while the base chief at the CIA annex near the Benghazi diplomatic facility began plotting a rescue operation.

At 10:04 p.m., six members of the CIA security team and a translator left for the diplomatic facility in two armored vehicles, arriving at 10:25 p.m., according to a bipartisan report released by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in December 2012.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence issued a report in 2014 that said “some Annex team members wanted urgently to depart the Annex for the TMF [temporary mission facility] to save their State Department colleagues.” But the CIA annex chief “ordered the team to wait so that the seniors on the ground could ascertain the situation at the TMF and whether they could secure heavy weaponry support from local militias,” the report said on page 20.

The committee report said the base chief’s order for his team to wait has been misrepresented as a “stand down” order. The committee said the evidence shows “the Annex leadership deliberated thoughtfully, reasonably, and quickly.”

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nov. 21, 2014: The evidence from eyewitness testimony, ISR video footage, closed-circuit television recordings, and other sources provides no support for the allegation that there was any stand-down order. Rather, there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the team should depart prior to securing additional security assets.

The Senate intelligence committee 10 months earlier released a bipartisan report that came to the same conclusion.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Jan. 15, 2014: The Committee explored claims that there was a “stand down” order given to the security team at the Annex. Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.

After the movie “13 Hours” was released, the Washington Post in January interviewed the CIA base chief, “Bob,” who told the paper: “There never was a stand-down order. At no time did I ever second-guess that the team would depart.”

Border Patrol ‘Thinly Equipped’?

In a videotaped appearance, the sister of slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry laid blame for her brother’s death at the feet of President Obama’s “failed policies” — even though both funding and staffing have increased under Obama.

Kelly Terry-Willis: Obama’s failed policies are leaving border patrol agents thinly equipped and not able to do their jobs effectively. And my brother paid the ultimate sacrifice for those failures. They need the personnel and equipment required to keep our borders secure.

In fact, however, the U.S. Border Patrol budget went up 43 percent between fiscal year 2009 (which started before Obama took office) and fiscal year 2015, the most recent full fiscal year on record.

Often lost is the fact that the total number of Border Patrol agents doubled under Obama’s predecessor (rising from 9,821 in fiscal year 2001, the last fiscal year for which President Clinton signed the appropriations bills, to 20,119 in fiscal year 2009, under funding levels signed by President George W. Bush).

Under Obama, the number of agents went up further, to a peak of 21,444 at the end of fiscal year 2011. It dipped to 20,273 at the end of fiscal year 2015, but the administration is seeking funds from Congress to increase that to 21,070 in fiscal year 2017, which begins Oct. 1.

Whether or not those staffing and funding levels are adequate is of course a matter of opinion. But the fact is, the Border Patrol has more people and more money under Obama than it did previously.

Brian Terry died in a December 2010 shootout near the Mexican border with a group of bandits, two of whom were later extradited from Mexico and convicted of his murder in federal court in Arizona. Guns found at the scene were traced to the flawed “Fast and Furious” operation in which U.S. federal agents allowed suspected gun smugglers to purchase hundreds of weapons from U.S. gun dealers with the hope of tracking them to leaders of Mexican drug cartels.

Violent Crime Down, Not Up

Darryl Glenn, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Colorado, wrongly suggested that violent crime in the United States had gone up during President Obama’s time in office. The violent crime rate has gone down 20 percent from 2008, the year before Obama was sworn in, and 2014, the most recent statistics available from the FBI.

Glenn: Here’s some more facts Mr. President. Neighborhoods have become more violent under your watch.

We wrote about this issue last week, when Obama claimed that there had been “huge drops in the murder rates” and Donald Trump claimed that “violent crime has increased in cities across America.” The murder rate, and violent crime rate — which are the reported offenses per 100,000 people — have gone down considerably over the past several decades, according to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, which come from voluntary reports from local law enforcement agencies.

The drop is true nationwide and for major cities in America. And it’s also true if we look at the sheer number of murders and violent crime offenses, not the rate. The peak for these crimes was in the early 1990s.

Violent Crime Rate Chart

Trump was referring to a year-over-year rise in the number of murders in some cities recently. Criminology and statistics experts told us a few years was not enough to discern a trend.

If we look at murders and nonnegligent manslaughter during Obama’s entire time in office, the time frame Glenn cited, the number has gone down in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Dallas, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. The number of murders is up in Baltimore, St. Louis and Milwaukee. That’s from 2008 to 2015, using the most recent year’s numbers from the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association.

That doesn’t support Glenn’s blanket statement that “neighborhoods have become more violent.” And as the chart above shows, the nationwide violent crime rate has gone down.

On a night with the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani also boasted of bringing down crime in New York City.

Giuliani: It’s time to make America safe again. … I know we can change it, because I did it by changing New York City from the crime capital of America to the safest large city in the United States. What I did for New York, Donald Trump will do for America.

But the fact is, both New York and the nation overall saw a reduction in crime during Giuliani’s tenure. The violent crime rate in New York dropped by 56 percent from 1993, the year before Giuliani was sworn in as mayor, and 2001, his last year in office. Nationwide, the violent crime rate decreased by 32 percent during the same time period.

New York’s violent crime rate had actually peaked earlier, in 1990, and begun to decline a few years before Giuliani was sworn in. The nationwide rate peaked in 1991.

No ‘Open Borders’

Giuliani and Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, both wrongly claimed that Hillary Clinton supports “open borders.”

As we wrote when Trump himself made a similar claim, Clinton supported a Senate immigration bill that would have created a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, but it also would have included large investments in border security.

Sticking to the theme of public safety, Giuliani and McCaul argued that Clinton’s position on immigration makes America less safe. But they both went too far with the claim that Clinton supports open borders.

Giuliani: Hillary Clinton is for open borders.

McCaul: Hillary Clinton is promising more of the same — open borders, executive amnesty and the surge of Syrian refugees.

Those comments mirror Trump’s own, when he claimed in a speech attacking Clinton’s character on June 22 that she would “end virtually all immigration enforcement and thus create totally open borders for the United States.”

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.” On her campaign website, Clinton says she would “focus resources on detaining and deporting those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety.” But the site also states that she will “uphold the rule of law” and “protect our borders and national security.”

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.

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.

At a campaign stop in November, Clinton was even more explicit.

“We need to secure our borders, I’m for it, I voted for it, I believe in it, and we also need to deal with the families, the workers who are here, who have made contributions, and their children,” Clinton said in New Hampshire in November. “We can do more to secure our border and we should do more to deal with the 11 or 12 million people who are here, get them out of the shadows.”

That’s far short of advocating for open borders.

Libya and Leadership

Contrasting Trump’s leadership with Clinton’s record as secretary of state, Giuliani noted that Clinton “advocated for the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya” and should be “accountable” for the country now being in chaos. What Giuliani failed to mention is that at the time, Trump also advocated for the ouster of the Libyan dictator.

Clinton found herself facing a similar attack during the Democratic primary from challenger Bernie Sanders, who argued that Clinton was too eager to support regime change in countries without a well thought-out exit strategy. During a Democratic debate in February, Sanders said removing Gadhafi created “a political vacuum” that was filled by the terrorist group the Islamic State.

Giuliani picked up with a similar attack on Clinton at the Republican convention.

Giuliani: Donald Trump is a leader. He will reassert America’s position as the nation with the best values to lead the world. It was Hillary Clinton who advocated for the overthrow of Gadhafi in Libya. Now Libya is in chaos. Hillary Clinton is accountable for this and much more.

Clinton’s actions are certainly fair game for scrutiny, but Giuliani failed to mention that Trump also supported a military ouster of Gadhafi at the time — a point that Trump’s Republican opponent in the primary, Sen. Ted Cruz, brought up during the 10th GOP debate. Trump denied Cruz’s claim and argued that, “We would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now.”

But as we wrote after the debate, Trump said in 2011 that the U.S. should go into Libya “on a humanitarian basis” and “knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively and save the lives.”

Trump made that comment in a video posted to his YouTube channel in February 2011:

Trump, Feb. 28, 2011: I can’t believe what our country is doing. Gadhafi, in Libya, is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is and we’re sitting around. We have soldiers all over the Middle East and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage. And that’s what it is, a carnage. … Now we should go in. We should stop this guy which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it and save these lives. This is absolute nuts. We don’t want to get involved and you’re going to end up with something like you’ve never seen before. Now, ultimately the people will appreciate it and they’re going to end up taking over the country eventually. But the people will appreciate it and they should pay us back. But we have to go in to save these lives. These people are being slaughtered like animals. … We should do it on a humanitarian basis. Immediately go into Libya, knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively and save the lives.

Giuliani is free to disagree with Clinton’s support for Gadhafi’s removal, but he’s trying to have it both ways by citing it as a failure of her leadership while ignoring Trump’s call to “knock this guy out.”

Wages and Employment

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions painted an overly bleak picture of U.S. wages and employment.

Citing a 2014 study by a group favoring a reduction in immigration, he said all net job growth in the U.S. between 2000 and 2014 had gone to immigrants. Then he said:

Sessions: Does this help to explain why our wages have fallen and why we have the lowest percentage of Americans actually holding a job in 40 years?

But as we’ve reported elsewhere, real wages have been rising, especially in the last two years. And the U.S. jobless rate is now well below the historical norm.

A quick reality check:

  • Wages have been rising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ measure of average weekly earnings for all workers, adjusted for inflation and seasonal factors, was 4.2 percent higher in June than it was when Obama first took office. It has gone up 3.1 percent in the most recent 24 months alone.
  • The unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in June, well below the historical norm. In all the months between 1948 and the time Obama took office, the median jobless rate was 5.5 percent.

The jobless rate is the portion of those who say they want to work but can’t find a job despite looking at least once in the past four weeks. Since that rate is historically quite low, Republicans including Sessions have focused on the “labor force participation rate,” which is the percentage of those 16 years and older — regardless of their age or whether they want to work — who hold a job.

And in fact, that rate isn’t the lowest in 40 years, as Sessions claimed. In June, it was 62.7 percent. That’s actually higher than it was last September, when it hit a recent bottom of 62.4 percent.

And that September low was the lowest since October 1977 — 38 years and 11 months earlier, not quite 40 years.

More important, as we reported back in 2015, the decline was predicted a decade ago and is a result mainly of demographic factors having nothing to do with immigration or the health of the economy. The reasons cited then were the aging of the baby boomers and the end of a surge in the percentage of women working outside the home, which peaked in 1999.

— Lori Robertson, with Eugene Kiely, Brooks Jackson and Robert Farley


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