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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

The Final Push: Clinton

With the presidential election just a few days away, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are making their final appeals with multiple stops in key swing states.

In our experience, we have found that facts are stretched more than usual in the final, desperate days of a close presidential campaign. And that is certainly the case this year. In stump speeches this week, the messaging was clear. Clinton stuck to the theme that Trump is “unqualified and unfit to be president,” while Trump hammered at the theme that Clinton is “corrupt.”

In this story, we will look at a sampling of the misleading claims made by Clinton during speeches this week.

In a separate story, we have a sampling of misleading statements by Trump (which you can read here). Some academics argue that politically motivated reasoning may lead you to only read one of these stories. Prove them wrong.

Clinton’s Final Push

In speeches this week, Clinton laid out the case for her contention that Trump is “unqualified and unfit to be president.” But in many cases, Clinton twisted Trump’s words to make her point.

On nuclear weapons:

“I am running against a man who says he doesn’t understand why we can’t use nuclear weapons. He actually said, ‘then why are we making them?’” — Oct. 31 in Kent, Ohio.

As we wrote after the last debate, that’s according to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and based on an anonymous source, not a verified quote from Trump. Scarborough said in early August that an anonymous source, “a foreign policy expert” who “went to advise Donald Trump” several months earlier, had said that Trump three times asked “if we had them why can’t we use them.” The Trump campaign denied that account.

Update, Nov. 7: A reader pointed us to a Trump interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on March 30 in which Trump did, in fact, use the words “then why are we making them?” in reference to nuclear weapons. But Clinton’s claim that it was evidence that Trump “doesn’t understand why we can’t use nuclear weapons” is a matter of interpretation. In the interview, Trump poses the hypothetical of responding to a nuclear attack on the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. Trump says that he would be “the last one to use the nuclear weapon,” but that the option shouldn’t be taken off the table, because doing so would mean being “a bad negotiator.” Here’s a fuller transcript of the exchange:

Matthews: Where would we drop — where would we drop a nuclear weapon in the Middle East?

Trump: Let me explain. Let me explain. Somebody hits us with a nuke …

Matthews: ISIS.

Trump: … you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke? … First of all, you don’t want to say “Take everything off the table,” because you’re a bad negotiator if you do that.

Matthews: No, just nuclear. Just nuclear.

Trump: Look, nuclear should be off the table. But would there be a time when it could be used? Possibly. Possibly.

Matthews: OK. The trouble is, when you said that, the whole world heard it. David Cameron in Britain heard it. The Japanese, where we bombed them in ’45, heard it. They’re hearing a guy running for president of the United States talking of maybe using nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to hear that about an American president.

Trump: Then why are we making them? Why do we make them? We have nuclear weapons — why would we make them?

Matthews: Because of the old mutually assured destruction, which Reagan hated.

Trump: Just so you understand, I was against Iraq. I’d be the last one to use the nuclear weapon. That’s sort of like the end of the ballgame.

“But even the prospect of an actual nuclear war doesn’t seem to bother Donald Trump. ‘Good luck, enjoy yourselves, folks,’ was what he had to say about a potential nuclear conflict in Asia. I wonder if he knows that a single nuclear warhead can kill millions of people. These are weapons today far more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. To talk so casually, so cavalierly about mass annihilation is truly appalling.” — Oct. 31 in Kent, Ohio.

That’s twisting Trump’s words a bit, as we also explained in our fact-check of the last debate.

Here’s what Trump said on April 2: “We’re protecting Japan from North Korea. … I would say to Japan you gotta help us out. … And I would rather have them not arm. But I’m not going to continue to lose this tremendous amount of money. And frankly, the case could be made, that let them protect themselves against North Korea. They’d probably wipe them out pretty quick. And if they fight, you know what, that would be a terrible thing, terrible. ‘Good luck folks, enjoy yourself.’ If they fight, that would be terrible, right? But if they do, they do.”

On multiple occasions, Trump did say perhaps Japan and South Korea should have nuclear weapons to protect themselves. But it isn’t clear — as Clinton suggests — that Trump was talking about a nuclear war between Japan and North Korea when he said, “Good luck folks, enjoy yourself.” In that instance, Trump was focusing on his argument that Japan should pay the U.S. more for providing protection for that country.


On 9/11:

“After the world watched with horror as the twin towers fell, he called in to a New York TV station, and even on that horrible day when thousands of people lost their lives, he couldn’t stop himself from pointing out that now, because the towers had fallen, a building he owned was the tallest in lower Manhattan. What kind of person brags at a moment like that?” — Oct. 31 in Kent, Ohio

Trump did say that, though we’ll leave it to readers to decide if he was “bragging,” as Clinton put it. It seems to us a more plausible interpretation, given the fuller context of the interview, that Trump was lamenting the dramatic change to an iconic New York City skyline.

Trump’s comments came in a nearly 10-minute interview with WWOR-TV in New York after he was asked first about whether he had increased security at Trump Tower, and then whether his landmark building at 40 Wall Street had been damaged.

Trump responded, “Forty Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was, actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest. And then when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest, and now it’s the tallest.”

He then went on to describe how debris — brick, mortar and steel — was piled 2 feet high outside the building, even though it is several blocks from the World Trade Center.

“I think one of the very sad things is going to be when you look at the skyline of New York, which has become so emblazoned in your memory, and you are looking at the skyline of New York and you see … these two buildings, whether you loved them or you don’t love them, they were a great part of the skyline,” Trump said “It’s hard to believe.”

You can listen to the entire interview via Politico, which included a quote from Alan Marcus, who was working that day for WWOR, commenting that even on 9/11 Trump couldn’t get away from being the “brand manager of Trump.” But as we said, it is equally plausible that Trump was putting into perspective the dramatic change to the New York skyline.


On praising China:

“He even praised the Chinese government for massacring protesters in Tiananmen Square.” – Oct. 31 in Kent, Ohio.

This is another example of Clinton and Trump disagreeing over the interpretation of what Trump said. In a 1990 interview with Playboy, Trump said, “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”

During a Republican debate in March, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump about those comments.

“That doesn’t mean I was endorsing that,” Trump explained. “I was not endorsing it. I said that is a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And then they kept down the riot. It was a horrible thing. It doesn’t mean at all I was endorsing it.”


On Russian influence:

“The U.S. intelligence community has now confirmed that the Russian government, which means Putin, is directing cyberattacks against targets in the United States to influence the outcome of our election. So ask yourself, why would Putin be trying to get Donald Trump elected president? Could it be because of all the nice things Donald has said about him or the fact that he has promised to adopt pro- Kremlin policies? Or maybe because of the extensive business dealings with Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin?” — Oct. 31 in Kent, Ohio.

Clinton is right that U.S. intelligence officials have pointed a finger at Russia for recent cyberattacks affecting the Democratic Party. The Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security issued a joint statement on Oct. 7 saying they were “confident” that recent hacks into the email systems of the Democratic Party were directed by the Russian government. And, they wrote, “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

But Clinton, so far, has no proof that the Russians “are trying to get Donald Trump elected president.”

According to a New York Times story published on Oct. 31, after Clinton made her remarks, “And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”


Twisting Trump’s words:

“You see I don’t think I have all the answers. I don’t think anybody has all the answers. When Donald Trump, at his convention, said he alone could fix everything in America.” — Nov. 2 in Tempe, Arizona.

As we have written before, Clinton is misrepresenting remarks Trump made during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Trump never said he’d be the only one to fix absolutely everything. He said that as a political outsider, only he can fix a “rigged” system. And, in fact, he talked about working with others in that same speech.

“He doesn’t believe in equal pay.” — Nov. 1 in Dade City, Florida.

As we’ve written, Trump doesn’t support equal pay legislation, but he has said that he believes in paying people based on performance, not gender.

“And you know Donald Trump’s strategy’s pretty simple. He says he wants to suppress young people from voting, women from voting, people of color from voting. I mean that’s a lot of people.” — Nov. 1 in Dade City, Florida.

The Clinton campaign pointed us to articles in Bloomberg Businessweek, New York magazine and the Wall Street Journal  — all of which cite anonymous Trump campaign officials talking about efforts to depress Democratic voter turnout.

For example, the Bloomberg story quotes  a “senior official” saying, “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” including efforts to lower voting among Clinton strongholds: “idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.”

None of the stories quotes Trump directly. We can’t independently verify the accuracy of accounts given by anonymous Trump campaign officials. But even in these press accounts, Trump himself did not say those things, meaning that — at best  — Clinton goes too far when she claims, “He [Trump] says …”


On Muslims:

“He [Trump] wants to ban every Muslim in the world from coming to the United States.” — Nov. 3 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

That was Trump’s initial proposal in December. At the time, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” By July, in his convention speech, he dropped the reference to religion and said, “we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” after the convention, Trump explained why he was no longer targeting Muslims: “I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I’m okay with that, because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim. ”

During the second presidential debate, Trump said, “The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into extreme vetting from certain areas of the world.” Asked to explain “whether or not the Muslim ban still stands,” Trump responded, “It’s called extreme vetting.” He then went on to discuss the vetting of refugees.

Many questions remain about the details of how Trump would implement his plan, which countries would be included among those that would be subject to “extreme vetting,” and how that would apply to visitors to the U.S. Nonetheless, Trump has clearly changed his initial call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”