Home Politics The facts behind the first presidential debate

The facts behind the first presidential debate

10 min read

Contributing reporting by Lindsey Curnutte.

As millions of Americans tuned into the first general debate of the 2016 presidential election, thousands of journalists stood by to feverishly fact check the candidates’ assertions.

Here are the five biggest fact-checking moments of the Sept. 26 debate:

1. Clinton: “Trumped Up-Trickle Down” disproportionately favors the wealthy and adds $5 trillion to the national debt.

This is partially true.

Clinton made a few claims about Trump’s tax plan, which she dubbed “trumped-up trickle down.” While Clinton did not specify the time frame in which Trump’s tax plan will allegedly increase the national debt, the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of his plan partially supports this claim:

“We estimate that the Trump plan would reduce federal receipts by $9.5 trillion between 2016 and 2026…The revenue loss during the second decade (2027–36) would be more than half again the first decade’s loss (in nominal terms)—a projected $15.0 trillion.”

As for Clinton’s assertion that Trump’s plan favors the wealthy, a Business Insider article says the issue is not so cut-and-dry. Trump’s plan eliminates the majority of existing tax brackets, but it’s unclear how much that benefits middle-class Americans because “he hasn’t specified what income levels his three tax rates of 12%, 25%, and 33% would apply to.”

2. Trump: Stop-and-frisk has had a tremendous impact on the safety of New York City.

This is mostly false

Trump was correct when he said the murder rate has plummeted in New York in the last two decades.

But it is very unclear whether Gov. Rudolph Giuliani’s implementation of stop-and-frisk policies can be credited for the decline.

The Washington Post reported:

“Crime is affected by many factors, and New York’s decline in crime mirrored the decline in many other major cities at the time. Moreover, crime was declining for four years before Giuliani took office, and it continued to decline for 14 years after he left.”

So, Trump is correct that New York has seen a plummeting murder rate, but we can’t say if it’s because of stop-and-frisk. As for his assertion that stop-and-frisk isn’t unconstitutional, Lester Holt is right on this one.

3. Clinton: Trump was sued by the DOJ for not renting apartments to African-Americans.

This is accurate.

Clinton claimed:

“Donald Trump started his career back in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination because he would not rent apartments in one of his developments to African-Americans, and he made sure that the people who worked for him understood the policy. He was actually sued twice by the Justice Department. So he has a long record of engaging in racist behavior.”   

According to CBS News, The Justice Department did file a lawsuit in 1973 against Trump Management, alleging that the company used tactics to discriminate against black tenants.

Trump told the New York Times in 1973 that the charges were “absolutely ridiculous…we have never discriminated…and we never would.”
Trump and DOJ settled the case in 1975. Trump Management “promised not to discriminate against blacks, Puerto Ricans and other minorities.”

4. Clinton: Trump was originally in favor of the Iraq invasion.

This is mostly true.

“That is a mainstream media nonsense put out by her. I was against the war in Iraq,” Trump said.

Despite Trump’s vehement testimony that it was “wrong, wrong, wrong” that he supported the Iraq war, AP Fact Check found no evidence that Trump publicly expressed opposition to the war in Iraq before the U.S. invaded. But, he did begin to voice doubts after the conflict began in March 2003.

AP found his first public comment on the conflict to be on Sept. 11, 2002, when radio host Howard Stern asked if he supported a potential Iraq invasion to which Trump responded “Yeah, I guess so.”

In March 2003, days after the invasion, Trump said it “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.” It wasn’t until later that year that he began casting doubts.

So Trump did support the Iraq war in 2002, as Clinton asserted, but began casting doubts the next year. His earliest outright opposition to the war was in the August 2004 issue of Esquire, like Trump said during the debate.

“Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we’re in. I would never have handled it that way,” Trump told Esquire.

5. Trump: I can’t release tax returns while under audit.

From a legal perspective, this statement is false.

“Almost every lawyer says, you don’t release your returns until the audit’s complete,” Trump said. “When the audit’s complete, I’ll do it.”

There is no law that says citizens cannot release tax returns while under audit. Richard Nixon was being audited by the IRS in 1973, and even he released his tax returns.

So are Trump’s lawyers wrong? Well, it’s complicated.

While no clear legal reason prevents Trump from releasing the returns like his statement implies, his legal team could be advising him to hold off on the returns for strategic purposes. A Forbes article published in May suggests several of these reasons, among them being the complications of having your tax returns open to the public while they’re under review:

“In an audit, the IRS is reviewing the returns. But releasing returns to the public means that everyone will pick through them mercilessly. Commentators and political foes will query, question and criticize. The IRS could well get attack ideas from these almost certain interchanges.”

To view more debate highlights, visit our Twitter page. Miss it entirely? A full replay is available here.

The next debate will be between the vice presidential candidates on Oct. 4 at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

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