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Fact Check: Looking at Trump's Terrorism Speech

Trump repeated several fact-twisting and bogus claims he has made before

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    Republican Donald Trump holds a campaign event a Youngstown State University on August 15, 2016 in Youngstown, Ohio.

    FactCheck.org is a non-partisan non-profit organization that will hold candidates and key figures accountable during the 2016 presidential campaign. FactCheck.org will check facts of speeches, advertisements and more for NBC.

    In a speech in Ohio on terrorism, Donald Trump repeated several fact-twisting and bogus claims he has made before:

    • He again said that he opposed the Iraq War “from the beginning,” and this time pointed to two interviews as support. But he didn’t express an opinion in one interview on whether the U.S. should invade Iraq. And the other came more than a year after the war had started.
    • Trump blamed President Obama for saying, “here’s our time, here’s our date” for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but that date had been set by an agreement signed by President George W. Bush.
    • Trump wrongly said that one of the San Bernardino shooters “very openly” supported jihad online. The FBI said the messages on jihad that it found were private messages — not public postings.
    • Trump again claimed with no evidence that a neighbor of the San Bernardino shooters “saw … bombs on the floor” of their home but didn’t report it because of racial profiling concerns. One neighbor reportedly saw the couple receiving several packages and doing work in their garage.
    • Trump said “Hillary Clinton’s plan” would allow 620,000 refugees from around the world to resettle in the U.S. during a first term as president. But Clinton didn’t say that. The number comes from a Republican-led subcommittee that made assumptions about what Clinton would do as president.

    Still No Evidence for Iraq War Claim

    Trump misrepresented a TV interview he gave in January 2003 to claim that he opposed the Iraq War “from the beginning.” In that interview, Trump said polling showed the economy is a “much bigger problem” for President Bush than Iraq, but he expressed no opinion on whether the U.S. should invade.

    As we have written before, Trump on numerous occasions has made the claim without providing evidence that he was opposed to the Iraq War before it started. In this speech, he claims to have the evidence — but he doesn’t have the goods. Instead, he cherry-picks his quotes to twist the facts.

    Trump, Aug. 15: I was an opponent of the Iraq War from the beginning – a major difference between me and my opponent. Though I was a private citizen, whose personal opinions on such matters were really not sought, I nonetheless publicly expressed my private doubts about the invasion. I was against it, believe me. Three months before the invasion I said, in an interview with Neil Cavuto, to whom I offer my best wishes for a speedy recovery, that quote, perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it yet and that the economy is a much bigger problem.

    Trump did not tell Cavuto that “we shouldn’t be doing it yet and that the economy is a much bigger problem.” Trump is conflating two separate statements and presenting them as a single sentence and thought.

    A little background: The Jan. 28, 2003, interview with Cavuto on Fox Business was conducted prior to President Bush’s State of the Union address that would be delivered that night. Cavuto starts by asking Trump what advice he would give the president on how much time to devote to Iraq and how much to the economy. Trump said the American public is “much more focused now on the economy,” and he criticized the Bush administration for dragging out the decision on whether to invade Iraq.

    “Either you attack or you don’t attack,” Trump said.

    Trump softened his criticism when Cavuto asked Trump if what he was saying was that Bush’s indecision “could ultimately hurt us.”

    “Well, he has either got to do something or not do something, perhaps, because perhaps [we] shouldn’t be doing it yet and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations, you know,” Trump responds. “He’s under a lot of pressure. He’s — I think he’s doing a very good job.”

    Trump switched to defending the administration and presented the alternative argument that the invasion should have the support of the United Nations. He didn’t say the U.S. shouldn’t invade Iraq.

    Trump then went on to say, “But, of course, if you look at the polls, a lot of people are getting a little tired. I think the Iraqi situation is a problem. And I think the economy is a much bigger problem as far as the president is concerned.”

    Once again, Trump didn’t say the U.S. shouldn’t invade Iraq. He said public opinion polls show the economy is a “much bigger problem” for Bush.

    Below is a fuller exchange with Cavuto. We marked in bold the passages that Trump highlighted in his speech. They are not part of the same sentence, or even the same thought.

    Cavuto, Jan. 28, 2003: If you had to sort of breakdown for the president, if you were advising him, how much time do you commit [in the State of the Union] to Iraq versus how much time you commit to the economy, what would you say?

    Trump: Well, I’m starting to think that people are much more focused now on the economy. They are getting a little bit tired of hearing, we’re going in, we’re not going in, the — you know, whatever happened to the days of the Douglas MacArthur. He would go and attack. He wouldn’t talk. We have to — you know, it’s sort like either do it or don’t do it. When I watch Dan Rather explaining how we are going to be attacking, where we’re going to attack, what routes we’re taking, what kind of planes we’re using, how to stop them, how to stop us, it is a little bit disconcerting. I’ve never seen this, where newscasters are telling you how — telling the enemy how we’re going about it, we have just found out this and that. It is ridiculous.

    Cavuto: Well, the problem right there.

    Trump: Either you attack or you don’t attack.

    Cavuto: The problem there, Donald, is you’re watching Dan Rather. Maybe you should just be watching Fox.

    Trump: Well, no, I watch Dan Rather, but not necessarily fondly. But I happened to see it the other night. And I must tell you it was rather amazing as they were explaining the different — I don’t know if it is fact or if it is fiction, but the concept of a newscaster talking about the routes is — just seems ridiculous. So the point is either you do it or you don’t do it, or you — but I just — or if you don’t do it, just don’t talk about it. When you do it, you start talking about it.

    Cavuto: So you’re saying the leash on this is getting kind of short here, that the president has got to do something presumably sooner rather than later and stringing this along could ultimately hurt us.

    Trump: Well, he has either got to do something or not do something, perhaps, because perhaps [we] shouldn’t be doing it yet and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations, you know. He’s under a lot of pressure. He’s — I think he’s doing a very good job. But, of course, if you look at the polls, a lot of people are getting a little tired. I think the Iraqi situation is a problem. And I think the economy is a much bigger problem as far as the president is concerned.

    Trump also offered as evidence an interview with Esquire that ran in the August 2004 edition — 17 months after the Iraq War started. As we have written, Trump was an early critic of the war after it started, but we can find no clear evidence that he was opposed to it before it started.

    Withdrawal from Iraq

    Trump blamed President Obama for setting a date for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but that date had been set by an agreement signed by President George W. Bush.

    Trump: But I have been just as clear in saying what a catastrophic mistake Hillary Clinton and President Obama made with the reckless way in which they pulled out. After we had made those hard-fought sacrifices and gains, we should never have made such a sudden withdrawal – on a timetable advertised to our enemies. They said we’re moving out, here’s our time, here’s our date. Who would do this but an incompetent president?

    As we recently explained, some have argued that Obama could have done more to renegotiate the Status of Forces Agreement signed by Bush in 2008. But Trump blames the wrong president for, in his words, saying, “here’s our time, here’s our date.”

    Bush signed the SOFA on Dec. 14, 2008. It said: “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.” Then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in a book published in 2011 that Bush didn’t want to set a deadline and wanted an agreement for a residual force — but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki objected. Bush reluctantly signed the agreement.

    Obama had three years to renegotiate, and, indeed, Obama sought to leave a residual force of 5,000 to 10,000 troops. But Maliki wouldn’t agree to shield U.S. troops from criminal prosecution by Iraqi authorities, and the negotiations ended in October 2011 over that issue.

    Then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta later wrote in his 2014 book that Obama didn’t press hard enough for a deal. But some experts say Maliki wasn’t going to agree to a residual force. Iraq was more closely aligned with Iran at that point.

    Maliki “wanted the Americans out of there — and the Iranians wanted the same thing,” Princeton University professor Bernard Haykel, who heads the university’s Institute for Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, told us. “I don’t think there was a deal to be had — not one in which the Americans would have had immunity.”

    As for Clinton — who was secretary of state at the time — she publicly supported Obama. In 2014, she blamed the Iraqi government for not coming to an agreement to protect American troops. In a recent interview with the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker, Joby Warrick, a Post reporter and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS,” said that “[w]ithin the administration, Clinton was one of the loudest forces for keeping a residual force in Iraq.”

    And as for Trump’s views on leaving Iraq, he strongly supported withdrawing in March 2007, telling CNN. “You know how they get out? They get out. That’s how they get out. Declare victory and leave, because I’ll tell you, this country is just going to get further bogged down.”

    Missed Signs?

    Trump cited two bogus examples to back up his point that “warning signs were totally ignored” in recent terrorist shootings.

    • He claimed one of the San Bernardino shooters “very openly” supported jihad online. It was incorrectly reported that the shooter had posted public messages supporting jihad on social media, but the FBI later clarified that those were private messages.
    • Trump wrongly claimed that “a neighbor [of the San Bernardino shooters] saw suspicious behavior — bombs on the floor and other things – but didn’t warn authorities because they said they didn’t want to be accused of racial profiling.” The neighbor in question only reportedly saw the couple receiving a large number of packages, and observed that they were working a lot in their garage.

    Stop us if you’ve heard these before, because we have written about these claims several times. But it bears repeating: Neither of these claims has been substantiated.

    Here’s what Trump said in his Aug. 15 speech on “Understanding The Threat: Radical Islam And The Age Of Terror.”

    Trump: Another common feature of the past attacks that have occurred on our soil is that warning signs were totally ignored. …

    The female San Bernardino shooter on her … statements and everything that she said. She was here on a fiancee visa, which most people have never even heard of. From Saudi Arabia. And she wanted to support very openly jihad, online. These are the people we’re taking in.

    A neighbor saw suspicious behavior — bombs on the floor and other things – but didn’t warn authorities because they said they didn’t want to be accused of racial profiling. Now, many are dead, and many more are gravely wounded.

    We wrote about the first claim back in March when then Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz claimed that the woman involved in the San Bernardino, California, shooting had “publicly posted on social media calls to jihad.”

    The Dec. 2, 2015, shooting in San Bernardino that left 14 dead was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook, who was born in the United States, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, who came to the U.S. from Pakistan in July 2014 on a K-1 fiancee visa. Farook and Malik were killed in a police shootout.

    Support material for Trump’s speech provided by his campaign links to two articles, one by CNN and the other in the Los Angeles Times, both on Dec. 14. Both stories cited unnamed law enforcement officials saying that the woman sent messages advocating jihad on social media, but both noted the messages were private and written under a pseudonym.

    The New York Times — which wrote on Dec. 12 that Malik had “talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad” — later added an editor’s note explaining that that wasn’t correct, and that FBI Director James B. Comey said on Dec. 16, 2015, that the online communication the FBI had found from late 2013 between the two San Bernardino shooters was in “private, direct messages, not social media messages.”

    Comey went on to say: “So far in this investigation we have found no evidence of the posting on social media by either of them at that period of time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom.”

    The Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote about the Times’ “faulty” original report, which relied on anonymous sources. Sullivan quoted Executive Editor Dean Baquet as saying, “This was a really big mistake.”

    Sullivan wrote that Comey’s statements, in addition to further reporting by the Times, found “Ms. Malik had not posted ‘openly’ on social media. She had written emails; she had written private messages, not visible to the public; and she had written on a dating site. … In other words, the story’s clear implication that those who vetted Ms. Malik’s visa had missed the boat – a clearly visible ocean liner – was based on a false premise.”

    Trump was also off-base with his claim that “a neighbor saw suspicious behavior — bombs on the floor and other things – but didn’t warn authorities because they said they didn’t want to be accused of racial profiling.”

    Despite Trump’s repeatedclaims, there is no evidence that any neighbor saw “bombs on the floor” of the San Bernardino shooters’ home but declined to report it because of racial profiling concerns.

    Authorities did find what the Los Angeles Times described as “an armory of weapons and explosives … including a dozen pipe bombs and thousands of rounds of ammunition” in the Redlands home of the couple responsible for the shooting rampage. But there is no evidence so far that any neighbors knew about that cache of explosives.

    On Dec. 3, 2015, Los Angeles’ KTLA 5 aired an interview with a man, Aaron Elswick, who is a friend of one of the neighbors. Elswick said the neighbor told him she noticed, “They were receiving quite a number of packages and they were also working a lot in their garage.”

    “And it sounds like she didn’t do anything about it,” Elswick said. “She didn’t want to do any kind of racial profiling.”

    On the day of the shooting on Dec. 2, 2015, CBS Los Angeles also aired an interview with a “man who worked in the neighborhood the past three months” who “said he noticed unusual activity.” But the extent of the “unusual activity” reported by the man — who was not identified in the news report — was that he noticed six well-dressed “Middle Eastern guys” walk from the home to a nearby lunch spot on several occasions. The man said he and his co-workers wondered, “What are those guys doing in this neighborhood?”

    Neither of those reported cases includes someone who saw the inside of the home, let alone “bombs on the floor,” as Trump claims.

    Clinton on Refugees

    Trump, citing a Senate subcommittee report, said that “Hillary Clinton’s plan” would allow 620,000 refugees to resettle in the U.S. during her first term as president. But Clinton didn’t say that’s how many refugees she would allow into the country. The Republican-led subcommittee made assumptions about what Clinton would do as president.

    Trump: The United States Senate subcommittee on immigration estimates that Hillary Clinton’s plan would mean roughly 620,000 refugees from all current refugee-sending nations in her first term, assuming no cuts to other refugee programs. So it could get worse.

    Last year, Clinton proposed that the U.S. accept 65,000 refugees from Syria. That was 55,000 more than the 10,000 President Obama authorized for admission from that country for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. In all, Obama authorized the admission of 85,000 refugees from all nations in fiscal 2016, and Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the administration would aim to admit at least 100,000 global refugees in fiscal 2017.

    To get to 620,000 refugees, the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and The National Interest assumed that Clinton would do something she has not explicitly said that she would — allow 155,000 refugees into the U.S. each year during her first term as president.

    Subcommittee on Immigration and The National Interest, June 27, 2016: Assuming Clinton’s desire to bring in 65,000 Syrian refugees is in addition to the Obama Administration’s current goal of admitting 10,000 this fiscal year (out of 85,000 total refugees), that would amount to an increase of 55,000 refugees. ‎55,000 on top of 85,000 totals 140,000 refugees. The Obama Administration’s target for FY 2017 is actually 100,000 refugees, meaning that adding 55,000 refugees to that would result in 155,000 refugees each year. Due to statutory flaws in our Refugee Admissions Program, the number could be as high as Hillary Clinton desires. Assuming her goal is to admit 155,000 refugees each year during a hypothetical first term in office, a Clinton Administration would admit at least 620,000 refugees in just four years – a population roughly the size of Baltimore.

    So, it’s not “Clinton’s plan” to admit 620,000 refugees as president. The subcommittee assumed she wanted to do that, even though Clinton has not specified a figure for all refugees over four years.

    Trump went on to say that the Republican subcommittee “estimates her plan would impose a lifetime cost of roughly $400 billion when you include the costs of health care, welfare, housing, schooling, and all other entitlement benefits that are excluded from the State Department’s placement figures.” So, that “lifetime” estimate is also based on an assumption about the number of admitted refugees that Clinton has not yet addressed. It relies on other assumptions as well, such as that most of the refugees would be low-skilled workers.