Hillary Clinton’s relationship to the truth is solid — but her most brazen misrepresentations come when she’s talking about herself.
In the lead-up to the first presidential debate of the general election, POLITICO subjected every statement made by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — in speeches, in interviews and on Twitter — to our magazine’s rigorous fact-checking process. The conclusion: Though Clinton is far more practiced at sticking to defensible policy positions and recollections of history, she’s significantly more lax when addressing her own transgressions — the potential Achilles’ heel of a candidacy marred by questions of her truthfulness.
Compared with Trump’s machine-gun style of spewing falsehoods, Clinton’s detours from the truth were rarer and more targeted. POLITICO’s five-day analysis suggests that in just over 1.5 hours of remarks last week, the former secretary of state averaged one falsehood every 12 minutes.
In raw numbers, Clinton made eight erroneous statements in five days.
Clinton’s most glaring statement was the mischaracterization of her handling of classified information. She’s been rebuked by the director of the FBI for negligence and told the agency she didn’t realize a "(C)" denoted classified material. But last week, she described how “careful” she is with classified information.
Clinton also overstepped when describing her campaign’s transparency on her health, arguing that she’s met the standard of all previous candidates for office. Except there is no standard, and she’s arguably kept private significant details about her physical health.
But Trump is certainly in a class of his own when it comes to skirting the truth. We explore his overstuffed file of falsehoods here.
Part of Clinton’s smaller sum of mischaracterizations is because she simply said less. Clinton took Tuesday and Friday off the trail. Her speeches and interviews were shorter than Trump’s.
But even correcting for her reduced number of public statements suggests that she’s less likely to deviate from the truth. Though Clinton spoke for less than half as long as Trump, extrapolating the frequency her misstatements suggests that even if she, too, spoke for 4.5 hours, Trump would still nearly quadruple her pace.
Some metrics on Clinton’s statements this week:
- Number of appearances: two speeches; three TV interviews; one press availability; 114 tweets; two op-eds
- Combined length of remarks (speeches, interviews): 96 minutes, 10 seconds
- Raw number of misstatements, exaggerations, falsehoods: eight
- Rate: one untruth every 12 minutes
Here’s the list of Clinton’s factual transgressions.
1. “I’ve had some of the most secret information that anybody in government could have. I was involved in the small group advising President Obama about whether to go after Osama bin Laden. I am very committed and careful with classified information.” (Sept. 21, Orlando ABC Action News)
Clinton’s campaign insists this is true, but it’s a remarkable claim amid a yearlong investigation of her handling of classified material while leading the State Department. It also contradicts statements from FBI Director James Comey, whose investigation of Clinton’s email practices found she and her aides were “extremely careless” in handling classified material. He told Congress this about Clinton’s handling of sensitive materials: “I don’t think that our investigation established she was actually particularly sophisticated with respect to classified information and the levels and treatment.”
The FBI determined that 113 emails found on Clinton’s server included previously classified material and three were marked with a "(C)" to denote them as such. Comey asserted that even emails that weren’t marked should have been apparently classified to anyone trained in assessing such material. Interview notes released by the FBI earlier this month indicated that Clinton told the agency she misread the "(C)" marking as part of an alphabetical chain.
2. “I’ve met the standard that everyone running for president has met. I have to say, my opponent has not met that standard. I am physically, mentally healthy and fit to be president of the United States.” (Sept. 21, Orlando ABC Action News)
It’s not clear what “standard” Clinton is referring to; disclosure of health information by candidates has varied widely over the years. And this year, the candidates would be among the oldest (and in Trump’s case the oldest) to take the office for a first term. PolitiFact has found that Clinton’s health release in 2015 was on par with Mitt Romney’s and Barack Obama’s from 2012, and she’s released more details since her bout with pneumonia that led to a collapse outside a 9/11 memorial. Trump has left out more details than Clinton, but both omitted key information, per a New York Times analysis of their health.
3. Trump’s “economic plans would … include an estimated $4 billion tax cut for his own family just by eliminating the estate tax.” (the New York Times, Sept. 21)
The accuracy of Clinton’s claim depends on Trump’s net worth — a matter of dispute. Trump has claimed he’s worth $10 billion. If so, the Wall Street Journal reports that applying a 40 percent estate tax rate (which applies to wealth above $10.9 million), Trump would have to pay about $4 billion in the estate tax. Analyses by Bloomberg News and other organizations, however, pegged Trump’s net worth closer to $3 billion, meaning his estate tax payment would be closer to $1.2 billion.
The Clinton campaign responded: “If Donald Trump admits he is lying about his net worth we will happily revise the estimate down.”
4. “My plan would expand Low Income Housing Tax Credits in high-cost areas to increase our affordable housing supply, and fuel broader community development. So if you are a family living in an expensive city, you would be able to find an affordable place to call home.” (the New York Times, Sept. 21)
Clinton is likely overstating the power of this program. The LIHTC program has helped make an average of 76,000 new affordable home units annually in the past few years. That’s not nothing, but it’s not enough — even if it were greatly expanded — to guarantee availability of affordable housing in a country where, as Clinton notes, 11.4 million people spend more than half their income on housing, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The Clinton campaign provided additional information about her LIHTC proposal but did not specifically address how her proposals would cope with the full magnitude of the challenge.
5. “We’ve actually put in one place all of our plans,” she said while holding up a copy of her book “Stronger Together." “We have this old-fashioned idea if we’re asking you to support us, we should tell you what we’re going to do.” (Sept. 21, Orlando, Florida, rally)
The book itself is far from illuminating — rather, it’s a warmed-over repackaging of campaign-trail talking points without a clear path to get things done in what’s likely to be a divided Congress. Critics skewered the book for laziness, repetitiveness and little critical thinking about what the implementation of their policies would actually entail.
The Clinton campaign referred POLITICO to the final section of “Stronger Together,” saying it addresses how to achieve policy ends through work with Congress or executive authority.
6-7. “Your former guest, Donald Trump, has refused to actually admit that President Obama is an American, born in America.” (The Tonight Show, Sept. 20, and a similar statement on Twitter)
Trump held a news conference in mid-September to say that he believed the president was born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen, “period.” That came, however, after he spent years stoking the birther conspiracy theory, demanded Obama’s long-form birth certificate and then continued to question the veracity of that document. He said the announcement was made because he “wanted to get on with the campaign.”
The Clinton campaign responded: “5 years championing a conspiracy theory to undermine our first African American President isn’t erased by a 36 second statement.”
8. “We have a Republican nominee for president who incites hatred and violence like we’ve never seen before.” (Twitter, Sept. 19)
If Trump is going to get dinged for suggesting African-American neighborhoods are in the worst shape they’ve ever been, then Clinton should be taken to task for suggesting that Trump — despite comments deemed racist even by leaders in his own party — is the most extreme candidate on race and violence in history. That omits George Wallace, a Democratic governor who later ran as an American Independent Party presidential nominee in 1968 on an overtly racist platform. It also leaves out Andrew Jackson, a Democratic president who was largely viewed the same way by his peers: temperamentally volatile, belligerent and dangerously unscripted.
The Clinton campaign said the tweet referred only to Republican presidential nominees.
Brent Griffiths and Patrick Reis contributed to this report.