August 6th, 2020

The Fact Checker: The Truth Behind the Rhetoric

Exaggerations about trade, campaign donations and 9/11 'wives'

Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee Lee

By Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee Lee

Published March 4, 2016

Fox News aired the 11th Republican presidential debate Thursday, a prime-time event starring the four remaining aspirants for the GOP nomination.

Not every candidate uttered statements that are easily fact-checked, but here are some suspicious or interesting claims.

"Every other country we do business with we are getting absolutely crushed on trade. With China we're going to lose $505 billion in terms of trades. . . . Mexico, $58 billion. Japan, probably about, they don't know it yet, but about $109 billion. Every country we lose money with."

- Donald Trump

Trump got only one of these numbers right - the merchandise trade deficit with Mexico was $58 billion in 2015. For China it was $366 billion and Japan $69 billion, according to the International Trade Commission.

But Trump greatly overstates the case when he claims the United States is getting "absolutely crushed" in trade with "every other country." There's barely a trade deficit with Britain, and the United States has a trade surplus with Hong Kong ($30 billion), the Netherlands ($24 billion), the United Arab Emirates ($21 billion) Belgium ($15 billion), Australia ($14 billion), Singapore ($10 billion) and Brazil ($4 billion), among others.

As we have noted before, trade deficit means that people in one country are buying more goods from another country than people in the second country are buying from the first country. But the United States does not "lose" that money.

Americans wanted to buy those products. If Trump sparked a trade war and tariffs were increased on those Chinese goods, it would raise the cost of those goods to Americans. Perhaps that would reduce the purchases of those goods, and thus reduce the trade deficit - but that would not mean the United States would "gain" money that had been lost.

"I'm not only talking about drugs, I'm talking about other things. We will save $300 billion a year [in Medicare] if we properly negotiate. We don't do that. We don't negotiate. We don't negotiate anything."

- Trump

This is the first time that Trump has said that his repeated claim that he would save $300 billion on prescription drugs in Medicare actually was supposed to mean negotiating for a range of products in the Medicare system. As we have noted previously, his earlier statements made no sense because total spending in Medicare Part D (prescription drugs) in 2014 was $78 billion.

But the $300 billion pledge doesn't make much sense either. Projected Medicare spending in 2016 is $560 billion, so Trump unrealistically is claiming he will cut spending nearly 55 percent.

"If you don't like the Gang of Eight, Donald Trump funded five of the eight members of the Gang of Eight: $50,000."

- Ted Cruz

Cruz continues to say that Trump financed the Gang of Eight. But this is misleading. The majority of Trump's giving was done long before the 2013 Gang of Eight's support for comprehensive immigration reform.

Campaign finance records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics via show Trump directly donated to five of the eight members of the Gang of Eight. These direct donations were made for the senators' federal elections and add up to $30,900, not $50,000.

Trump's donations, in the senators' federal elections:

$9,000 to Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, in 1996-2010.

$2,000 to Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, in 2006-2007.

$1,500 to Richard J. Durbin, D-Illinois, in 1996 and 2007.

$15,800 to John McCain, R-Arizona, in 2005-2008.

$2,600 to Lindsey O. Graham, R-South Carolina, in 2014.

"A man flies into the World Trade Center and his family gets sent back to where they were going - and I think most of you know where they went and by the way, it wasn't Iraq, they went back to a certain territory - they knew what was happening. Their wives knew exactly what was happening."

- Trump

Trump once again repeats a falsehood that previously earned him Four Pinocchios. The most exhaustive report on the 19 hijackers and their actions prior to the attack is the 9/11 Commission report. There is no support for Trump's claims, as the report states that virtually all of the hijackers were unmarried.

The report makes a distinction between the "muscle hijackers," who were to restrain or overcome crew members or others, and hijackers who trained to pilot the aircraft. Regarding the muscle hijackers, the report says: "The muscle hijackers came from a variety of educational and societal backgrounds. All were between 20 and 28 years old; most were unemployed with no more than a high school education and were unmarried." (Page 231 of the report.)

Only one of the muscle hijackers - Abdulaziz Alomari - is listed as being married. But there is no indication his wife ever traveled to the United States.

Among the pilot hijackers, Marwan Al-Shehhi (who piloted United Flight 175) was married. But again, there is no indication that his wife ever traveled to the United States.

Finally, Ziad Samir Jarrah (on United Flight 93) did have a girlfriend of Turkish descent who lived in Germany and with whom he kept in close contact while he was in flight training in the United States. "In October [2000], he flew back to Germany to visit his girlfriend, Aysel Senguen. The two traveled to Paris before Jarrah returned to Florida on October 29. His relationship with her remained close throughout his time in the United States. In addition to his trips, Jarrah made hundreds of phone calls to her and communicated frequently by email." (Page 224.)

What could account for Trump's strange notion that the hijackers were married and shipped their wives home just before the attacks? Perhaps he is conflating reports of Saudi nationals leaving the United States after the attacks. But even so, it would have made little sense for such a carefully planned plot to have such poor operational security.

Indeed, the commission found evidence that Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the plot in the United States, was upset about Jarrah's continuing contact with his girlfriend, and Atta nearly replaced him at the last minute because of his concerns.

The report includes a number of references to the hijackers cutting off communication with their families: "The other operatives had broken off regular contact with their families." (Page 227.) "The majority of these Saudi recruits began to break with their families in late 1999 and early 2000." (Page 233.) "Atta complained that some of the hijackers wanted to contact their families to say goodbye, something he had forbidden." (Page 245.)

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An award-winning journalism career spanning nearly three decades, Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street. He was The Washington Post's chief State Department reporter for nine years, traveling around the world with three different Secretaries of State. Before that, he covered tax and budget policy for The Washington Post and also served as the newspaper's national business editor. Kessler has long specialized in digging beyond the conventional wisdom, such as when he earned a "laurel" from the Columbia Journalism Review