August 5th, 2020

The Fact Checker: The Truth Behind the Rhetoric

Eyebrow-raising claims on private emails, immigration, auto bailout at Dem debate

Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee Lee

By Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee Lee

Published March 10, 2016

The Washington Post partnered with Univision to host the eighth Democratic presidential debate Wednesday night, a faceoff between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Not every statement could be easily fact-checked, but here are some suspicious or interesting claims from Wednesday night.

"It was not prohibited. It was not in any way disallowed. And as I have said and as now has come out, my predecessors did the same thing and many other people in the government."

— Clinton

This is language that had previously earned Clinton Three Pinocchios. Clinton is relying on the fact that the legal requirement to immediately preserve emails from nongovernment email accounts was not made mandatory until nearly two years after she stepped down as secretary of state.

But that does not mean that when Clinton was secretary of state, there were not already in place State Department rules on how to handle emails and whether to use a personal email account. While Clinton says that "my predecessors did the same thing," none had set up an exclusive and private email server for all of their departmental communications. (In fact, only Colin L. Powell has ever said he sent emails from a personal account, so Clinton's use of the plural is misleading.)

The rules also quickly became clearer. In 2009, eight months after Clinton became secretary of state, the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations on handling electronic records was updated: "Agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system." The responsibility for making and preserving the records is assigned to "the head of each federal agency."

On top of that, when Clinton was secretary, a cable went out under her signature warning employees to "avoid conducting official Department business from your personal email accounts."

The issue thus becomes whether Clinton cooperated in the spirit of the laws and rules in place at the time. In reality, Clinton's decision to use a private email system for official business was highly unusual and flouted State Department procedures, even if not expressly prohibited by law at the time. Moreover, Clinton appears to have not complied with the requirement to turn over her business-related emails before she left government service.

"We have the most secure border we've ever had. Apprehensions coming across the border is the lowest they've been in 40 years."

— Clinton

Clinton is correct that apprehensions are at an all-time low. Apprehensions along the Southwestern border peaked in 2000 at 1.6 million and has been declining sharply since.

In fiscal 2015, there were 331,333 apprehensions along the border, according to Customs and Border Protection data. That is the lowest it has been since 1972, when there were 321,326 apprehensions. In fiscal 2011, the total number of undocumented immigrant apprehensions along the Southern border fell to the lowest level since 2000, at 327,577 apprehensions.

In fact, there has been an unprecedented drop, by 1 million people, in the unauthorized immigrant population since 2007, according to the Pew Research Center.

More Mexicans are now leaving the United States than are entering, and there has been a net loss of 140,000 Mexican immigrants who have returned to Mexico in 2009-2014, Pew research shows. Family unification was the main reason they chose to return.

"I did not oppose the bailout or the support of the automobile industry."

— Sanders

"The fact is the money that rescued the auto industry was in that bill."

— Clinton

Clinton and Sanders have been trading charges about votes concerning the auto industry bailout, as they did again in the debate. Neither gets the story entirely correct. But it's a good example of how voters should be wary about claims concerning past votes in the Senate.

Sanders focuses on a vote in December, 2008, that would have provided $15 billion to the auto industry. Both he and Clinton voted for it, but as Clinton noted, it failed to advance in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Clinton focuses on votes for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was originally designed to assist the financial industry as the economy collapsed. There was a vote to provide $350 billion on Oct. 1 and then another vote on Jan. 15 to release a second installment of the TARP funds, also worth $350 billion. Clinton voted in favor both times, while Sanders voted to block the funding.

Here's where it gets tricky. After the failure of the vote to help the auto industry, President George W. Bush announced he would use the TARP funds to rescue the auto industry. He advanced $13.4 billion - and said another $4 billion would be given to automakers after Congress approved releasing the second tranche of funds. (Ultimately, the U.S. government gave the automotive industry nearly $80 billion, and all but $9.3 billion was paid back.)

When Sanders voted against TARP the first time, he probably had no idea that Bush would tap it to help the auto industry. But it was clear the second TARP vote would aid the auto industry, as Michigan lawmakers specifically urged a "yes" vote for that reason.

Clinton is right that Sanders voted against the mechanism that ended up helping the auto industry, but it would be wrong to suggest he was against helping the auto industry. He certainly was on record of having supported an auto bailout when it was not tied to Wall Street. Sanders, meanwhile, has gone too far to suggest he cast a vote for the auto industry that actually would have made a difference; that particular legislation went nowhere.

"Look, clearly, clearly, the secretary's words to Wall Street has really intimidated them, and that is why they have given her $15 million in campaign contributions."

— Sanders

Sanders actually understates the amount. A Washington Post analysis in February of Federal Election Commission filing determined that donors at hedge funds, banks, insurance companies and other financial services firms had given at least $21.4 million to support Clinton's 2016 presidential run - more than 10 percent of the $157.8 million contributed to back her bid.

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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