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Democratic debate: CNN's Reality Check team inspects the claims

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders met in New Hampshire Thursday for the fifth Democratic debate
  • The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the debate and selected key statements, rating them true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it's complicated

(CNN)The Democratic candidates for president gathered in New Hampshire Thursday for their fifth debate, and CNN's Reality Check team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test.

The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the debate, selecting key statements and rating them either true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it's complicated.

    Hillary Clinton

    Reality Check: Clinton on Sanders' gun control votes
    By Chip Grabow, Sonam Vashi
    As in past debates, Hillary Clinton took on Bernie Sanders' voting record on gun control legislation. Thursday night, it came up regarding a debate over who is the true "progressive candidate."
    Clinton said, "If we're going to get into labels, I don't think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady Bill five times. I don't think it was progressive to vote to give gun makers and sellers immunity," referring to Sanders' voting record.
    So, regarding the Brady Bill, what is Sanders' record?
    As the CNN Reality Check team has reported before, Sanders did vote against various iterations of the 1993 Brady Bill five times. The bill's full name is the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and it mandates federal background checks on gun purchasers.
    There were several votes in that bill's evolution, the first vote coming in 1991. Sanders voted against a draft that required a seven-day waiting period for background checks. A subsequent version of the bill returned to the House and Sanders voted against it. Then, in 1993, two more drafts returned to the House, and Sanders voted against those. Finally, later in 1993, the Brady Bill finally passed, but without Sanders' vote.
    Sanders has defended his votes, saying that it constituted federal overreach.
    "There are parts of it that made sense to me," he said in an interview on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" last month. Sanders added, "Look George, if you have a small gun shop owner in Northern Vermont who sells a gun legally to somebody and then, you know, something happens to that guy, he goes nuts or something, and he kills somebody, should the gun shop owner be held liable? I think not."
    Sanders also added, "I am absolutely willing, as I've said for many, many weeks, if not months, to take another look at that piece of legislation."
    Though Sanders may have his reasons for voting against the Brady Bill, Clinton's claim that he voted against it five times is true.
    Reality Check: Clinton and Wall Street
    By Chip Grabow, CNN
    The topic of big money influencing American politics was raised by Sanders, who said it was "undermining American democracy."
    Clinton attempted to distance herself from perceptions her campaign is influenced by Wall Street interests, saying, "I think the best evidence that the Wall Street people, at least, know where I stand and where I have always stood is because they are trying to beat me in this primary."
    It was a refrain she used in Wednesday night's town hall, too: "Everybody that I know who looks at what's happening in this campaign sees the same thing: The Wall Street interests, the money interests, the Republican political interests are spending a lot of money to try to defeat me."
    Wall Street interests may be spending a lot in support of her opponents, but of all the candidates, Clinton is the leading recipient of donations from individuals in the securities and investments industry.
    According to OpenSecrets.org, as of January 31, Clinton has received $2.9 million in itemized contributions from a category the Federal Election Commission calls "Securities and Investments," often shorthanded as "Wall Street." That's the most of any of the candidates. Republican Jeb Bush is just behind Clinton, receiving $2.4 million, with Marco Rubio ($1.3 million) and Ted Cruz ($664,000) following.
    Clinton implies that Wall Street has no fondness for her. But given that her campaign received $2.9 million from securities and investment donors, the most of all the candidates, Republican or Democrat, our verdict is false.
    Reality Check: Clinton on Sanders' $1 trillion health care plan
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    Clinton accused Sanders of not telling voters the truth about his proposals, particularly his Medicare-for-all plan.
    "I am not going to talk about big ideas like single-payer and then not level with people about how much it will cost. A respected health economist said these plans would cost a trillion dollars more a year. I'm not going to tell people that I will raise your incomes and not your taxes and not mean it," Clinton said.
    Actually, according to that health economist, Gerald Friedman of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Sanders' universal health care plan would cost nearly $1.4 trillion a year.
    But Sanders has recently been upfront about how much it will cost. He released Friedman's assessment alongside his plan for Medicare-for-all last month.
    Also, Sanders has acknowledged that the plan calls for a new 2.2% income tax on all Americans and a 6.2% levy on employers, as well as additional taxes on the wealthy. The Vermont senator, however, argues that ultimately middle class Americans will save money under his health plan because they will no longer pay premiums to private insurers.
    That said, Sanders initially was reluctant to spell out his proposal. Clinton pushed him earlier this year to release the details, pointing out that she pledged not to raise taxes on the middle class. Sanders finally unveiled the plan a few hours before a Democratic debate last month.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Clinton on classified information in her emails
    By Laura Koran, CNN
    Clinton claimed she "never sent or received any classified material" when she was secretary of state, and the State Department is "retroactively classifying" information in her emails.
    It is true that all the classifications we've seen in emails released by the State Department have been retroactive, meaning the State Department determined there was a need to classify the information as they were preparing the emails for release and so they "upgraded" it to classified.
    The State Department also maintains that none of Clinton's official emails (of the 85% reviewed and released so far) contained information that was marked as classified when it was sent.
    However, last week, the State Department acknowledged it had launched a separate review to determine whether any information in the email was classified at the time it was sent and received. That review, led by the bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Intelligence and Research, is ongoing and has yet to put out a verdict on the issue.
    All of the classified redactions the public has seen so far have been the result of retroactive classifications, but the investigation into whether the information was classified during her time in office is ongoing. For that reason, our verdict is it's complicated.

    Bernie Sanders

    Reality check: Sanders on his role writing Obamacare
    By Kevin Liptak, CNN
    During a back-and-forth about health care, Sanders pointed to his role in Congress during the creation of the Affordable Care Act.
    "I am on the Health, Education, Labor Committee. That committee wrote the Affordable Care Act. The idea that I would dismantle health care in America while we're waiting to pass a Medicare-for-all is just not accurate," Sanders said, adding later: "I helped write that bill, but by moving forward, rallying the American people, I do believe we should have health care for all."
    Sanders did indeed sit on the Senate panel that helped craft the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and used his post to advocate loudly for a single-payer system in which insurance is provided by the government to all citizens.
    Sanders wasn't alone; many liberal Democrats pushed for such a provision when crafting comprehensive health care reform. But the single-payer option proved to be divisive, and opposed by most Republicans.
    That led to the development of alternative mechanisms to get more Americans insured: the establishment of marketplaces for Americans to purchase health insurance, and an individual mandate requiring all Americans obtain coverage.
    When Sanders' preferred version of the bill failed to come up for a vote, he diverted his focus instead to securing the inclusion of billions of dollars in funding to community health centers.
    But he remained skeptical of a bill that didn't include a single-payer plan. Indeed, in the months leading up to a final vote on the bill, Sanders voiced doubt that he could support the version that lacked such a system (ultimately, he did vote for the Affordable Care Act).
    While Sanders played a major role in the debate over health care reform, and helped craft an $11 billion inclusion into the final measure, his claim to have "helped write" the measure misrepresents his part in creating the central pillars of Obamacare.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Sanders as the longest serving independent in the history of Congress
    By Ryan Browne, CNN
    Sanders, a Vermont independent, stressed his longevity and independence on Thursday when he said, "I am the longest serving independent in the history of the United States Congress."
    Sanders was first elected to the House of Representatives as an independent from Vermont in 1990 and assumed office in January 1991. He won his Vermont Senate seat in 2006. As a result, although he caucuses with the Democratic Party, Sanders has been an independent in Congress for 25 years.
    This 25-year tenure is indeed the longest of an independent member of Congress.
    According to the Senate's official record, the two runner-ups are Sen. Harry F. Byrd of Virginia and Sen. David Davis of Illinois.
    Byrd was first elected to the House in 1932 as a Democrat. He entered the Senate in 1965 and switched parties to become an independent in 1970 after a clash with the Democratic Party leadership in the run-up to the 1972 presidential election. He left office in 1983, giving him 13 years as an independent.
    Unlike Byrd, Davis, who had been an associate justice of the Supreme Court and was appointed by Abraham Lincoln, initially assumed office as an independent in 1877 and left office in 1883, giving him six years in Congress as an independent.
    Sanders' 25 years in Congress is easily the longest span as an independent.
    Verdict: True.
    Reality Check: Sanders on the major banks
    By: Kate Grise and Tami Luhby, CNN
    Sanders threw an elbow at some of the country's largest financial institutions.
    "Six financial institutions in America today have assets of roughly $10 trillion, equivalent to 58% of the (gross domestic product) of the United States of America. That is a lot of money," Sanders said.
    The six largest financial institutions are JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, as of September 2015, according to the Federal Reserve Bank.
    Their assets total close to $10 trillion ($9,845,804,000,000).
    • JP Morgan Chase: $2.4 trillion.
    • Bank of America: $2.2 trillion
    • Citigroup: $1.8 trillion
    • Wells Fargo: $1.8 trillion
    • Goldman Sachs: $880.6 billion
    • Morgan Stanley: $834.1 billion
    • The nation's GDP is $18.1 trillion
    So, doing the math: $9,845,804,000,000 (assets) / $18,128,200,000,000 (GDP) =.5431
    Accordingly, the assets of the six largest institutions equal roughly 54% of the GDP.
    We rate Sanders' claim as true.
    Reality Check: Sanders 'endorsed' by New Hampshire newspaper
    By Tom LoBianco, CNN
    Asked by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow why his campaign put up an ad insinuating that he was endorsed by the Nashua Telegraph, Sanders said that his campaign was careful never to say he was "endorsed" by a newspaper.
    "As I understand it, we did not suggest we had the endorsement of the newspaper. Newspapers who make endorsements also say positive things about other candidates and to the best of my knowledge that is what we did. So we never said, never said that somebody, a newspaper, endorsed us that did not. What we did say is, 'Blah blah blah blah' was said by the newspaper," Sanders said.
    The ad, an online spot entitled "Endorsements" showed a blurb from the Telegraph praising his integrity, but the ad did not say the paper endorsed him.
    However, in the next clip, the ad said that The Valley News of Lebanon, New Hampshire, "endorsed" Sanders. That paper did not endorse Sanders.
    The Clinton campaign and fact-checkers hit him throughout the day Wednesday and Thursday for the spot and the Sanders campaign eventually revised the ad to remove the "endorsed" language.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Sanders on Koch-funded veterans group
    By Lisa Rose, CNN
    Discussing the need for reforms improving access to care at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Sanders said that a group funded by the Koch brothers is promoting the privatization of the agency. An organization called Concerned Veterans for America is sanctioned by the influential conservative siblings, Sanders said.
    Wayne Gable, CVA's chief executive and trustee, is also a board member of a Koch-backed organization called Freedom Partners, according to a 2013 tax filing. That filing lists CVA as the business name of an affiliated organization called Vets for Economic Freedom Trust. The filing states the tax exempt group had $3 million in contributions and a nearly equal amount of expenditures, money allegedly spent advocating for "policies that will preserve the freedom and liberty that veterans and their families so proudly fought and sacrificed to defend."
    The group produced an anti-Obamacare web video in 2013, "Government Health Care Equals Disaster," suggesting that the scandal at the VA was a prelude to a looming disaster prompted by the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
    Unfortunately, the CVA has a glossy, yet glitchy website and there is not much documentation of the group's financials and its staff post-2013. According to the Guidestar charity finder, the organization has not yet filed its IRS 990 form for 2014. Furthermore, its affiliated group, Vets for Economic Freedom Trust is not a verified exempt organization, according to the IRS exempt check search tool.
    In terms of privatizing the VA, the group has a report called the Veterans Independence Act on its website, recommending a voucher system for veterans to purchase insurance through private companies. We'd like to learn more about the plan but the "Read the Report" link at the bottom of the page is dead.
    Sanders is correct in describing the group's Koch lineage and its intent. Our verdict is true.