Republican debate: CNN's Reality Check Team inspects the claims

Story highlights

  • The Republican candidates for president gathered Saturday in Manchester, New Hampshire, for their eighth debate
  • The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN selected key statements and rated them true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it's complicated

Washington (CNN)The Republican candidates for president gathered Saturday in Manchester, New Hampshire, for their eighth 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 selected key statements and rated them true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it's complicated.

Ted Cruz

    Reality Check: Cruz falsely claims CNN reported Carson was 'suspending campaigning'
    By Tom LoBianco, CNN
    Texas Sen. Ted Cruz defended himselfd against questions of why his staff told Iowa caucusgoers that Ben Carson was "suspending campaigning" after Monday night.
    Earlier in the week, Cruz had been calling CNN's reporting Monday night "true and accurate," but he changed his message Saturday night.
    "CNN reported that Ben was not going from Iowa to New Hampshire or South Carolina, rather, he was, quote, taking a break from campaigning," Cruz said.
    "I regret that subsequently CNN reported on that. They didn't correct that story until 9:15 p.m. that night. So from 6:30 p.m. to 9:15 pm that night, that's what CNN was reporting," Cruz said.
    But Cruz completely misstated CNN's reporting from Monday night. At no point in the night did CNN report on air or online Carson was taking a break from campaigning or suspending campaigning.
    And since the original reporting was accurate, there was nothing to "correct" in subsequent reports.
    CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash accurately cited CNN reporter Chris Moody's report of the Carson campaign statement on-air Monday night.
    "Ben Carson is going to go back to Florida, to his home, regardless of how he does tonight here in Iowa. He's going to go there for several days and then afterwards he's not going to go to South Carolina," Bash said. "He's not going to go to New Hampshire. He's going to come to Washington, D.C. and he's going to do that because the National Prayer Breakfast is on Thursday and people that have been following Ben Carson's career know that's really where he got himself on the political map, attending that prayer breakfast and really giving it to President Obama at the time."
    Repeating: At no point did CNN ever report that Carson was suspending his campaign.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Cruz on Bill Clinton and North Korea
    By Sonam Vashi, CNN
    Cruz said, "The Clinton administration led the world in relaxing sanctions against North Korea. Billions of dollars flowed into North Korea in exchange for promises not to build nuclear weapons. They took those billions and built nuclear weapons. And I would note, also, the lead negotiator in that failed North Korea sanctions deal was a woman named Wendy Sherman, who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton recruited to come back to be the lead negotiator with Iran. So, what we are seeing with North Korea is foreshadowing of where we will be with Iran."
    Here are the facts:
    In 1994, the U.S. and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework, which did not relax sanctions but instead helped North Korea avoid U.N. sanctions. The agreement asked Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for two light-water reactors (which are resistant to proliferation) and fuel oil.
    Most of the money used to build the those reactors was given to South Korean or Japanese companies -- not to the North Korean government.
    The money that the U.S. did give to North Korea was used almost totally in food and fuel deliveries -- not money to build nukes, as Cruz claims. Between 1995 and 2008, the U.S. gave the country $1.3 billion in aid -- not "billions." Since 2008, the U.S. has not given any aid to the country.
    The Clinton administration imposed sanctions on Pyongyang in 1996 and again in 1998. In 1999 and 2000, the U.S. agreed to lift some sanctions, including trade in commercial goods, in exchange for a moratorium on missile testing.
    However, the relaxing of those sanctions ended up being deadlocked: North Korea made threats to start developing its nuclear program unless compensated by the U.S. for the loss of electricity caused by delays in building nuclear power plants. As George W. Bush took office, North Korea warned that it would start testing missiles again if the U.S. didn't normalize relations, and soon after, Bush began to brand the country as part of the "axis of evil." Therefore, it's hard to see how North Korea got "billions" from Clinton's easing of sanctions.
    Cruz also says that Sherman, the leader in mediating the Iran deal, was the "lead negotiator" on North Korean sanction deals. Sherman was part of that team, working for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as the chief strategist on Pyongyang's nuclear program. But she didn't lead the negotiations.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Cruz on waterboarding
    By Laura Koran, CNN
    Asked whether the practice of waterboarding -- an act that simulates the feeling of drowning -- constitutes torture, Cruz argued: "Under the definition of torture, no, it is not."
    "Under the law, torture is excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems," he added, "so under the definition of torture, it is not, it is enhanced interrogation and it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture."
    The CIA has admitted to waterboarding three detainees during George W. Bush's presidency, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003.
    Torture is banned in the United States by U.S.C Title 18 § 2340A, which defines torture as "an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control." The definition further elaborates that "'severe mental pain or suffering" means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from "a variety of factors," including "the threat of imminent death."
    It is also banned by a U.N. convention ratified by the U.S., which defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."
    But in a series of memos, officials in the Bush's administration wrote a forceful legal defense of enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, which have since leaked to the press.
    One such memo, referred to as the Bybee Memo, argued that acts "must be of an extreme nature to rise to the level of torture" under the meaning of the law, and "certain acts may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity" to fit the definition.
    The definition Cruz most closely matches the interpretation of the law in the Bybee Memo, which concludes, "Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent to intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."
    However, civil liberties groups and U.N. officials have argued the Bush administration's interpretation of the law is too narrow, and that waterboarding should be considered torture.
    In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order repudiating these enhanced interrogation techniques and banning the practice of waterboarding detainees, but another president could theoretically reverse that decision.
    Verdict: It's complicated. The legal definitions mentioned above do not explicitly mention waterboarding and have been interpreted differently in the Bush and Obama administrations.

    Chris Christie

    Reality Check: Christie's claim that Obama and Kerry support paying ransom for detained Americans
    By Kevin Liptak, CNN
    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie claimed that President Barack Obama and his former top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, support sending payments to terrorists in exchange for releasing detained Americans.
    "This President and his former secretary of state are for paying ransom for hostages," Christie said. "When you do that, you endanger even more Americans around the world to be the subject of this type of hostage taking and illegal detention."
    The question of paying ransom for hostages rose to prominence in the past several years as ISIS gained strength, capturing Americans and, in some cases, beheading them in gruesome propaganda videos.
    In those cases, the U.S. government refused to pay ransoms for its citizens' release, in keeping with longstanding government policy barring paying concessions to foreign terrorists.
    That policy drew ire from some of those hostages' families, who said they were threatened with legal action by the U.S. government for raising their own funds to pay for their loved ones' release.
    In June, Obama announced changes to the U.S. hostage policy that clarified private citizens would not be prosecuted if they attempted to raise money for a ransom themselves.
    But he said in no uncertain terms that the government itself would not pay ransoms to terrorists.
    "I am reaffirming that the United States government will not make concessions, such as paying ransom, to terrorist groups holding American hostages," Obama said. " I firmly believe that the United States government paying ransom to terrorists risks endangering more Americans and funding the very terrorism that we're trying to stop. And so I firmly believe that our policy ultimately puts fewer Americans at risk."
    There's no evidence any ransoms have been paid by the U.S. government and the President has made clear in his statements that he supports longstanding U.S. policy against the practice. There's also no evidence that Clinton ever said anything that could be construed as supporting ransom payments to hostage-takers.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Christie on Ebola nurse
    By Ashley Strickland, CNN
    When questioned over possibly quarantining people returning from countries that are affected by the Zika virus, Christie recalled his actions during 2014 at the peak of the worst Ebola virus outbreak in history, when those in contact with patients in West Africa were returning to the United States.
    Christie referred specifically to Kaci Hickox, a nurse who was quarantined against her will in New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in West Africa.
    "The fact is that because I took strong action to make sure that anyone who was showing symptoms -- remember what happened with that nurse," Christie said. "She was showing symptoms and coming back from a place that had the Ebola virus active and she had been treating patients. This was not just someone, we picked her up just for the heck of it. We did it because she was showing symptoms. And the fact is, that's how we should make these decisions. You make the decisions based upon the symptoms, the medicine and the law. She turned out to test negative after 48 hours and we released her back to the state of Maine."
    According to CNN's own reporting at the time, Hickox twice tested negative for the virus. When she landed at the airport in New Jersey after having recently spent time in Sierra Leone treating Ebola patients with Doctors Without Borders, airport screeners determined that she had a fever.
    Hickox spoke to CNN's Candy Crowley at the time and said that it was determined that she did not in fact have a fever and her temperature was determined to be normal.
    "They were using a forehead scanner, and I was distressed and a little bit upset and so my cheeks were flushed," Hickox explained to Crowley.
    Christie said the state agreed to let her go to Maine after confirming she "was no longer symptomatic," but remained unapologetic about New Jersey's quarantine policy.
    Hickox agreed to abide by monitoring guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as daily reporting of measured temperatures.
    Ebola is extremely infectious but not extremely contagious. It is infectious because an infinitesimally small amount can cause illness. Ebola could be considered moderately contagious, because the virus is not transmitted through the air.
    Humans can be infected by other humans if they come in contact with body fluids from an infected person or contaminated objects from infected persons. Typically, symptoms appear eight to 10 days after exposure to the virus, but the incubation period can span two to 21 days.
    Unprotected health care workers are susceptible to infection because of their close contact with patients during treatment. Ebola is not transmissible if someone is asymptomatic or once someone has recovered from it.
    While Hickox may have had appeared flushed on landing, Christie's claim that she was showing symptoms of the Ebola virus is false.
    Reality Check: Christie on New Jersey losing wealth
    By Lisa Rose, CNN
    Lambasting tax hikes on the rich, Christie claimed that New Jersey lost $70 billion in wealth after one of his Democratic predecessors, James McGreevey, increased the income tax rate in 2004 for residents earning more than $500,000 annually.
    Christie's number is correct. There was an exodus of the affluent from New Jersey between 2004 and 2008, costing the state $70 billion, according to a 2010 Boston College study. People bid adieu to New Jersey for a variety of reasons, however, not simply because they felt overtaxed.
    Nearly 60% of millionaires who migrated out of state relocated for new jobs, job transfers and other career-related reasons, the report said. About 10% left for family reasons.
    PolitiFact examined this issue after Christie made the same claim during a 2011 speech at Princeton University. Citing reports from Rutgers University and Princeton, PolitiFact noted there's a debate on how prominent a role taxes play in prompting people to move. Housing prices, the cost of living and other factors not related to income taxes make people want to leave, PolitiFact said.
    Although the governor's $70 billion figure is on the mark, evidence suggests that McGreevey's income tax hike was not the sole cause for the flow of money out of state. Our verdict is true, but misleading.

    Donald Trump

    Reality Check: Trump on insurance companies getting rich on Obamacare
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    Asked about his plan for health care, Donald Trump lashed out at insurers.
    "The insurance companies are getting rich on Obamacare. The insurance companies are getting rich on health care and health services and everything having to do with health," he said.
    Certainly, insurers have been doing pretty well in recent years. Health care has been one of the "healthier" sectors of the economy, particularly as the nation ages and needs more medical services. Obamacare was expected to be a boon for insurers, bringing them millions of new customers who would obtain coverage on the individual insurance exchanges.
    But whether insurers are actually getting rich on Obamacare is another matter. UnitedHealth likely wouldn't agree with Trump. The insurance titan just reported it expects to lose nearly $1 billion on the individual health exchanges for 2015 and 2016, in large part because Obamacare enrollees are proving to be sicker and costlier than expected. To limit enrollment for 2016, it increased prices, eliminated marketing and commissions and withdrawn its top-tier products. And it is weighing exiting Obamacare next year.
    Other large players, including Aetna and Anthem, have said recently that they are disappointed with their Obamacare exchange businesses.
    Some smaller insurers have also suffered. At least a dozen cooperative insurers set up and funded by Obamacare failed in 2015.
    In its third year, Obamacare has yet to prove yuuugely profitable for many insurers.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Trump on donors in debate audience
    By Lisa Rose, CNN
    Responding to a round of boos as he tussled with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush over eminent domain, Trump said he was getting a Bronx cheer because the room was packed with jilted donors and special interests. "We have all donors in the audience," said Trump. "And the reason they're not loving me -- excuse me -- the reason they're not loving me is I don't want their money."
    There were 1,000 people in the audience, according to the Republican National Committee. The number of donors was 75. The rest of the crowd was a mix of college students, state party officials and guests invited by the candidates as well as the event's media partners.
    The RNC says donors made up less than 10% of the audience.
    For that reason we give our own Bronx cheer. Our verdict is false.
    Reality Check: Trump on U.S. taxes
    By Kate Grise and Tami Luhby, CNN
    Trump said the United States is the "highest taxed country in the world."
    The GOP front-runner wasn't clear whether he was talking about the American people or corporations. So let's look at each one.
    Do Americans really pay more individual taxes than citizens of any other country in the world?
    Hardly.
    America ranked 17th out of 34 Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development member countries for total tax revenue per capita in 2014. In America, the tax revenue per capita is $14,203.90. In Luxembourg, the country with the highest tax revenue per capita, that rate is almost $50,000. Norway's tax revenue per capita hits more than $38,000. Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland round out the top five countries with the highest tax revenue per capita.
    OECD's 34 member countries are advanced, industrialized nations, which makes their data valuable in comparing the United States to similar countries. China, Russia, and India are not included in the OECD's list because they are not member countries.
    We can also look at total tax revenue as a percentage of the country's Gross Domestic Product. This time America ranks even lower -- 27th out of 34 OECD member countries in 2014. America's tax revenue is 26% of the country's GDP. Denmark tops the list with its tax revenue being equal to 50 percent of the country's GDP.
    Looking at whether American citizens face the highest taxes, we rate Trump's claim as false.
    Turning to companies, it's true that American businesses face the highest official corporate tax rate. The federal rate stands at 35%.
    But that's not what many companies actually pay. The Government Accountability Office found that large, profitable U.S. corporations paid an average effective federal tax rate of 12.6% in 2010, thanks to things like tax credits, exemptions and offshore tax havens.
    U.S. corporate tax collection totaled 2.6% of GDP in 2011, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That was the 11th lowest in a ranking of 27 wealthy nations.
    So when it comes to American corporations, we rate Trump's statement as true, but misleading. The United States has the highest official corporate tax rate, but that's not what many companies actually pay.

    Jeb Bush

    Reality Check: Bush on civilian department of defense personnel
    By Ryan Browne, CNN National Security Producer
    In discussing the state of the U.S. military and the procurement process, Bush implied that the number of civilian personnel in the Department of Defense outnumbered the number of military men and women in uniform.
    Bush said: "We also need to reform our procurement process. We need to make sure there are more men and women in uniform than civilians in our Defense Department."
    According to the Pentagon's website, the Department of Defense employs 742,000 civilian personnel. The department also says there are 1.3 million active duty members of the military. In 2014, the Government Accountability Office put the number at 1,391,490 active duty members.
    An additional 826,000 troops serve in the National Guard and Reserve forces.
    The number of active duty personnel in uniform is nearly double the number of civilian personnel.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Bush on Trump's use of eminent domain to take elderly woman's home
    By Chip Grabow, CNN
    Trump was asked about his views on eminent domain, a government's right to seize private property for public use.
    The billionaire developer was asked about his past comments saying he "loved" eminent domain. He repeated that view Saturday, arguing eminent domain is a necessity for a country to function properly.
    Bush pounced on Trump, taking issue with Trump's concept of eminent domain. He cited a 1996 battle the developer waged over a property in Atlantic City he wanted so he could expand his hotel and casino. Bush claimed Trump attempted to use eminent domain to evict the owner of a house across the street from Trump Plaza.
    Bush stated, "What Donald Trump did was use eminent domain to try to take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City. That is not public purpose. That is downright wrong. Here's the problem with that. The problem was, it was to tear down." Trump interrupted: "Jeb wants to be a tough guy tonight. I didn't take the property ... The woman ultimately didn't want to do that. I walked away." Bush: "That's not true."
    Trump did make several offers to the home's owner, Vera Coking, an elderly woman who'd owned the coveted property for many years running it as a boardinghouse. According to The New York Times, Trump recalled offering as much as $4 million for the property. Coking's grandson told the Times the most he recalled Trump offering was $1.9 million. Whatever the figure, Coking refused his offers.
    Atlantic City's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority then began a years-long eminent domain battle in an attempt to take the property. (It's worth noting that the development authority is funded by casino revenue.) Coking successfully took the case to the state Supreme Court. Ruling in her favor, the court said the city had no right to take the property for its alleged public use of a new casino, the Times reported.
    Following that success, Coking continued to get offers from other interested parties and continued to turn them down. More recently, Coking, now in her 90s, moved to California to be closer to family. Her family in 2014 ultimately tried to auction the property after it couldn't get its asking price of $5 million.
    When asked about the deal in 2014, Trump told the Times, "She's lost all value because she didn't play the game."
    Though Trump didn't succeed, Bush's charge that Trump tried to use eminent domain to get his hands on an elderly woman's property is essentially accurate. While Trump may have not directly used eminent domain to his advantage, Atlantic City's casino development authority, funded by casinos, ultimately tried to use eminent domain to take the property across the street from Trump Plaza.
    Verdict: Mostly true.
    Reality Check: Bush on number of VA officials fired from wait list scandal
    By Gisela Crespo, CNN
    Bush stated "only three people were fired" in relation to U.S. veterans dying because of delays in diagnosis and treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals in 2014.
    CNN reported that three senior officials were going to be fired in connection to long wait times and other problems, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
    A fourth official, Phoenix VA medical center director Sharon Helman, was fired for accepting improper gifts, according to VA documents.
    Verdict: True.

    Marco Rubio

    Reality Check: Rubio on Clinton's stance on late-term abortion
    By Kate Grise, CNN
    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called out the media for not questioning Clinton for her views on late-term abortions.
    "Why doesn't the media ask Hillary Clinton why she believes all abortion should be legal even on the due date of that unborn child? Why don't they ask Hillary Clinton why she believes that partial-birth abortion, which is a gruesome procedure which has been outlawed in this country, she thinks that's a fundamental right?" Rubio asked.
    Rubio has repeated this attack about Clinton numerous times while on the campaign trail.
    Rubio is a staunch opponent of abortion and only believes in exceptions to abortion bans if the life of the mother is at risk -- not for cases of rape or incest.
    Clinton has been asked about her position. She most recently explained her views on late-term abortions during an appearance on CBS's Face the Nation in September, when she indicated that she does not oppose late-term abortions.
    "This is one of those really painful questions that people raise. And, obviously, it's really emotional. I think that the kind of late-term abortions that take place are because of medical necessity. And, therefore, I would hate to see the government interfering with that decision. I think that, again, this gets back to whether you respect a woman's right to choose or not. And I think that is what this whole argument once again is about," she said.
    As for Clinton thinking that so-called partial birth abortion is "a fundamental right," that is hard to say. She has regularly said that the government should not intervene in a woman's decision.
    In 2005, Clinton said in a speech, "This decision, which is one of the most fundamental, difficult and soul-searching decisions a woman and a family can make, is also one in which the government should have no role." She did not use the language "fundamental right."
    After the Supreme Court upheld a ban on late-term abortions in 2007, Clinton released a statement criticizing that decision: "This decision marks a dramatic departure from four decades of Supreme Court rulings that upheld a woman's right to choose and recognize the importance of women's health."
    We rate Rubio's claim that the media hasn't asked about Clinton's abortion stand as false. As for Clinton's position, she has consistently and for many years defended a woman's right to make her own decisions about her abortions in consultation with her family, faith and doctor without interference from the government, although she has not spoken specifically about abortions on the child's due date. We rate Rubio's characterization of her position as true.