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Democratic debate: CNN's Reality Check Team vets the claims

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders met in Miami on Wednesday for their first debate since Sanders' upset in the Michigan primary
  • 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

Washington (CNN)Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders met in Miami on Wednesday for their first debate since Sanders' upset in the Michigan primary, 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's emails
    By Jamie Crawford, CNN National Security Producer
    Clinton said the following about the investigation into her use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state:
    "Some other parts of the government, we're not exactly sure who, has concluded that some of the emails should be now retroactively classified. They've just said the same thing to former Secretary Colin Powell. They have said we're going to retroactively classify emails you sent personally. Now, I think he was right when he said this is an absurdity. And I think that what we've got here is a case of over-classification."
    Clinton is correct in that the emails released by the State Department were retroactively upgraded to classified levels; 22 of those emails were upgraded to top secret, the highest level of classification. The State Department said those upgrades were done as it was determined there was a need to classify the information as they were preparing the emails for public release.
    The State Department has also maintained that none of Clinton's emails contained information that was marked as classified as it was sent.
    Clinton is also correct in her assertion that Powell, who served as secretary of state during former President George W. Bush's first term, was deemed to have dealt with classified email over a personal server during his tenure in office.
    The emails were discovered during a State Department review of the email practices of the past five secretaries of state earlier this year. It found that Powell received two emails that were classified and that the "immediate staff" working for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received 10 emails that were classified.
    "If the [State] Department wishes to say a dozen years later they should have been classified that is an opinion of the Department that I do not share," Powell said in a statement at the time. "I have reviewed the messages and I do not see what makes them classified."
    During the process by the State Department that worked for the release of over 52,000 pages of Clinton's emails from her personal server, 2,101 were retroactively classified, including those 22 to the highest level.
    But it should be noted that Clinton's statement that "my predecessors did the same thing" in the same answer is not entirely accurate. While Powell used a private email account occasionally (and Rice actually never used email herself during her tenure), none of her predecessors used a private server for the entirety of their tenure, as Clinton did.
    Verdict: True, but misleading.
    Reality Check: Clinton and the auto bailout vote
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    Clinton and Sanders once again sparred over their records concerning the auto industry bailout in late 2008 and early 2009.
    Clinton accused Sanders of voting against it, which he denied.
    Here's what actually happened:
    The bailouts of the auto industry and Wall Street were closely linked.
    Both Sanders and Clinton supported a standalone auto rescue bill that came before the Senate in December 2008. That legislation failed, so Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama tapped into the Wall Street bailout fund, known as TARP, to save the carmakers.
    Sanders voted against TARP twice, first when it initially came before Congress in October 2008, and again when Republicans sought to stop the distribution of TARP funds in January 2009. By that time, it was already determined that some of the money would go to the auto bailout.
    Verdict: It's complicated. Sanders supported the standalone auto rescue fund, but opposed the Wall Street bailout, even when it was also going to help the automakers.
    Reality Check: Clinton on calling out Wall Street on mortgages
    By Sonam Vashi, CNN
    Clinton said, "I went to Wall Street before the Great Recession and basically called them out, said that their behavior was putting our economy at risk, called for a moratorium on foreclosures."
    In March 2007, during preparation for the 2008 election, Clinton did call out problems in the subprime mortgage market that would later culminate in the next year. "The subprime problems are now creating massive issues on Wall Street," she said in 2007.
    "It's a serious problem affecting our housing market and millions of hard working families. So what are some of the things we need to do? We need to expand the role of the (Federal Housing Administration) to issue more mortgages at better rates to these homeowners. We need to give consumers more counseling and information, prevent families from being trapped in high interest loans with pre-payment penalties and in some cases, allow more breathing room from foreclosure."
    Later in 2007, just as the Great Recession hit, Clinton called for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, as well as a five-year freeze on the interest rates of adjustable rate mortgages.
    Based on that information, it seems Clinton was a relatively early critic of Wall Street lending practices.
    Verdict: True.
    Reality Check: Clinton on TARP
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    It's no secret that Sanders opposed the Wall Street bailout, but Clinton sought to set the record straight on how much it actually cost American taxpayers.
    "Everybody who got money in the bailout -- that also included money for the auto rescue -- has paid it back. So, the Treasury was out nothing," Clinton said.
    CNN will give a split verdict on this claim.
    It's false that everyone who received TARP funds paid it back. General Motors and Chrysler did not. Even after selling its stakes in the automakers, the federal government lost $10 billion on GM and $1.3 billion on Chrysler.
    Also, some small community banks did not repay their TARP assistance.
    But the big banks, including Citibank, AIG and Goldman Sachs, did repay all their funding, with interest. Plus, the federal government made money on the sale of its stakes in the banks. So it's true that the Treasury was out nothing.
    In fact, American taxpayers had made a $15.3 billion profit on the Wall Street bailout, as of late 2014.
    Reality Check: Clinton on Bush v. Gore
    By Sonam Vashi, CNN
    Regarding states' constitutional duties, Clinton said, "I believe no state probably understands this better than Florida because let's remember three words -- Bush versus Gore. A court took away a presidency. Now we've got the Republican Congress trying to take away the Constitution and we should not tolerate that. And so from my perspective, it is imperative that we put enormous pressure on the Republicans in the Senate to do their constitutional duty."
    A history lesson:
    The nail-biting 2000 presidential election hinged on Florida, where the election was too close to call for George Bush or Al Gore on election night. Florida's election code mandated an automatic recount of those ballots, which narrowed the race even further, putting Bush in the lead by only 327 votes.
    Amid allegations of voting machine malfunction, Gore's campaign requested a recount by hand in four counties under a tight deadline from the Florida secretary of state, while Bush's campaign filed a federal injunction to stop the manual counting, citing constitutional violations. Challenges in the courts flew back and forth between the campaigns, counties and the state about the counts, recounts and deadlines (not to mention the "hanging chads," or paper ballots that were partially punched).
    After a month of this, Florida's Supreme Court ruled that recounts by hand would continue in counties with a statistically significant number of undervotes, which are ballots that did not record any vote in the presidential race. The Bush campaign sued again, and the Supreme Court halted manual recounts while it took up the case of Bush v. Gore.
    Three days later, the Supreme Court ruled that Florida's decision to manually recount all statistically significant undervotes violated the Constitution's equal protection clause. The justices disagreed on the remedy for this problem, and in a 5-4 vote, the opinion stated, "Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the December 12 date will be unconstitutional ... we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering a recount to proceed." Because the recount was terminated, Bush won Florida's delegates and the election.
    Additionally, studies conducted after the election show that Bush would have won a Florida statewide hand recount of all undervotes.
    With all this in mind, when Clinton says, "a court took away a presidency," she's overstating what the Supreme Court did. The court didn't decide which candidate was allowed to be president; it assessed whether a recount of votes could be done constitutionally.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Clinton on Sanders' stance on indefinite detention
    By Eve Bower, CNN
    Twice in Wednesday night's debate, Clinton said Sanders had voted to support "indefinite detention" for undocumented immigrants, and that he sided with lawmakers who stood with "vigilantes known as Minutemen" -- groups of private armed citizens who patrol the southern border of the United States and have been accused of murdering undocumented immigrants near the border.
    Sanders vehemently denied supporting the Minutemen and called Clinton's accusation "unfair."
    In September 2006, then-Rep. Sanders did indeed vote in favor of HR 6094, a bill that sought to authorize the "indefinite detention" of immigrants who were under orders of deportation, but were deemed "dangerous" and, for unspecified reasons, could not be deported. The bill passed in the House but was never passed in the Senate and was not adopted into law.
    Later that month, Sanders voted to support an amendment to a bill that would help prevent customs agents from providing "a foreign government" with information about vigilante groups operating along the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill passed and appeared to be supporting the Minutemen, but its effect was largely symbolic: Rep. Olav Sabo -- who also voted in support of the amendment -- said that Customs and Border Patrol officials told him the amendment had "no effect" because it did nothing to change standard practice, which was only to share information when required by international treaty.
    But nevertheless, Sanders appeared to be in support of the vigilante groups by voting for the bill.
    On both issues, Clinton's characterization of Sanders' votes was accurate.
    Verdict: True.

    Bernie Sanders

    Reality Check: Sanders on opposition to immigration bill
    By Lisa Rose, CNN
    During a discussion of a 2007 immigration reform package, Sanders defended his vote against the legislation, declaring that Latino groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens also opposed the bill.
    It is true that LULAC condemned the legislation, but the group opposed the reforms for different reasons than Sanders.
    Sanders voted against the package because he was concerned about wages and employment opportunities for Americans, according to a statement he issued.
    "At a time when the middle class is shrinking, poverty is increasing and millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages it makes no sense to me to have an immigration bill which, over a period of years, would bring millions of 'guest workers' into this country who are prepared to work for lower wages than American workers," Sanders said in the 2007 statement. "We need to increase wages in this country, not lower them."
    LULAC opposed the immigration bill because it did not provide temporary workers with a pathway to citizenship, it placed limitations on green cards for family members and it introduced a tiered merit system for individuals seeking new immigrant visas. Applicants would get points for education level, employment background and English language skills.
    While Sanders said during the debate that he was concerned about the rights of foreign workers, he did not express concern for immigrants when he rejected the reform bill in 2007. Two years later, Sanders teamed up with conservative Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley to add an amendment to the TARP bill that created hiring rules for companies receiving government funds.
    In 2013, when immigration reform came up again in Congress, Sanders said that he supported the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship but opposed expanding guest worker programs.
    "At a time when nearly 14% of Americans do not have a full-time job and when the middle class is working longer hours for lower wages, I oppose a massive increase in temporary guest worker programs that will allow large corporations to import hundreds of thousands of blue-collar and white-collar workers from overseas," Sanders said in a 2013 statement.
    Because Sanders oversimplified his nuanced views on immigration, we rate his claim as true, but misleading.
    Reality Check: Sanders on the Monroe Doctrine
    By Ryan Browne, CNN
    Sanders blasted the history of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.
    Sanders was particularly critical of U.S. Cold War-era interventions against autocratic and leftist regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
    He said, "Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America, we've operated under the so-called 'Monroe Doctrine.' And that said that the United States had the right to do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America."
    But is that what the Monroe Doctrine says?
    The Monroe Doctrine originated in an 1823 speech President James Monroe made to Congress. During the speech, Monroe addressed the emergence of new countries in South and Central America which had recently obtained independence from the Spanish Empire.
    Monroe said, "The American continents ... are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers."
    The policy in this speech would later be referred to as the Monroe Doctrine, which sought to prevent European powers from recolonizing the Western Hemisphere.
    Sanders is likely referring to the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. This was a policy of President Theodore Roosevelt which sought to have the U.S. intervene as a mediator in disputes between European and Latin American countries.
    But the Monroe Doctrine certainly did not say that the U.S. "had the right to do anything they wanted."
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Sanders on Honduras children
    By Julia Jones, CNN
    Sanders claimed that following a spike in minors entering the United States alone in 2013 and 2014, what was called the southern border humanitarian crisis, Clinton did not support allowing the unaccompanied undocumented children to stay in the U.S. and he did.
    Clinton told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in June 2014 that children "should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are." She stood by the White House's policy on the issue, adding that "just because your child gets across the border, that doesn't mean the child gets to stay." She has defended her stance in recent debates, saying she thought these children should be processed appropriately and the United States "had to send a message to families and communities in Central America not to send their children on this dangerous journey in the hands of smugglers."
    Sanders was part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus when it released a response to the southern border humanitarian crisis in July 2014. The response said children's safety should not be jeopardized and stated that "Calls for expediting removal of children without due process, back to the violence they have escaped, is an attempt to simplify a complex situation and it is a derelict of U.S. responsibility under international standards."
    Verdict: True.
    Reality Check: Sanders accuses Clinton of opposing drivers' licenses for undocumented immigrants
    By Kate Grise, CNN
    While speaking to an audience made up of mostly Hispanics, Sanders accused Clinton of opposing drivers' licenses for undocumented immigrants in New York.
    "Secretary Clinton prevailed upon the governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who wanted to do the right thing and provide drivers' licenses to those who are undocumented. She said don't do it, and New York state still does not do it," Clinton said. "In Vermont, by the way, I worked with officials and undocumented people in Vermont do have the ability to get drivers' licenses."
    Clinton did oppose Spitzer's 2007 effort to allow undocumented immigrants in New York state to get a driver's license.
    After seeming to waffle on the issue at a debate during her 2007 bid for the White House, Clinton later clarified her position in a statement, saying, "As president, I will not support drivers' licenses for undocumented people."
    Spitzer dropped his proposal in 2007, saying there was just not enough support among New Yorkers for the policy.
    "It does not take a stethoscope to hear the pulse of New Yorkers on this topic," the then-New York governor said.
    Since 2007, Spitzer has said that no elected statewide official, including then-Senator Clinton, would stand with him and has even said that Clinton's campaign made it clear that they wanted him to drop the issue.
    Speaking in October 2015 on "The Axe Files," a podcast hosted by CNN contributor David Axelrod, Spitzer said, "We heard from folks who said they want this issue gone" when Axelrod asked if the Clinton campaign had pushed him to drop the plan.
    It is also true that undocumented immigrants in New York today cannot apply for a driver's license or a state identification card.
    As of January 2014, undocumented immigrants in Vermont have been eligible to obtain a driver's privilege card. According to an August 2015 report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, about 1,500 undocumented immigrants in Vermont have taken advantage of the new policy.
    Verdict: True.
    Reality Check: Bernie Sanders' suit color
    By Sonam Vashi, CNN
    Invoking the trauma of 2015's "The Dress" (Blue and black? White and gold?), Twitter was transfixed by the myriad of colors contained in the suit Sanders wore Wednesday night. The suit appeared dark brown to some on television, under the bright lights of the debate stage, but looked black or dark blue to others and in photographs. Just like The Dress, it could depend on the way your brain perceives the light hitting the suit.
    Some Twitter users found solace in the fact that the focus was not on women's clothing, for once.
    To settle the debate, Sanders communications staffer Mike Casca tweeted the suit's true color.
    Verdict: Blue. **
    ** Wait, no so fast. Casca later corrected himself, saying the suit was actually black.