Day 1 of GOP convention speeches: CNN vets the claims

Story highlights

The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the speeches

CNN rated key statements as either true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it's complicated

CNN —  

The Republican Party gathered in Cleveland Monday for the first night of its convention, and CNN’s Reality Check Team put the speakers’ statements and assertions to the test.

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

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul

Reality Check: McCaul on Clinton’s plans for borders, Syrian refugees

By Sonam Vashi, CNN

“Hillary Clinton is promising more of the same. Open borders, executive amnesty and the surge of Syrian refugees,” said Mike McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the Homeland Security Commission.

Clinton’s platform on immigration incorporates a pathway to citizenship and enforcing immigration laws, including deporting people who “pose a violent threat to public safety.”

Clinton said in November that the US needs “to secure our borders. I’m for it, I voted for it, I believe in it, and we also need to deal with the families, the workers who are here, who have made contributions, and their children.” She also said in March that the US has “done a really good job securing the border.” Clinton’s proposed policies and past rhetoric do not reflect open borders. That’s false.

Clinton does support President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigrations, called DACA and DAPA, which were recently blocked by a deadlocked decision from the Supreme Court. Those actions are often called “executive amnesty” by conservatives, although the programs would only give temporary status some undocumented workers, not permanent status. That’s true, but misleading.

Lastly, Clinton has advocated for a significant increase in the number of Syrian refugees. We’ve checked this claim a few times. In September, the White House announced it planned to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, a significant bump at that point from the 1,500 refugees admitted since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. Shortly after, on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Clinton was asked if the current U.S. plan to increase the number of admitted Syrian refugees to 10,000 was enough. She replied, “I would like to see us move from what is a good start with 10,000 to 65,000 and begin immediately to put into place the mechanisms for vetting the people that we would take in.” So, it’s true that Clinton supports a surge in Syrian refugees.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions

Reality Check: Sessions on middle-class incomes

By Tami Luhby, CNN Money

Republicans have been knocking Obama and Clinton for the declining fortunes of middle-class Americans throughout this election cycle.

Speaking at the GOP convention on Monday evening, Sessions hit on this issue once again.

“Fellow Republicans, we must understand that the incomes of middle-class Americans today are $4,000 less per year than in 1999. This is an economic disaster. We’re on the wrong track and the American people know it.”

CNN’s Reality Check Team looked into how middle-class Americans have fared in recent years.

It’s true that median household income was $4,186 lower in 2014, the latest figure available, than it was in 1999, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

However, that time period encompasses the administrations of both George W. Bush and Obama. Incomes declined more under Bush, a Republican, than under Obama.

In 2000, just before Bush took office, median income stood at $57,724. By 2008, the last year of his term, it had declined $2,411 to $55,313, due in part to the Great Recession.

By 2014, median income was at $53,657, or $1,656 lower than it was just before Obama’s administration began.

We rate Session’s statement as true, but misleading, because he implies that Obama administration bears the sole responsibility.

Reality Check: Sessions on new jobs going to immigrants

By Tami Luhby, CNN Money

Immigration is one of the hot button topics in this year’s election.

Sessions stirred the flames in his Monday speech, saying that immigrants have taken all the jobs created in recent years.

“From 2000 to 2014, while our existing population increased by millions, the number of jobs held by Americans actually declined. Amazingly, all the net job growth during that period went to immigrants,” he said.

Sessions is citing a 2014 report by the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates curbing immigration to the US. The report says there are 5.7 million more immigrants with jobs than there were in 2000, while the number of native-born Americans, ages 16 to 65, with jobs declined by 127,000. It is based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The center, however, is looking at the change in employment for workers in a specific age range, 16 to 65. In a footnote, the center points out that expanding the range to all workers 16 and up, which includes older workers, native-born employment grew by 2.6 million.

Therefore, Sessions’ statement that immigrants have taken all the jobs is false.

Colorado Senate candidate Darryl Glenn

Reality Check: Glenn on racial divisions, neighborhood safety

By Sonam Vashi, CNN

Glenn, a Colorado Senate candidate, made a few assertions about Obama.

“We’re more racially divided today than before he ran,” Glenn said.

Still referring to Obama, he went on to say, “Here’s some more facts, Mr. President: Neighborhoods have become more violent under your watch.”

There have been a number of polls surveying America’s racial climate. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that about 61% of black people polled said race relations were generally bad, compared with 45% of white people (and a similar percent of white people said race relations were generally good). The New York Times and other polls have shown similar trends.

In 2008, Pew reported that 52% of Americans thought race relations would get better with Obama’s election as President, including 75% of black respondents and 49% of white respondents.

Pew’s recent findings indicate that 34% of Americans think the President has made progress on improving race relations, while 28% think he has tried but failed to make progress, and 25% think Obama has made race relations worse.

The optimism Americans felt on race following Obama’s election has evidently dwindled, although at least one major survey finds that it’s unclear whether Americans feel that it is the fault of the President or not. We rate that part of Glenn’s claim as true, but misleading.

Glenn also said American neighborhoods have become more violent since Obama has been in office. According to the most recent FBI data, violent crime across the nation has decreased since 2008. The violent crime rate (or the number of violent crime offenses divided by the U.S. population) was 458.6 in 2008 and 365.5 in 2014 – a 20% decrease. Glenn’s assertion here is false.

Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke

Reality Check: Clarke on Americans’ worried about crime and violence

By Chip Grabow, CNN

Clarke said America cannot be great if Americans don’t feel safe in their homes, their streets and their communities. He said, “a recent Gallup poll confirms it. More than half of all Americans now worry a great deal about crime and violence, up consistently and dramatically from just a few years ago.”

A Gallup poll from March cites the percentage of Americans who worry “a great deal” about crime and violence at 53%. It was an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014. The poll said that “level of concern about crime and violence was at its highest point in 15 years.”

01:30 - Source: CNN
Monday night at the RNC in 90 seconds

The public’s fear of crime, as the Gallup poll data shows, may be on the rise.

But all that fear has been coming during a period when crime is actually declining. According to data from the FBI, the violent crime rate has declined 27.6% from 2001 to 2014.

Verdict: True, but misleading.

Patricia Smith, mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith

Reality Check: Security at Benghazi mission

By Eve Bower, CNN

Patricia Smith made a deeply emotional speech about her connection to the September 11, 2012, attack on a United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Smith’s son, Sean, was an employee of the US Foreign Service and was killed in the attack. The circumstances that gave rise to the attack, and the way communication about the attack was handled afterward, have become enduring controversies for Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time.

From the convention podium, Smith placed the blame for her son’s death squarely on Clinton, saying, the night before the attack, Smith’s son told her “all security had been pulled from the embassy,” but “when he asked why, he never received a response.”

Smith’s blame for Clinton is not substantiated by testimony and reports investigating the run-up to the attack.

In fact, there have been nine separate investigations into what happened at that compound. Seven have been nonpartisan; one was led by House Republicans; and one was led by the State Department. None of them have found Clinton to be at fault. Here’s the list:

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform;

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs;

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence;

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs;

The House Committee on the Judiciary;

The House Committee on Armed Services;

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence;

The House Select Committee on Benghazi;

The State Department’s Accountability Review Board

The House Select Committee on Benghazi’s report, released last month, noted that in early August 2012, the mission had 34 security staff. By the end of the month – some two weeks before the attack – there were just six. During the committee’s hearings last year, Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo estimated that there were about 600 requests or concerns raised about security at the Benghazi facility.

Clinton herself acknowledged these in her testimony before the committee. She said “a number of” requests for security were made, but that those requests never crossed her desk.

The investigatory board deemed the State Department responsible for not adequately responding to security concerns, but found no evidence that Clinton was directly responsible for the inadequate response.

Smith also said she was unsatisfied with the explanations for her son’s death, claiming a discrepancy between a leaked email Clinton sent to her daughter, calling the attack terrorism, and what Smith said Clinton told her at her son’s coffin ceremony, that “a video was responsible.” Smith said, “She lied to me and then called me a liar.”

The “video” Smith mentioned was an inflammatory video made in the US, backed by anti-Islam groups, and uploaded to YouTube in the weeks before the attack.

05:07 - Source: CNN
Mom of Benghazi victim: I blame Hillary for son's death

When asked about the conversation in late 2015, Clinton told a New Hampshire paper that she did not tell the families anything about the video, attributing the varying accounts of words exchanged that day to “the fog of war.”

The conversations that took place at that private ceremony were not recorded, and Smith’s description of events varies from Clinton’s. To make matters murkier, there are others present at the ceremony who support Smith’s and Clinton’s versions, respectively.

In a public statement Clinton made three days after the attack, she said, “We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video,” but in that statement, she did not directly cite that video as the cause of the attack.

Because Clinton’s role in the attack in Benghazi has been thoroughly investigated and she has been cleared of wrongdoing, we find Smith’s claim of culpability false.

Because we do not know the contents of a private conversation – a conversation in which each party has given a different version of events – we rate Smith’s claim about being called a liar it’s complicated.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn

Reality Check: Flynn on Obama’s ‘red line’ on Syria

By Ryan Browne, CNN National Security Producer

Flynn, who was often floated as a potential running mate for Trump, slammed the Obama administration Monday, saying, “a commander in chief does not draw ‘red-lines’ and then retreat.”

Flynn was referring to Obama’s well-known warning during the open stages of the Syrian Civil War where he said, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime – but also to other players on the ground – that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

“That would change my calculus; that would change my equation,” Obama added.

At the time, Flynn headed the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Assad would eventually use chemical weapons against rebel forces, something Obama called “an assault on human dignity,” adding that failure to use force “in retaliation could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm. In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.”

However, after initially considering retaliatory airstrikes but failing to gain approval from a Republican-controlled Congress, Obama opted to scrap the attack plan. He opted later to pursue a Russian diplomatic proposal to remove the chemical stockpiles.

Obama told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in an April interview it was “as tough a decision as I’ve made – and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”

The President did abandon airstrikes after initially mobilizing his national security apparatus and military to penalize the Assad campaign for its use of chemical weapons.

Verdict: True.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst

Reality Check: Ernst on ISIS in all 50 states

By Chip Grabow, CNN

Criticizing the Obama administration’s track record fighting ISIS, Ernst said the terrorist group’s threat is not limited to the Middle East, but is spreading. “Terrorists from ISIS are in every one of our 50 states,” Ernst said.

Is it that widespread?

During testimony given in October to the House Homeland Security Committee, FBI Director James Comey described how ISIS attempts to lure new recruits abroad. “ISIL has used the ubiquitous social media to break the model and push into the United States on the mobile devices of troubled souls in all 50 states a twin message: come or kill,” Comey said. He went on to say the FBI had an estimated 900 investigations against homegrown violent extremists, the majority being ISIS-related.

In other comments made last year, Comey said the FBI has found ISIS leaders communicating with potential recruits in all 50 states. He told the National Association of Attorneys General, “We have investigations of people in various stages of radicalizing in all 50 states.”

While the FBI may have terror investigations in all 50 states, many of which are related to suspected ISIS sympathizers, there have been arrests of ISIS sympathizers in just 24 states, and Ernst didn’t provide any evidence that there are ISIS terrorists in all 50 states. Therefore, we judge her statement false.