DeVos Didn’t Try to ‘Defund’ Special Education

In a CNN town hall, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic candidate for president, went too far when she said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “not only has tried to defund special education, but she also has tried to get rid of the Special Olympics funding.”

Klobuchar has a point about the Special Olympics, but the administration’s proposed budget keeps the bulk of the special education funding intact.

It’s true that the proposed fiscal year 2020 Department of Education budget sought to eliminate federal contributions to the Special Olympics — a cut that DeVos later said she opposed behind the scenes and that President Donald Trump reversed after public outcry. But most of the federal government’s funding for special education flows through Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, and the department’s budget proposed keeping that federal funding at $13.2 billion — the same as Congress approved for FY2019.

DeVos found herself in the national media spotlight for her department’s proposed budget cut of nearly $18 million for the Special Olympics and more than $20 million to other programs that serve blind and deaf students.

During the CNN town hall on April 22, an audience member asked Klobuchar about DeVos’ attempts to “slash funding from special needs programs.”

Klobuchar noted that she “strongly opposed” DeVos’ appointment as secretary of education.

“It is no surprise to me that these things keep happening, and she not only has tried to defund special education, but she also has tried to get rid of the Special Olympics funding, if you watched any of this,” Klobuchar said.

Later in her answer, Klobuchar, who supports substantially increasing federal IDEA funding, said the Trump administration wants to “reduce the funding for special ed and for the Olympics which then had a reverse on because there was such a public outcry. That hurts people with disabilities, and they haven’t done anything to fund education for people with disabilities. So I give them, since you’re all students, an ‘F.'”

In often confrontational congressional testimony, DeVos attempted to defend the cuts, noting that she was under a directive to cut 10 percent from the overall education budget and “we had to make some difficult decisions with this budget.” DeVos added that the Special Olympics is “well-supported by the philanthropic sector.”

“What is it that we have a problem with children who are in special education? “Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan asked in a widely reported exchange.

DeVos noted that the proposed budget kept IDEA funding levels the same, even in the context of an overall 10 percent cut to the education budget.

Pocan, though, said he was talking about cuts to other programs, including ones that support blind and deaf students.

Indeed, the proposed budget did call for cuts to programs for the disabled, including:

  • Reducing federal funding to Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf, by $13 million, to $121 million.
  • Cutting the federal allocation for the American Printing House for the Blind, a program that produces books for blind students, by $5 million, to $25 million.
  • Cutting the funding for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf by $8 million, to $70 million.
  • And reducing the funding for the Helen Keller National Center from $13 million to $10 million.

When we contacted Klobuchar’s office, it cited cuts to those programs — which are authorized under legislation separate from IDEA — as well as proposed cuts to programs that include services for those with special needs, including Arts in Education, which offers special programs for disabled students, and the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which seeks to eliminate barriers in the training and employment of people with disabilities. 

In a statement released on March 27, DeVos defended the administration’s commitment to special education funding.

“Make no mistake: we are focused every day on raising expectations and improving outcomes for infants and toddlers, children and youth with disabilities, and are committed to confronting and addressing anything that stands in the way of their success,” DeVos stated. “The President’s budget reflects that commitment. It supports our nation’s 7 million students with disabilities through a $13.2 billion request for IDEA funding, the same funding level appropriated by Congress. All of that money goes directly to states to ensure students with disabilities have the resources and supports they need. The budget also requests an additional $225.6 million for competitively awarded grants to support teacher preparation, research and technical assistance to support students with disabilities.”

The National Education Association told us that although the department’s budget proposes to keep the federal contribution to IDEA at the same level it was in FY2019, the average federal share per child would be less in FY2020 because the average cost per pupil is expected to rise, as is the number of children with disabilities served.

After he reversed course on funding the Special Olympics, Trump told reporters on March 28, “I have overridden my people.” Trump’s previous budget proposals similarly called for eliminating Special Olympics funding, but Congress funded it anyway.

Interestingly, DeVos — who last year contributed a quarter of her salary, $50,000, to the Special Olympics — said she has fought behind the scenes to keep the Special Olympics funding in the administrations’ proposed budgets, but according to CNN, she was rebuffed by the White House budget office.

One can take issue with the proposed cuts to several programs that serve people with disabilities. But that is different from attempting to “defund special education,” as Klobuchar put it. The proposed cuts to those programs are a fraction of the money proposed for special education funding through IDEA.

Klobuchar’s office said she “made it clear that this was both defunding some programs, as well as reducing funding of other programs.” But the line between cutting funding for some programs for people with disabilities versus special education funding through IDEA has been blurred in the public debate, and Klobuchar’s comment that DeVos sought to “defund special education” contributes to the confusion.

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Viral Claim Blurs Marijuana, Gun Policies

Quick Take

Social posts wrongly claim that states legalizing marijuana also have “legislated” that those who use the drug cannot have guns. Actually, a long-standing federal law prohibits marijuana users from possessing or purchasing firearms, regardless of state policies.

Full Story

As states continue to legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, those state policies continue to inherently conflict with federal law.

That’s because marijuana remains a Schedule I drug — along with heroin, LSD and others — and is therefore illegal in the eyes of the federal government, regardless of what state laws say. It’s been classified that way since 1970.

Posts repeatedly shared on Facebook, however, distort the facts around the issue and how it relates to gun rights.

“Before you celebrate the legalization of marijuana, just know: Nearly every state that has legalized it has also legislated that you lose your right to own a gun if you are prescribed it, or buy it recreationally,” the posts claim. “Pot legalization is turning out to be a back-door way for the government to get you to voluntarily give up your gun rights.”

That’s misleading. It’s existing federal law, which dates back to 1968, that prohibits marijuana users from purchasing firearms — not that states legalizing marijuana have “legislated” it that way.

“I’m not aware of any state that bans gun possession by users of legal cannabis,” Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management, told us in an email. “But it’s true that federal law clearly does. The paranoid claim that this constitutes a plot by ‘the government’ is transparently silly.”

As the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives made clear in a 2011 open letter, federal law “prohibits any person who is an ‘unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance…’ from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition.” The letter also states that it is “unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance.”

The letter continues: “Therefore, any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her State has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medical purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”

The federal firearm transaction form — used by federal firearms licensees, such as gun shops, to determine whether a sale is lawful — also explicitly asks about a buyer’s “unlawful” marijuana use and notes that the “use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless” of state policies.

Making false written statements on the application is a felony that can be punished with up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. A 2018 GAO report found, however, that the U.S., in fiscal year 2017, rarely prosecuted cases in which firearm applicants made false statements on a form and were subsequently denied.

Yet, the GAO noted, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March 2018 “issued a memo that directed all United States Attorneys to enhance prosecution of cases involving individuals who make false statements on the ATF Form 4473.”

Among examples of such prosecutions, the government brought charges against a Maine man last year for making false statements, including about his marijuana use, on the form in February and March 2017. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight months imprisonment and $200 in fines. The transactions took place after the recreational use of marijuana was legalized in Maine. Voters there approved it in 2016 and the part of the recreational law allowing people 21 and older to grow six “mature plants” and carry 2.5 ounces took effect Jan. 30, 2017. The state has also allowed for the use of medical marijuana since 1999.

One court challenge to federal law and the ATF’s open letter — filed by a Nevada woman who was refused a firearm because of her medical marijuana registry card — was dismissed by a U.S. District Court. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in 2016, finding that the policies did not violate her Second Amendment rights.

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, also confirmed in an emailed response to FactCheck.org that she had not heard of states legalizing marijuana and then legislating to restrict gun access for those who use it.

“On the contrary, legislative action has tended to focus on protecting gun rights of cannabis users,” O’Keefe said, citing Oklahoma as an example.

Oklahoma became the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana last year, and state officials recently approved legislation attempting to reaffirm that medical marijuana patients should not be restricted from accessing guns. The measure, signed by the governor in March, states that a “medical marijuana patient or caregiver licensee shall not be denied the right to own, purchase or possess a firearm, ammunition, or firearm accessories based solely on his or her status as a medical marijuana patient or caregiver licensee.”

It adds: “No state or local agency, municipal or county governing authority shall restrict, revoke, suspend or otherwise infringe upon the right of a person to own, purchase or possess a firearm, ammunition, or firearm accessories or any related firearms license or certification based solely on their status as a medical marijuana patient or caregiver licensee.”

Even so, the Oklahoma law doesn’t supplant the current federal policy. Before the law was signed, the Tulsa World reported, lawmakers “acknowledged during talks on the House floor that it remains a federal offense to possess cannabis and a gun at the same time.”

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network. Our previous stories can be found here.


Drug Scheduling.” U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Accessed 23 Apr 2019.

Firearms Transaction Record | ATF E-Form 4473. U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Accessed 23 Apr 2019.

Garrand, Danielle. “Medical marijuana or guns? Oklahoma latest state forced to choose.” CBS News. 29 Jun 2018.

Kleiman, Mark. Professor of public policy, NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management. Email to FactCheck.org. 24 Apr 2019.

O’Keefe, Karen. Director of state policies, Marijuana Policy Project. Email to FactCheck.org. 23 Apr 2019.

Open letter to all federal firearms licensees.” U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 21 Sep 2011.

Recreational Marijuana in Maine.” Maine State Legislature. Accessed 24 Apr 2019.

U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Few Individuals Denied Firearms Purchases Are Prosecuted and ATF Should Assess Use of Warning Notices in Lieu of Prosecutions.” September 2018.

Wilson v. Lynch. No. 14-15700. U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 31 Aug 2016.

Winthrop Man Pleads Guilty to Making False Statements to a Federal Firearms Dealer.” Press release, U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Maine. 24 Sep 2018.

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Mailbag: Presidential Term Limits, Viral Deception

One reader sent us a comment about the history of the 22nd Amendment, which limits the number of terms an individual can serve as U.S. president, and another forwarded us an email he sent to friends after reading one of our stories about a viral claim being made about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the email we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

History of Term Limits for Presidents

While you are accurate regarding the congresswoman from Queens/Bronx misapplication of history [“Ocasio-Cortez Gets FDR History Lesson Wrong,” April 2] your analysis leaves out one very important portion of the amendment.

It did not apply to a president holding the office at the time of its introduction or final ratification and effective date. Therefore, President Truman was not precluded from running for office in 1952. Of course, he chose not to do that. Also, the Republican candidate, Thomas Dewey, the Republican nominee for the presidency in 1944, on October 31, 1944, did publicly endorse the concept, for obvious political reasons – he thought that might swing the vote. Of course, it did not. The Republicans did not have congressional control until January 1947 to move the amendment. In fact, then it was not an easy ratification process since it was not finally ratified until over four years later.

Historically, there were questions regarding [President Franklin D. Roosevelt] running for a third term in 1940. He justified it based upon the conflict in Europe and pledged to keep the United States out of the war. Members of his own party took exception and there were those Democrats that did not support FDR for a third term. The Republican nominee, Wendell Wilkie, also raised the issue. It might be said that this concern about presidential term limits was a bipartisan concern.

There have been subsequent efforts to rescind the 22nd Amendment, however, they have not made it out of committee. Most notably those efforts occurred during the Reagan administration in the hope that he could run for reelection in 1988. One might opine that when you like him you want to keep him and when you do not like him you want him gone.

Kenneth P. Johnson, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret)
Milton, Pennsylvania


A Reader’s ‘Confession’

Editor’s note: Frank Bergen, a reader in Tucson, Arizona, copied us on this email that he sent to his friends. He agreed to allow us to publish it.


I have a confession to make. I was traveling yesterday when I received the FactCheck response to my query regarding AO-C [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and Daylight Saving Time [“Daylight Saving Time Spoof Story Not Real,” March 27]. I was so delighted to have a rebuttal of the accusation you had discussed at lunch on Thursday that I forwarded it without having read the message from [FactCheck.org Undergraduate Fellow] Catherine Monk all the way through, a terrible thing to do in any instance and especially by me, quick as I am to criticize others for doing anything of the sort.

Now that I have read it, I see how thoroughly FactCheck has factually debunked the satirical piece, providing us with its source, a gentleman who edits a satirical publication and with whom the folks at FactCheck had communicated.

In response to one of your observations I looked for a FactCheck mailing address and discovered that they are indeed based in Philadelphia,  ‘one of those east coast liberal cities’ and are therefore automatically suspect.

You have collectively spurred me to make a small contribution to FactCheck in your collective honor.

Your apologetic and much embarrassed brother in Christ.

Frank Bergen
Tucson, Arizona

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Twisting Stephen Miller’s Words

Quick Take

A meme posted on a popular progressive Facebook page leaves out several words and important context in a quote from White House adviser Stephen Miller.

Full Story

A meme shared on a progressive Facebook page that frequently posts content critical of the Trump administration misquotes White House adviser Stephen Miller.

The meme features two pictures. One shows Miller next to a quote that says: “The powers of the president will not be questioned.”

The other shows President Theodore Roosevelt next to a quote that says: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American people.”

The problem with the Miller quote is that it’s incomplete and out of context.

In an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Feb. 12, 2017, Miller answered questions about President Donald Trump’s original executive order banning people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States. Several states challenged the ban and a federal judge blocked its enforcement just days after it was issued.

That’s the background for Miller’s statement one week later, when he said this:

Miller, Feb. 12, 2017: Well, I think that it’s been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many cases a supreme branch of government. One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy, John, the idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is — is — is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.

The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.

The only words used in the meme are the ones shown in bold above. The way they are presented in the meme makes it sound like he made a more sweeping statement about presidential power than he did, particularly when paired with the Roosevelt quote.

That Roosevelt quote got attention when Jeff Flake, a former U.S. senator from Arizona, used it in a 2017 speech announcing that he would not seek reelection. The speech was critical of Trump and the political climate.

Shortly after Flake’s speech, a Time magazine article pointed out that Roosevelt wrote those words during a time when he was often critical of the sitting president, Woodrow Wilson.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.


Flores, Reena. “Trump adviser: Administration will send a signal ‘very soon’ to N.K.” CBS News. 12 Feb 2017.

Trump, Donald. Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. 27 Jan 2017.

Jackson, Brooks, et al. “Facts on Trump’s Immigration Order.” FactCheck.org. 1 Feb 2017.

Flake, Jeff. Speech announcing he would not seek reelection. C-SPAN. 24 Oct 2017.

The post Twisting Stephen Miller’s Words appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Kushner Distorts Scope of Russia Interference

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report concluded that “[t]he Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” — contrary to Jared Kushner’s claim that Russia’s effort amounted to little more than “a couple Facebook ads.”

The report details how the Russians “carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton,” and “conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents” to damage the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign.

It also lays out how eager the Trump campaign was to use the stolen material to its political advantage, even after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint public statement on Oct. 7, 2016, “that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.”

Although investigators “did not establish” the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia’s “election interference activities,” Mueller’s report said “the [Trump] Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, made his comments during an interview at the Time100 Summit (starting at the 3:57 mark). He said the “investigations and all of the speculation” over the past two years “has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple Facebook ads.”

Kushner, April 23: And quite frankly, the whole thing is just a big distraction for the country. You look at what Russia did, you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it, it’s a terrible thing. But I think the investigations and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple Facebook ads. I think they said [Russians] spent about $160,000. I spent $160,000 on Facebook every three hours during the campaign. Now if you look at the magnitude of what they did and what they accomplished, I think the ensuing investigations have been way more harmful to our country.

Kushner downplays the extensive social media influence campaign the Russians waged to help elect his father-in-law and ignores entirely the Russian cyberattack on Clinton and her supporters that was designed to undermine Clinton’s campaign.

Here we recap what the Mueller report said about Russia’s election interference efforts.

‘Russian Hacking Operations’

The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Russia began in late July 2016 — a few days after WikiLeaks began releasing emails that had been stolen from the Democratic National Committee. The investigation was sparked by a tip it received from a foreign government official who learned from George Papadopoulos, a Trump foreign policy adviser, “that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton,” according to the Mueller report.

The federal investigation uncovered a sophisticated hacking operation by two units of the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, which is responsible for intelligence collection for the Russian military. One unit was responsible for developing a “specialized” malware, while the other unit “conducted large-scale spearphishing campaigns,” according to the Mueller report. 

The targets, of course, were the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Clinton’s presidential campaign committee.

The scope of the hacking operation: Beginning in March 2016, the GRU “hacked the computers and email accounts of organizations, employees, and volunteers supporting the Clinton Campaign, including the email account of campaign chairman John Podesta,” the report said. The GRU gained access to 29 DCCC computers and more than 30 computers on the DNC network, including the DNC email server and shared file server.

“In total, the GRU stole hundreds of thousands of documents from the compromised email accounts and networks,” the report says.

The groups behind the release of the stolen documents: The GRU publicly released emails and documents stolen from the Democrats “through two fictitious online personas that it created — DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 — and later through the organization WikiLeaks,” the report said.

The Washington Post reported on June 14, 2016, that hackers had gained access to DNC servers — the first public disclosure of a cyberattack on a U.S. political committee. 

A day later, Guccifer 2.0 — a “[f]ictitious online persona operated by the GRU” — took credit in a blog post for hacking the DNC computers and released a few documents, including the Democratic Party’s 200-page opposition research report on Donald Trump. Guccifer falsely attributed the DNC hack “to a lone Romanian hacker.” 

“The main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to Wikileaks. They will publish them soon,” Guccifer 2.0 says in its blog post. 

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, opposed Clinton’s candidacy. The Mueller report said that Assange, in November 2015, “wrote to other members and associates of WikiLeaks that ‘[w]e believe it would be much better for GOP to win … Dems+Media+liberals woudl [sic] then form a block to reign in their worst qualities. . . . With Hillary in charge, GOP will be pushing for her worst qualities., dems+media+neoliberals will be mute . … She’s a bright, well connected, sadisitic sociopath.'”

The timing of the public release of the stolen documents: According to the Mueller report, “The release of the documents was designed and timed to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and undermine the Clinton Campaign.”

About five weeks after Guccifer 2.0 took credit for hacking DNC servers, WikiLeaks released more than 20,000 stolen DNC emails and other documents. (It would eventually release more than 44,000 DNC emails and 17,000 attachments, WikiLeaks says on its website.) The first drop came on July 22, 2016 — three days before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The timing proved damaging to party unity, and Clinton’s attempts to use the convention to woo supporters of her top rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders. The released documents embarrassed party officials who were seen as working behind the scenes at the DNC to undermine Sanders’ campaign, and forced the DNC chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, to resign on the eve of the convention.  

The timing was no coincidence.

The Mueller report said WikiLeaks sent a direct message on Twitter to Guccifer 2.0 on July 6, 2016, seeking information that would disrupt the DNC convention and Clinton’s attempts at unity. “[I]f you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefab le [sic] because the DNC is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after,” WikiLeaks wrote to Guccifer 2.0.

“[W]e think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting,” WikiLeaks wrote.

On Oct. 7, 2016, WikiLeaks began releasing emails “the first set of emails stolen by the GRU from the account of Clinton Campaign chairman John Podesta.” Those emails were released “less than an hour” after the Washington Post published a 2005 video that caught Trump on a hot mic during a filming of “Access Hollywood” bragging about grabbing and kissing women because “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

Trump campaign’s use of stolen documents: In downplaying Russia’s interference in the election, Kushner ignored the campaign’s interest in the stolen documents and Trump’s extensive use of them to his advantage.

“The Trump Campaign showed interest in WikiLeaks’s releases of hacked materials throughout the summer and fall of 2016,” the Mueller report said.

After DNC emails were released in July, Trump tweeted, “The Wikileaks e-mail release today was so bad to Sanders that it will make it impossible for him to support her, unless he is a fraud!” At the same time, Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, told Gates that he “wanted to be kept apprised of any developments with WikiLeaks,” according to the Mueller report.

“According to [Deputy Campaign Chairman Rick] Gates, by the late summer of 2016, the Trump Campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks,” the report said.

The report also said that Trump and “other Campaign advisors privately sought information [redacted] about any further planned WikiLeaks releases.”

Donald Trump Jr., exchanged direct messages on Twitter with WikiLeaks, expressing interest in any new document dumps. On Oct. 3, 2016, Trump Jr. asked WikiLeaks: “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?” WikiLeaks did not respond, at least not on Twitter. Four days later, WikiLeaks released Podesta’s emails. 

After the first set of Podesta’s emails was released, Trump took to Twitter on numerous occasions to draw attention to the stolen documents and away from the “Access Hollywood video. Here are some of his tweets, which also came days after the U.S. intelligence community identified Russia as the source of the hacked emails:

Oct. 11, 2016: “I hope people are looking at the disgraceful behavior of Hillary Clinton as exposed by WikiLeaks. She is unfit to run.”

Oct. 12, 2016: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!” 

Oct. 16, 2016: “We’ve all wondered how Hillary avoided prosecution for her email scheme. Wikileaks may have found the answer. Obama!”

In the closing weeks of the campaign, WikiLeaks became a big part of Trump’s closing argument against Clinton.

On Oct. 21, 2016, Manafort — who had left the campaign at this point — “sent Kushner an email and attached a strategy memorandum proposing that the Campaign make the case against Clinton ‘as the failed and corrupt champion of the establishment’ and that ‘Wikileaks provides the Trump campaign the ability to make the case in a very credible way — by using the words of Clinton, its campaign officials and DNC members,'” according to the Mueller report.

Trump often read from the stolen emails and other documents at his campaign rallies.

In many cases, Trump distorted the facts to fit his campaign message that Clinton supports “open borders,” would harm Medicare and Social Security, was soft on terrorism, and was too cozy with big banks. (Read our item “Trump Twists Facts on WikiLeaks” for more information on how Trump distorted the facts on those and other topics.)

“In sum, the investigation established that the GRU hacked into email accounts of persons affiliated with the Clinton Campaign, as well as the computers of the DNC and DCCC. The GRU then exfiltrated data related to the 2016 election from these accounts and computers, and disseminated that data through fictitious online personas (DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0) and later through WikiLeaks,” the Mueller report said. “The investigation also established that the Trump Campaign displayed interest in the WikiLeaks releases.”

Russian ‘Active Measures’ Social Media Campaign

Russia’s Internet Research Agency, an online propaganda operation, began social media operations in the United States as early as 2014, creating social media accounts using fictitious personas.

In the 2016 campaign, “Some IRA employees, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated electronically with individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities, including the staging of political rallies,” the report said. “By the end of the 2016 U.S. election, the IRA had the ability to reach millions of U.S. persons through their social media accounts.”

The figures cited on the reach and amount of these social media accounts are significantly greater than “a couple Facebook ads,” as Kushner said.

Muller report: Multiple IRA-controlled Facebook groups and Instagram accounts had hundreds of thousands of U.S. participants. IRA-controlled Twitter accounts separately had tens of thousands of followers, including multiple U.S. political figures who retweeted IRA-created content. In November 2017, a Facebook representative testified that Facebook had identified 470 IRA-controlled Facebook accounts that collectively made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017. Facebook estimated the IRA reached as many as 126 million persons through its Facebook accounts. In January 2018, Twitter announced that it had identified 3,814 IRA-controlled Twitter accounts and notified approximately 1.4 million people Twitter believed may have been in contact with an IRA-controlled account.

Much of the material in the report on the structure of the IRA and its social media operations is redacted, due to “harm to ongoing matter.” In February 2018, the special counsel indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, including the IRA. The group was funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, who was sanctioned by the U.S. in December 2016 and has reported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and companies he controlled.

According to the indictment, the IRA’s monthly budget was more than $1.25 million (U.S. dollars) by September 2016. 

The U.S. social media operation was known as the “Translator” internally at the IRA, the Mueller report said. It included the creation of social media pages falsely claiming to be associated with U.S. political groups or mimicking them. For instance, the IRA Twitter account @TEN_ GOP suggested it was affiliated with the Tennessee Republican Party. “More commonly,” the Mueller report said, “the IRA created accounts in the names of fictitious U.S. organizations and grassroots groups and used these accounts to pose as anti-immigration groups, Tea Party activists, Black Lives Matter protestors, and other U.S. social and political activists.”

The operation was aimed at supporting Trump’s candidacy and opposing Clinton. One of the directions to IRA operators included: “Main idea: Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary [Clinton] and the rest (except Sanders and Trump – we support them).”

As for Facebook ads, the IRA bought more than 3,500 of them, not just “a couple,” spending about $100,000, the special counsel’s report said, attributing those figures to Facebook.

The special counsel said the IRA bought its first known ad backing Trump’s campaign on April 19, 2016 — an ad for an Instagram account called “Tea Party News” encouraging people to help “‘make a patriotic team of young Trump supporters’ by uploading photos with the hashtag ‘#KIDS4TRUMP.'” The IRA bought dozens of ads supporting the Trump campaign in the months that followed, “predominantly through the Facebook groups ‘Being Patriotic,’ ‘Stop All Invaders,’ and ‘Secured Borders.'” Other bogus Facebook groups created by the IRA included: “Black Matters,” “LGBT United” and “United Muslims of America.” These accounts “attracted hundreds of thousands of followers.”

On Twitter, the IRA created fake accounts and also automated bot accounts to spread its content. One IRA account — @march_for_trump — promoted rallies in support of the campaign. The IRA would organize rallies by direct messaging followers, asking them to attend, and finding a real U.S. person to agree to serve as the coordinator of the event. The special counsel’s office identified “dozens” of such rallies, the first of which was a “confederate rally” in November 2015. Some rallies attracted just a few people, but others attracted hundreds. The Trump campaign actually posted on its Facebook page about an IRA-organized rally in Miami in August 2016.

One poster for IRA-organized rallies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia used an image of a now-deceased West Virginia coal miner with the words, “Miners For Trump, Bring Back Our Jobs.”

The bogus social media accounts were realistic enough to fool some U.S. media outlets, which quoted tweets they thought were from real U.S. people, and well-known figures who retweeted or responded to these accounts, including former Ambassador Michael McFaul, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump informal adviser Roger Stone and Michael Flynn Jr., son of the campaign’s foreign policy adviser and later national security adviser in the administration.

The IRA also had interactions with the Trump campaign. On “multiple occasions, members and surrogates of the Trump Campaign promoted–typically by linking, retweeting, or similar methods of reposting–pro-Trump or anti-Clinton content published by the IRA through IRA-controlled social media accounts,” the report said. For instance, posts from that @TEN_GOP Twitter account were cited or retweeted by Donald J. Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale and Michael T. Flynn.

Also, there were “a few instances” in which IRA employees asked members of the campaign for help with rallies the IRA had organized. The Mueller report concluded: “While certain campaign volunteers agreed to provide the requested support (for example, agreeing to set aside a number of signs), the investigation has not identified evidence that any Trump Campaign official understood the requests were coming from foreign nationals.”

Kushner equates the Russian interference effort to “a couple Facebook ads” and $160,000. But as the Mueller report makes clear, it was a sophisticated, yearslong hacking and social media effort to influence an election.

The post Kushner Distorts Scope of Russia Interference appeared first on FactCheck.org.

The Facts on Medicare for All

Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the latest version of his Medicare for All legislation on April 10, with 13 Democratic co-sponsors. Four of them, plus Sanders himself, are running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sander says the bill, S. 1129, “would provide comprehensive and cost-effective health care for everyone,” while the White House has said the plan would “mandate a decrease or elimination of choice and competition.” Once again, health care is shaping up to be a focal point of the presidential campaign. Let’s look at the details of this proposal.

What is the overall plan?

As the name indicates, the plan would expand Medicare, which now covers primarily those age 65 and older and some with disabilities, to everyone, creating a new universal, single-payer health care system in the United States. The country would move from a fragmented system — in which nearly half the population has employer-sponsored, private insurance with the rest a mix of Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare, private individual market coverage and no insurance at all — to a system in which everyone’s insurer is Medicare. Or nearly everyone. Under the plan, the Veterans Health Administration and Indian Health Service would remain.

What health care services would be covered?

The new “universal Medicare program,” as the bill calls it would cover: hospital inpatient and outpatient services, ambulatory services, primary and preventive care, prescription drugs and medical devices, mental health and substance abuse treatment, lab and diagnostic services, reproductive and maternity, newborn care and pediatrics, dental/hearing/vision services, short-term rehab, emergency care, transportation for low-income and disabled individuals to receive these services, and home and community-based long-term care. The bill would eliminate the Hyde amendment, which now restricts federal funding of abortion to only cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the mother’s life. The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services could change or expand the benefits.

Current Medicare benefits would be expanded, since they don’t include dental, hearing or vision coverage now. Also, Sanders’ bill calls for virtually no out-of-pocket costs at the point of service for these benefits. There would be no copays, deductibles or premiums, with the exception of prescription drugs and biologics (such as vaccines and gene therapy), which could carry copays totaling no more than $200 a year per person, indexed for inflation.

Would private insurance still be available?

Potentially, but it would be limited. Once the bill is fully implemented, it would be “unlawful” for “a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits” provided under Medicare for All, and employers couldn’t provide such benefits either. However, private insurance could be sold to cover additional benefits that the new universal system didn’t cover — perhaps cosmetic surgery or other non-medically necessary care.

Private insurance would be available during a transition period (see the next question). The bill calls for funds to be set aside for workers in the insurance industry who lose their jobs because of the legislation.

There’s also the potential for direct-pay private contracts. One provision in the legislation allows for private contracts between health care providers and individuals for services for which the provider will not seek reimbursement from the government. The provider, however, must file an affidavit with the HHS secretary saying he or she won’t seek payment from the government for any service to anyone for one year. So, doctors would have to operate outside the universal Medicare system, with patients who could afford to pay out of pocket.

Sanders has made clear that private insurance would be eliminated. “You are not going to be able, in the long run, to have cost-effective, universal health care unless you change the system, unless you get rid of the insurance companies,” he said in an interview on MSNBC. Other Democratic presidential candidates haven’t fully embraced that part of the plan. When asked in a CNN town hall whether private insurance companies would go away, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said, “You’ll have to see whether they want to compete or not. I don’t think they will.”

After Sen. Kamala Harris said the plan would eliminate private insurance, also on CNN, her press secretary noted that she backed other legislation that wouldn’t go that far, as well. “She has co-sponsored other pieces of legislation that she sees as a path to getting us there, but this is the plan she is running on,” Harris’ national press secretary Ian Sams told CNN.

Gillibrand and Harris are co-sponsors of the legislation, as are Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, who also are running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar hasn’t signed on to the legislation and instead has co-sponsored a bill that would provide a Medicaid buy-in option and another that would allow those age 50-64 to enroll in Medicare.

How would the transition to Medicare for All occur?

Four years after enactment of the legislation, everyone would get a Universal Medicare card, and the new system would be in effect. Leading up to that fourth year, traditional Medicare benefits would be expanded — adding dental, vision and hearing aids — and the eligibility age would be slowly lowered, allowing people to buy-in to Medicare if they chose to do so. In year one, for instance, the eligibility age would be 55 and by year three, it would be 35. A Medicare transition plan would be available through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, but open to anyone who wanted to enroll. Children could be enrolled in the first year after enactment.

People could choose to keep other insurance coverage during this transition period.

Could people decide to opt out?

No, though they could enter into private contracts with health care providers and pay for those services themselves (see the private insurance question above). However, the bill says every resident of the United States would have the universal health care benefits, and people can’t opt out of paying whatever taxes will be assessed to finance the plan.

How would health care providers be affected?

They would have to meet minimum national standards and sign participation agreements, barring them from charging extra fees to patients. They would be paid according to a fee schedule, established by the HHS secretary. A new Office of Primary Health Care would set goals for increasing access to primary care and promote an increase in primary care practitioners.

The HHS secretary also would negotiate prices paid for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

What about access to care?

The plan includes a “freedom of choice” provision stipulating that people can choose any health care provider, and Sanders has highlighted this part of the plan, saying, “you’ll go to any doctor that you want, you’ll go to any hospital that you want.”

That’s what the bill proposes. But with universal coverage and zero copays, demand for health care services would likely increase. “[T]he Sanders plan would increase demand for health services by eliminating individuals’ direct contributions to care (i.e., by eliminating deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance), but not all increased demand could be met because provider capacity would be insufficient,” the Urban Institute said in a 2016 analysis of Medicare for All, which was similar to the current bill. The Urban Institute incorporated “provider supply constraints” in its estimates. Similarly, a RAND analysis published this year said that “providers’ willingness and ability to provide health care services—including the additional care required by the newly insured and those benefiting from lower cost sharing—would most likely be limited.” The extent of this issue would depend on the change in individual providers’ payments and their responses. RAND said: “As a result, some patients might experience longer wait times for care or face unmet needs.”

How much would the plan cost?

There’s no firm price tag, as many details need to be filled in, but several organizations have produced estimates using varying assumptions.

To put these estimates in context, total national health expenditures were $3.5 trillion in 2017 and are projected to be $47 trillion over 10 years, 2018-2027, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The Urban Institute estimated in 2016 that the Medicare for All plan would increase all national health expenditures by $518.9 billion in 2017 and by $6.6 trillion over 10 years. That report also said the plan would increase federal spending by $32 trillion over 10 years; that’s because spending by private insurers, employers, individuals and states would shift to the federal government.

Kenneth Thorpe, a professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory University, estimated in 2016 that the increase in federal spending would be $24.7 trillion over 10 years.

In an estimate published online by Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, estimated Medicare for All would reduce national health spending by $6.3 trillion over 10 years and new government spending would amount to $13.8 trillion over 10 years.

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University published a study that, similar to the Urban Institute report, estimated the increased federal spending at $32.6 trillion over 10 years. Of course, health care spending by other payers would decrease. Sanders’ office and the study author, Charles Blahous, have disagreed about the overall finding of his study. Sanders’ office has said the study shows a net decrease in national health care spending, but Blahous said the “actual cost” would be “substantially greater” because of “unlikely” assumptions he used to estimate the cost, such as a 40 percent reduction in private insurance reimbursement rates to providers. 

A RAND Corporation report issued this year estimated a 1.8 percent increase in total health spending if implemented in 2019. (RAND only produced an estimate for that year.) It said spending by the federal government on health care “would increase substantially, rising from $1.09 trillion to $3.50 trillion, an increase of 221 percent,” but, of course, health care spending by employers, individuals, private insurers and state/local governments would decrease substantially, or be eliminated.

The New York Times asked these same think tanks and experts to estimate total health expenditures for next year under Medicare for All, and it also found a wide range of estimates. The Times noted that “the difference between the most expensive estimate and the second-most expensive estimate was larger than the budget of most federal agencies.” 

It’s difficult to give a clear cost figure when various assumptions — such as provider pay rates, savings from prescription drug negotiations, utilization of health care — have to be made. 

How would it be financed?

The legislation doesn’t include any information on how it would be financed. Instead, Sanders has put forth several suggestions to be debated. They include: payroll taxes, an income-based “premium,” increased taxes on high-income individuals, and fees on major financial institutions. There would also be some tax savings, for instance through eliminating the tax exemption of employer-provided insurance premiums. The employer exclusion “will cost the federal government an estimated $280 billion in income and payroll taxes in 2018,” says the Tax Policy Center

Do the other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates support this plan?

Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, Tim Ryan and Eric Swalwell are co-sponsors of the House version of Medicare for All, H.R. 1384. As for the rest of the 21-person field, The Hill has a breakdown of what every candidate supports regarding changing the health care system.

What else has been proposed in terms of expanding Medicare?

Beyond H.R. 1384, which, like Sanders’ plan, would create a national Medicare program, other legislative proposals would make much less sweeping changes. There are bills to offer a public option based on Medicare through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, and other legislation that would allow individuals to buy-in to Medicare at age 50. House and Senate bills also call for a Medicaid buy-in option available through the ACA exchanges.

Details on all of those plans are available through an interactive comparison tool by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The post The Facts on Medicare for All appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Meme Gets an ‘F’ on College Claims

Quick Take

A popular Facebook post gives readers a false impression about the recent college admissions scandal and the cost of college for immigrants in the United States illegally.

Full Story

Where can you find an inaccurate comparison between the college admissions bribery scandal and the cost of college for immigrants in the U.S. illegally?


A meme that has been shared over 18,000 times makes this claim: “Break the law to enter college, you’re expelled and your parents go to jail. Break the law to enter the country, free college!”

The first part of the claim is a reference to the criminal charges recently brought against 33 parents, who are accused of participating in a bribery scheme to get their children admitted to selective colleges and universities.

It’s true that the parents are facing potential jail time, although none of them have been sentenced yet. So, it’s unclear whether or not they will actually serve time in jail.

Also, not all of the students involved have been “expelled.” For example, the University of Southern California is handling the continued enrollment of each student who was involved on a case-by-case basis. Wake Forest University, however, is allowing a student to remain enrolled since the school determined the student wasn’t aware of the bribery, and Yale University has rescinded the offer of admission to the one student involved in the scandal. (It’s not clear what actions other colleges and universities named in the federal indictments have taken.)

As for the part of the claim that says those who “break the law to enter the country” get “free college,” that’s even more misleading.

In six states, immigrants in the country illegally are barred from having access to in-state tuition, according to data compiled in a recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 22 states and the District of Columbia, immigrants in the country illegally are allowed to pay in-state tuition rates, but in only 11 of those do they have access to financial aid.

Of those 11 states, only six offer programs that cover the full cost of tuition, or fill in the gap between what students can pay and the remainder of their tuition costs, regardless of legal status. Also, the eligibility requirements for those programs differ, but are generally based on merit, age, length of residency, income, or a combination of those things.

Here’s how the programs in those six states compare:

  • New York has the Excelsior Scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition at state community colleges and state colleges and universities for students who meet the financial-need requirements and plan to stay in the state for the same length of time that they participated in the program. In April, the Excelsior Scholarship was made available to immigrants in the country illegally.
  • California has the California College Promise Grant, which covers tuition at community colleges for students who maintain a 2.0 grade point average and meet the financial-need requirements.
  • Maryland has the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship, which covers tuition at community colleges for students who maintain a 2.5 GPA, have not already earned a degree, and meet the financial-need requirements. Immigrants who are in the country illegally, however, are not eligible for the state’s program that covers the cost of attending a four-year college.
  • Oregon has the Oregon Promise Grant, which covers tuition at community colleges for students who graduated from an Oregon high school with at least a 2.5 GPA and have lived in the state for at least a year.
  • Washington has the College Bound Scholarship, which is a need-based program that contributes to the cost of college tuition for students who apply no later than the eighth grade and graduate from high school with at least a 2.0 GPA.
  • Delaware has the SEED program, which covers tuition at the state’s community college (it has only one) for students who maintain a 2.5 GPA.

In addition, there are across the country some local “promise programs,” which are either privately or publicly funded tuition-assistance programs that cover the cost of college or career programs for some students. But most of them are not available to immigrants in the country illegally.

So, the amount that immigrants in the country illegally have to pay for college depends on the state or locality in which they live, and whether they meet the requirements of the specific scholarship or grant programs that are offered.

Even in the areas where unauthorized immigrants can access tuition assistance programs, those programs usually don’t allow students to go to any school they choose (most apply to community colleges) and they don’t ensure a complete free ride. According to the College Board, tuition and fees account for only 20 percent of the average budget for community college students and 40 percent of the average budget for in-state students living on campus at public four-year schools.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.


Investigations of College Admissions and Testing Bribery Scheme. United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts. Accessed 19 Apr 2019.

Kircher, Madison Malone. “College Admissions Scam Fallout: What Happened to Everyone in the Scandal.” New York Magazine. 15 Apr 2019.

Tuition Benefits for Immigrants. National Conference of State Legislatures. 16 Jan 2019.

Boggs, Bennett. “A Promise is a Promise: Free Tuition Programs and How They Work.” National Conference of State Legislatures. Mar 2019.

College Promise Programs in the United States. Penn Ahead — Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy. University of Pennsylvania. Accessed 22 Apr 2019.

Average Estimated Undergraduate Budgets, 2018-19. College Board. Accessed 23 Apr 2019.

The post Meme Gets an ‘F’ on College Claims appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Our Sixth Straight Webby Award

The 2019 Webby Award for News & Politics website goes to … FactCheck.org. The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences announced all the winners April 23.

This is the sixth consecutive year — and 10th overall — that we have won the award voted on by a panel of judges. The Webbys, presented by the IADAS, have been honoring “excellence on the internet” since their inception in 1996.

Our fellow nominees in the News & Politics category were BuzzFeedNews.com, the Guardian.com, the Intercept, and the Washington Post, which won this year’s Webby People’s Voice Award voted on by the public. Still, we would like to express our appreciation to all of FactCheck.org’s readers who took the time to vote for us.

The 23rd Annual Webby Awards received 13,000 entries from all 50 U.S. states and more than 70 countries, and nearly 1 million internet users cast nearly 3 million votes in the Webby People’s Voice Awards. That makes this year’s competition “the biggest in our history,” the IADAS said.

Winners will be recognized at a ceremony in New York on May 13.

The post Our Sixth Straight Webby Award appeared first on FactCheck.org.