Truth Squad: Gingrich's claim on surplus off base
The statement: "I balanced the budget for four straight years, paid off $405 billion in debt, pretty conservative." Newt Gingrich, during Thursday night's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa.
The facts: Newt Gingrich served as speaker of the House from January 4, 1995 to January 3, 1999. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the nation ran a deficit in 1995 (-$164 billion), 1996 (-$107.4 billion) and 1997 (-$21.9 billion). It ran a surplus in 1998 ($69.3 billion) and 1999 ($125.6 billion).
If you don't count the deficit during his first year as speaker, when the budget was already set, and do count the surplus during the year after he stepped down, he can claim credit for a surplus in only two of four years. Those surpluses total $194.9 billion, which is less than half the $405 billion he says he paid off.
If you confine the view to the time he spent in office, Gingrich's assertion looks worse. The national debt on the day Gingrich was sworn in as speaker was $4.8 trillion. Four years later, it was $5.6 trillion, an increased debt of $800 billion, according to the U.S. Treasury website.
Also, Gingrich fails to acknowledge that the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton would take some credit for putting in place policies that resulted in the four consecutive years of surplus that occurred from 1998-2001.
Truth Squad: Is Iran "a few months" away from a nuclear weapon?
When Rep. Michele Bachmann said that a report by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency had described Iran as poised to join the world's elite club of nuclear powers, during Thursday's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas responded immediately that she was mistaken.
"We have an IAEA report that just recently came out that said, literally, Iran is within just months of being able to obtain that weapon." - Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota
"There is no U.N. report that said that. It's totally wrong what you just said. That is not true. They produced the information that led you to believe that, but they have no evidence." - Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas
The facts: The IAEA Board of Governors released a 14-page report on November 8 that concluded that it had "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured program, and that some activities may still be ongoing."
The verdict: False. The IAEA report does not say that Iran is within months of being able to obtain a nuclear weapon. So Bachmann is wrong. But the report does cite "credible" information that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons, so Paul's blanket denial that "they have no evidence" may also be wrong, depending on whether he is referring to evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon or evidence that such a weapon could be ready within months.
Truth Squad: Did Bachmann prove Gingrich lobbied for Freddie Mac?
During Thursday night's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa, a moderator asked U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to produce hard evidence that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had peddled his influence with congressional Republicans on behalf of mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
Bachmann, who is among conservatives who say Freddie Mac and fellow federally backed mortgage group Fannie Mae had a role in the collapse of the U.S. housing market, has criticized Gingrich for his post-Congress work as a consultant for Freddie Mac and accused him of lobbying senior Republicans on Freddie Mac's behalf.
Bachmann was asked: "Given (Gingrich's) denial over time ... that he's ever lobbied, what is your evidence - hard evidence - that he engaged in influence peddling?"
The statement: "It's the fact that we know that he cashed paychecks from Freddie Mac. That is the best evidence that you can have: over $1.6 million. ... The evidence is that Speaker Gingrich took $1.6 million. You don't need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, D.C., to get them to do your bidding."
CNN reported in November that the consulting company that Gingrich started after he left Congress, the Gingrich Group, was paid between $1.6 million and $1.8 million for work done with Freddie Mac.
Gingrich has repeatedly said he and his firm consulted Freddie Mac and other groups, but did not lobby for anyone.
"Gingrich made a decision after resigning (from the House) that he would never be lobbyist so that nobody would ever question the genuine nature of his advice and perspectives," the Gingrich campaign website says, adding that Freddie Mac was one of many Gingrich Group clients, and that its fees were comparable to that of many consulting firms.
Freddie Mac has backed Gingrich's assertion, telling CNN last month that he was a consultant, and not a lobbyist.
A former official who worked for Freddie Mac during Gingrich's two stints with the group - 1999-2002 and 2006-2008 - told CNN that Gingrich's work included consulting about Freddie's efforts to become more transparent about "risk and capital management" procedures, risk information disclosure, and how those efforts would be received in Congress, specifically by Republicans.
In Gingrich's first turn, Freddie Mac worked with him on the group's desire to "bond" with Bush administration officials on the idea of creating a "home ownership society" - getting more Latinos and other minorities into home ownership, the source said. It's not clear how Gingrich worked with Freddie Mac on this.
In the second stint, Freddie Mac officials tried to get Gingrich, known for intricate policy ideas, to write "white papers" on how good the "model" was for government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie because free-market Republicans didn't like that model, the official said. Freddie Mac officials were frustrated with Gingrich, the source said, because they had a hard time getting him to write anything.
The verdict: Misleading. While Freddie Mac was a Gingrich Group client, Bachmann did not offer hard evidence that Gingrich lobbied for Freddie Mac.