December 16th, 2011
03:51 AM ET

Truth Squad: Part of the CNN Republican debate fact-checking series

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.

Verdict: False.

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.

The statements:

"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."

The facts:

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.

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Filed under: Politics • Republican Party • U.S.
soundoff (236 Responses)
  1. Jellyfishdude

    You said; "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." This is totally wrong. Gingrich has said in previoius debates that Bill Clinton and himself have had to learn to cooperate to get things done. Without his approval, Bill Clinton couldn't sign bills. He's plain-spokenly acknowledge their mutually dependent relationship in the 90s.

    December 16, 2011 at 4:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Jake

      Yeah he might have said it in previous debates but not this one. And the newest debate is the one they are fact checking and basing their conclusions off of, not older debates.

      December 16, 2011 at 5:01 am | Report abuse |
    • That guy

      There never was a true surplus. It just happened that at the time of the supposed surplus SS was taking in more money than it ever had or ever will. If SS funds had gone into the mythical "lockbox" the numberswould have been different. Unfortuantely the only time our government has run a surplus since I was born only occured because they have no problem stealing from the future to pay for the present.

      December 16, 2011 at 5:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      @That guy: Social Security funds are not included in the budget numbers so you are wrong.

      The Social Security fund loans money at the going interest rate to the Federal government for use within the budget in years when there is a deficit, but the two budgets and funding streams are completely separate.

      Clinton had 4 years of surplus. Real verifiable surplus. Then Bush went on a dry drunk spending spree on behalf of the military industrial complex and big oil and blew the entire surplus plus trillions more.

      December 16, 2011 at 6:34 am | Report abuse |
    • dina

      It walked like a duck, it talked like a duck, it got paid 1.6M to do essentially nothing...

      December 16, 2011 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
    • That guy

      If you don't include SS taxes, which after being borrowed are included in the federal budget but should NOT be, the surplus would have only been 1.9 billion in 1999 and 86.4 billion in 2000. The total budget in 2000 was 1.8 Trillion dollars. That was an increase of 100 billion dollars from 1999. Technically it's a surplus, but it's only .0011 percent for 1999 and .048 percent for 2000, of the total budget. That means our surplus was less then one half of one tenth of a percent of our budget. If I have a hundred thousand to spend and I manage to still have 48 dollars at the end of the year have I really helped the situation? Come on Fred.

      December 16, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  2. InfluencePeddlingISLobbying

    Freddie Mac pays Gingrich to convince Republicans that government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae are a good idea. How is that not lobbying? This may be the only time in my life I quote Bachmann with approval, but "You don't need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence peddling with senior Republicans in Washington"

    December 16, 2011 at 4:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      You mean you don't believe Gingrich's wild tale about being paid $1.6 million to be a historian who only worked about 10 -20 hours per month?

      I am surprised Newt's nose didn't grow about a mile long with that whopper!

      December 16, 2011 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
  3. Richard

    Who is fact checking the Truth Squad? There appears to be some.inconsistencies.

    December 16, 2011 at 5:49 am | Report abuse |
    • ThinkingJim

      What are the inconsistencies you mention?

      December 16, 2011 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. TBaggersSuk

    Would the Gop lie and mislead? Just which one of these clowns do you teabaggers think stands a chance of winning the presidency? The Gop won a landslide majority in the house in 2010. Since then their approval is at 8%. Thanks Teabaggers for giving this next election to Obama and the Dems. Starting with Scott Walker in a few weeks...RIP GOP...

    December 16, 2011 at 5:50 am | Report abuse |
  5. John

    So all of this Is saying Is these Republican Candidates know how to LIE and Twist there word around to make someone to look bad. So what new with that , That what Republican do and Start WARS.

    December 16, 2011 at 5:50 am | Report abuse |
  6. Be Fair

    Where is the "truth squad" after each time Obozo opens his mouth?

    December 16, 2011 at 5:52 am | Report abuse |
    • TBaggersSuk

      What are some of his lies? Be specific...

      December 16, 2011 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tom

    So, in a nutshell, Bachmann is crazy?

    That's what I thought.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. rex edie

    i like this form of reporting ..... at least you get to read the information being questioned.... and hear both sides of the commentary.... that's reporting..... give the reader the actual information in question ..... so logic can prevail ....

    thanx

    December 16, 2011 at 6:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. *Gray* Lady

    That's only the truth as *YOU* see it. Truth that works for one person may not work for the other.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      Sounds like Rove having his own math and predicting enormous Republican gains .... just before enormous Republican loses.

      Thanks for the morning laugh!!!

      December 16, 2011 at 6:38 am | Report abuse |
    • john

      that makes no sense. the truth is the truth. All the politicians bend their words, including republicans and democrats.

      December 16, 2011 at 6:38 am | Report abuse |
    • steve harnack

      Now that is truly the Fox Network definition of truth. I could laugh easier if so many people didn't think that way.

      December 16, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  10. *Gray* Lady

    Shades of gray, rather.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. rs1201

    CNN...try behaving as a real news organization instead of a stooge for the DNC. You're supposed to report the news in an impartial manner. Stop trying to make the Republican candidates look like liars and totally inept. Why don't you focus a bit on the current President. Focus on the fact that he's planning 17 day Hawaiian vacation with 250 to 500 people all at taxpayers' expense. Do that...I think the American People would like to know how their taxes are being used by the obamas.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      If you really really want to scold the persons 100% responsible for "trying to make the Republican candidates look like liars and totally inept", you need to get in touch with ...

      ... the Republican candidates.

      December 16, 2011 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      Oh – and another fact check ...

      Obama has taken a tiny fraction of the vacations, paid for by taxpayers, by either Reagan or Bush Jr. When a president travels (any president) a full staff must go along to assure the nation's business can be done completely and effectively at all times. Reagan and Bush took as many staffers as Obama does.

      Also – Obama also canceled the majority of his vacation and remained in DC to deal with the corrupt and inept House that refuses to halt a tax increase on the middle class unless they get paid their 40 pieces of silver for the ultra wealthy.

      Stop whining about the fact that Obama does his job 24/7. It is unbecoming

      December 16, 2011 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
  12. john

    All politicians lie in some manner, that's the sad part. This article was about getting facts straight about last nights debate. What I want to see is more debates from everyone, including obama. With the lack of leadership across the board, I want everyone in a political office having debates because all their jobs are at stake.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |
    • That guy

      Not to be "that guy", but Ron Paul doesn't lie. Sometimes people don't like the truth, but he doesn't lie when it comes to politics. I doubt he lies much at all, but I don't know much about his personal life yet so I won't say never.

      December 16, 2011 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. David

    Your numbers are wrong on question 1. The national debt never went down between 1995 and 2001, it just looked like a surplus because of the accounting trick with social security. Gingrich didn't just say something false - with regard to paying down the debt, he lied completely and utterly. Dishonesty of this magnitude is not acceptable in a presidential candidate.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:41 am | Report abuse |
  14. SS Fraud

    @That Guy. Well said. You left out the part about the Pemtagon robbing SS to fund wars and occupations. (3/4ths of what we term 'national defense' is spent on military entytlement programs) That, and the fact that millions defraud Social Security. Proof? Thousands of lawyers who make their living by sueing the Social Security Admin. on behalf of lazy bums claiming early disability. As seen advertised daily on TV. The CIA needs to be looking into this, and they are.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. Big Game James

    Honestly, who is really voting Republican? The Tea Party infiltrated and gutted your party and the Tea Party is nothing more than angry parents at a PTA meeting. Weak lineup for the GOP continues to get weaker. Gingrich WAS instumental during the surplus era, though. He was in awe of Bubba!

    December 16, 2011 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
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