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Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu June 30, 2016

Pants on Fire: Trump lawyer tweets meme accusing Clinton of murder

Donald Trump’s lawyer accused Hillary Clinton of incompetence, treason, breaking public disclosure law and murder.

A week after his client delivered a major speech knocking Hillary Clinton, Trump Organization executive vice president and special counsel Michael Cohen used his client’s preferred social media platform, Twitter, to paint "Crooked Hillary" as a disaster for national security.

Cohen told us he didn’t create the meme and pointed out it’s been widely shared on social media. But virality and retweets don’t make a claim accurate, and this meme distorts the facts.

Each claim is either misleading or outrageously wrong. We'll explain why. 

‘$6 billion lost at the State Department’

This echoes reports from many conservative pundits and outlets (and some nonpartisan news sites) about a State Department Inspector General alert in March 2014.

The alert warned that files for over $6 billion worth of contracts from 2008 to 2014 — spanning the entirety of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 —  "were incomplete or could not be located at all."

A spokesman for the Office of the Inspector General told PolitiFact the alert speaks for itself, but many seemed to misinterpret what it actually said. The confusion prompted Inspector General Steve Linick to pen a clarification in the Washington Post.

"Some have concluded based on this that $6 billion is missing. The alert, however, did not draw that conclusion," he wrote. "Instead, it found that the failure to adequately maintain contract files — documents necessary to ensure the full accounting of U.S. tax dollars — ‘creates significant financial risk and demonstrates a lack of internal control over the Department’s contract actions.’ "

In other words, the State Department was terrible at paperwork. The $6 billion figure refers to the total amount affected by file mismanagement. It’s akin to spending $20 on lunch and losing or not asking for a receipt. Documentation over where that $20 went was lost, but not the $20 itself.

So the State Department under Clinton, who wasn’t mentioned in the alert, may have been financially disorganized, but it didn’t "lose" $6 billion.

‘Sold uranium to the Russia through my faux charity’

Trump offered a more nuanced (but still Mostly False) version of this claim: "Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20 percent of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation."

The State Department didn’t unilaterally greenlight Russia’s purchase of a company with U.S. uranium assets. It was one of nine government agencies, along with federal and state nuclear regulators, that approved the deal. Moreover, there is no evidence that Clinton personally advocated for approval.

Nine people related to the company did give to the Clinton Foundation at some point in time, but most of their donations occurred before the Russian deal.

Cohen’s meme is a more outlandish. Given the available evidence, the most that can be said is the State Department had a hand in the approval process, and Clinton Foundation donors were linked to the company Russia purchased. That may look fishy, but there’s no proof of quid pro quo.

‘Illegally deleted public records’

This part of the meme refers to Clinton’s use of a private email server. While Clinton’s actions in deleting some 31,000 emails certainly broached the rules of record keeping, the meme’s use of the word "illegally" is premature.

Before she turned over the server to the State Department, she and her staff deleted half of all the emails without government review, saying they were personal correspondence. Her decision is the subject of FBI scrutiny.

But was this illegal? It depends, according to Douglas Cox, a law professor at City University of New York who studies records preservation.

"If Clinton destroyed work emails knowing they should have been kept and was intentionally trying to remove them from the public record, then yes, that is illegal and it is a crime," he said. "In the end, I think there is not enough public information available to know whether Clinton did ‘illegally’ destroy public records."

Featured Fact-check

Clinton’s overall defense that her email practices were "allowed" is False.

"The whole situation also again raises questions about the process by which Clinton decided what was, and was not, a federal record, a process she enshrouded in a black box of attorney-client privilege when she involved her personal attorneys, and a process she made final when she destroyed anything they determined was ‘personal,’" Cox said.

Ultimately, Clinton hasn’t been charged with any crime at the time of Cohen’s tweet.

‘Murdered an ambassador’

Rhetoric about the Benghazi attacks seldom matches up with reality, and this part of Cohen’s claim is no different.

The day of Cohen’s tweet, the Republican-led House Benghazi Committee released its findings after a two-year investigation. The partisan 800-page report concluded that a series of missed cues, intergovernmental miscommunication, inadequate security and general incompetence delayed attempts to rescue Americans in Benghazi. It also accused the Obama administration of misleading the public to save political face in the aftermath of the attacks.

But neither the report, nor the seven other probes before it, held Clinton specifically responsible for the events that led up to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, let alone charge her with murder. Here’s an exchange between the chair of the Benghazi committee, South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, and a reporter that demonstrates his thinking on the matter:

Reporter: "There are bumper stickers and T-shirts all over this country that say, ‘Hillary Clinton lied, people died.’ ...Is that true?"

Gowdy: "You don’t see that T-shirt on me, and you’ve never seen that bumper sticker on any of my vehicles, and you’ve never heard me comment on that."

To review, the ambassador died during attacks at the U.S. compound in Benghazi, which began suddenly on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2012. Sean Smith, a State Department foreign service officer, was found dead within an hour and Stevens was missing and pronounced dead from smoke inhalation later that night.

Clinton, as we have previously reported, learned of the attacks in real time and said she worked late into the night. According to her memoir Hard Choices, she called White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, CIA Director David Petraeus and the president of Libya; directed State Department officials to secure other American facilities in Libya; convened a meeting of department leaders, among other actions.

But was there something she could have done that day to prevent Stevens’ death? Barring conspiracy theorists, no one seems to think so, including the Benghazi committee.

"We now know neither one of these brave men could have been saved," Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., said in a video explaining the committee’s findings.

"I do not blame Hillary Clinton or (Defense Secretary) Leon Panetta," Ann Stevens, the ambassador’s sister who serves as the spokesperson for the family, told the New Yorker. "I don’t see any usefulness in continuing to criticize her. It is very unjust."

It’s one thing to say Clinton and other top government officials should shoulder some responsibility for the institutional failure that contributed to the inadequate response to the Benghazi attacks, but it’s ridiculous to accuse Clinton of murder.

Our ruling

Cohen tweeted a meme that says Clinton "presided over $6 billion lost at the State Department, sold uranium to the Russians through (her) faux charity, illegally deleted public records, and murdered an ambassador."

There are significant problems with each part of the post.

During Clinton’s tenure at as secretary of state, the department was reprimanded for shoddy paperwork affecting $6 billion worth of contracts, not "losing" the money.

The Clinton Foundation did not sell uranium to the Russians. Clinton’s State Department approved Russia’s purchase of a company with uranium assets in the United States but it was one of 11 organizations to do so. There’s no evidence that she personally advocated for the deal, nor is there evidence that people related to the company who donated to the Clinton Foundation did so on a quid pro quo basis.

Clinton deleted over 30,000 emails off her private email server without government review. Experts say that’s certainly skirting the rules and her email server in general was not allowed. But to say that it was "illegal" takes it too far, at least for now.

Finally, terrorists murdered the U.S. ambassador. None of the seven probes into the Benghazi attacks held Clinton personally responsible for the ambassador’s death, let alone charge her with murder. This claim is outrageous.

For the post's egregious claims, we rate it Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Twitter, Michael Cohen, June 28, 2016

State Department Office of the Inspector General, Management Alert, March 20, 2014

Washington Post, "About the State Dept.’s ‘missing’ $6 billion," April 13, 2014

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump inaccurately suggests Clinton got paid to approve Russia uranium deal," June 30, 2016

PolitiFact, "Hillary Clinton spins on ‘Meet the Press,’ says she put out all her emails," April 3, 2016

PolitIFact, "What we know about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails," May 12, 2016

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Hillary Clinton's claim that her email practices were 'allowed'," May 31, 2016

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Benghazi: The rhetoric hasn't matched up with reality," May 16, 2014

U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi, "Select Committee on Benghazi Releases Proposed Report," June 28, 2016

PolitiFact, "Clinton: 7 Benghazi probes so far," Oct. 12, 2015

C-SPAN, "House Select Committee on Benghazi Report," June 28, 2016

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton 'slept' through Benghazi attack," June 23, 2016

YouTube, "Rep. Roskam Unveils the Select Committee's #BenghaziReport," June 28, 2016

New Yorker, "Chris Stevens's Family: Don't Balme Hillary Clinton for Benghazi," June 28, 2016

Email interview with Michael Cohen, special counsel to Donald Trump, June 29, 2016

Interview with Doug Welty, State Department Office of the Inspector General spokesman, June 29, 2016

Email interview with Doug Cox, law professor at City University of New York, June 30, 2016

Email interview with Josh Schwerin, spokesperson for Hillary Clinton, June 30, 2016

Email interview with Matt Wolking, spokesperson for the House Benghazi Committee, June 30, 2016

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Pants on Fire: Trump lawyer tweets meme accusing Clinton of murder

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