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Fact Check: Fiorina's HP Record; Trump's Bankruptcies; Vaccines And Autism

Republican presidential hopefuls, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and real-estate mogul Donald Trump talk about childhood vaccines during the second Republican presidential debate.
Frederic J. Brown
AFP/Getty Images
Republican presidential hopefuls, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and real-estate mogul Donald Trump talk about childhood vaccines during the second Republican presidential debate.

At the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., would-be heirs to Reagan tried to land some punches last night on Republican front-runner Donald Trump. It was the second prime-time debate for the GOP field.

We want to cut through the spin with a new feature we're calling "Break It Down."

Break It Down is going to be a regular part of our campaign coverage. We're going to try some new things. It might sound a little different from time to time. But our goal is to zoom in on what the candidates are saying, and give you the factual breakdown you need to make a sound judgment.

Claim 1 — Trump: Fiorina's management of HP "led to the destruction of the company"

There were a lot of sparks between the two CEOs on stage — Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump. Trump went after Fiorina's record as a business executive, especially the five years she spent as head of Hewlett-Packard about a decade ago:

"Today, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, they fired another 25- or 30,000 people, saying we still haven't recovered from the catastrophe. When Carly says the revenues went up, that's because she bought Compaq, it was a terrible deal, and it really led to the destruction of the company. Now one other company before that was Lucent. Carly was at Lucent before that. And Lucent turned out to be a catastrophe also. So I'll only say this — she can't run any of my companies."

Fiorina's track record at HP was certainly controversial. The company cut about 30,000 jobs during her tenure, and when Fiorina herself was fired in 2005, she got a severance package worth more than $20 million.

The merger with Compaq also put her at odds with some people at HP, including the son of the founder, Walter Hewlett. In her defense, Fiorina notes that her tenure was a wrenching time for the whole industry — the tech bubble had just burst, and while HP continues to struggle, many other iconic companies from that period went out of business altogether.

As Fiorina noted during the debate, she's won the endorsement of a former HP board member, who says they were wrong to get rid of her.

Claim 2 — Fiorina: Trump was "forced to file for bankruptcy ... four times"

Fiorina gave as good as she got last night, taking direct aim at Trump's own business record:

"There are a lot of us Americans who believe that we're going to have trouble someday paying back the interest on our debt. Because politicians have run up mountains of debt using other people's money. That is, in fact, precisely the way you ran your casinos. You ran up mountains of debt, as well as losses, using other people's money, and you were forced to file for bankruptcy not once, not twice — four times."

Trump protested during that charge, saying he never filed for bankruptcy. He means he never filed for personal bankruptcy. But Fiorina is correct when she says Trump corporationsturned to bankruptcy court four different times to reorganize their debts.

Trump has defended that as perfectly legal under the bankruptcy code — and it is. Most of the bankruptcies were tied to Trump casinos in Atlantic City. The debts were restructured, and Trump's ownership stake was whittled down.

Like Fiorina, he insists context is important, saying just about every casino operator in Atlantic City has struggled and that the bankruptcies represent a small fraction of the many business deals he's done.

Claim 3 — Trump: Vaccines could lead to autism

Trump has touted his success as a businessman as his chief qualification for the Oval Office. But he also offered up some medicalopinions last night, particularly on the question of vaccines.

Trump was asked Wednesday night about having previously raised the notion that childhood vaccines could cause autism. That's a long-discredited theory, but he again left open the possibility that they do:

"You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it is meant for a horse, not for a child, and we had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, 2-years-old, beautiful child went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic."

Trump was quickly set straight by his fellow candidate Ben Carson, who's a retired pediatric neurosurgeon:

"We have extremely well-documented proof that there's no autism associated with vaccinations."

Trump said all he's really advocating is that vaccines be spaced out over a longer period of time, though the American Academy of Pediatrics says there's no evidence that's necessary.

Claim 4 — Bush: Trump used influence to get casinos in Florida

Jeb Bush tried to turn the tables on Trump when it came to special interests. Bush was asked about Trump's criticism that the money he raised for his campaign makes Bush a " puppet to his donors." Here's what Bush said:

"The one guy that had some special interests that I know of, that tried to get me to change my views on something, that was generous and gave me money, was Donald Trump. He wanted casino gambling in Florida."

Trump responded, "totally false" and "I promise if I wanted it I would have gotten it."

Trump did work with the Seminole tribe in Florida to operate a casino on Indian land in the late 1990s. Around the same time, he was raising money for Gov. Bush and the Florida GOP (Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts reportedly gave $50,000 to the Republican Party of Florida while the party supported Bush's gubernatorial campaign). But, according to Bloomberg, Trump pulled the plug on that effort once Bush became governor and made his opposition clear.

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Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.