True or False?
Fact-Checking the Sunday Shows: February 28
Did Trump University really receive an A rating from the Better Business Bureau? And did Bernie Sanders support the 1994 crime bill because of an assault weapons ban?
By Jon Greenberg and Linda Qiu
After months of talk about a long, drawn-out primary season, recent results have pundits changing their tune. The delegate math is starting to work in the favor of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, they say.
We at PunditFact will stay out of all that.
But with Trump now clearly established as the frontrunner in polls and delegate count, the attacks from other Republicans are beginning to intensify.
One such charge centers around a former Trump business venture called Trump University.
It wasn’t a real university, and Trump had to change its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Institute. The institute was largely a seminar program that promised to teach its students the real estate secrets that turned Trump says turned him into a billionaire. With some participants paying as much as $35,000, the project drew investigations and lawsuits in at least three states.
The university registered as a private company in New York in October 2004 and largely shut down by 2011.
On Meet the Press, NBC’s Chuck Todd raised issues with the university. But Trump defended the business, noting that nearly all the students thought it was “great.”
“They signed these documents saying, they rated the course, 98 percent approval rating and high marks,” Trump said on. And he added, “We have an A from the Better Business Bureau.”
What a difference a word can make. The university had an A.
We rate this claim False.
We went to the Better Business Bureau website and saw that as of today, the Trump Entrepreneur Institute has no rating. The website explained, “This business has no rating because BBB has information indicating it is out of business.”
Katherine Hutt, director of communications for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said that as a matter of policy, it doesn’t provide any ratings from previous years. But the organization issued a statement saying, “Over the years, the company’s BBB rating has fluctuated between an A+ and a D-.”
We don’t know when the bureau might have given Trump University a top grade, but there’s no shortage of news articles saying the Better Business Bureau gave the Trump program a D-minus rating in 2010.
The New York Daily News reported that “the Better Business Bureau in January slapped a D-minus rating on Trump U., a rating now under review after Trump U. objected. Trump Institute got an F in early 2009.”
CBS News said the same thing in an April 21, 2010, article.
And in May, 2011, The New York Times wrote, “The Better Business Bureau gave the school a D-minus for 2010, its second-lowest grade, after receiving 23 complaints.”
The Washington Post had the same information in May 2011 when it reported that the New York state attorney general was investigating the Trump Entrepreneur Institute. The Attorney General’s Office did file charges but lost on the grounds that the statute of limitations had passed.
Sanders’s crime bill vote
Bernie Sanders also appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday to try to move past his landslide defeat to Hillary Clinton in South Carolina.
Sanders faced questions about his vote supporting the 1994 crime bill. Both he and Clinton have been criticized for their support of the legislation, which some say helped usher in the era of mass incarceration and decimate black communities. Sanders has pushed back, saying he only voted for the bill because of key safety provisions.
But that doesn’t add up, Todd said.
“You said you supported the House version of crime bill because it had an assault weapons ban in it. But that turned out not to be the case,” Todd said. “So why did you put out a statement that was misleading?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Sanders responded. “No, that’s not my understanding. My understanding is there is a ban on assault weapons in that bill.”
“It was not in the House bill that you voted. It was in a Senate bill, but not the House bill,” Todd countered.
“Hold it. To the best of my knowledge, there were two important provisions and that is the Violence Against Women Act,” Sanders said. “And my understanding is there is a ban on assault weapons.”
So who’s right here?
The answer is complicated.
Sanders’s claim rates Half True.
The crime bill underwent many iterations before it became law in August 1994. So it’s not entirely clear if Sanders and Todd are talking about the same version.
But here’s the bottom line: Sanders voted for versions of the bill that didn’t include the assault weapons ban—undercutting his core claim.
In 1991, as a member of the House, Sanders opposed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1991, an early version of the 1994 bill put forth by Jack Brooks, a Democrat from Texas and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Though the bill passed in the House, it ultimately failed in the Senate.
In October 1993, Brooks tried again and introduced the original Violent Crime and Control Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This version didn’t include an assault weapons ban or protections for women.
It passed in the House by a voice vote on Nov. 3, 1993, so it’s unclear whether Sanders voted in favor. We found no evidence Sanders opposed the bill, and in three roll call votes, Sanders, along with most Democrats, said "aye" to amendments that didn’t include a ban.
When the bill reached the Senate, it added provisions to ban assault weapons and protect women from crimes such as sexual assault and domestic violence. This version passed in the Senate and returned to the House.
At that point, two things happened.
First, Sanders criticized the crime bill for its lack of attention to root causes. "We can either educate or electrocute. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails. Mr. Speaker, let us create a society of hope and compassion, not one of hate and vengeance," he said on the House floor on April 13.
Second, Brooks amended the bill again, this time stripping the legislation of the assault weapons ban but keeping the violence against women provisions.
Sanders voted for the bill without the gun ban.
In place of the ban, Brooks offered to create a commission to “examine the extent to which assault weapons and high power firearms have contributed to violence and murder in the United States.”
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