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Fact-checking three TV ads in North Carolina’s Republican Senate primary

By Daniel Dale, CNN

A television attack ad from a prominent candidate in North Carolina’s competitive Republican primary for the US Senate, former state governor Pat McCrory, tries to make another top candidate, Rep. Ted Budd, sound like a defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But the McCrory ad is misleading. It cuts out quotes in which Budd sharply criticized Putin.

A television ad from a conservative group, meanwhile, leaves out key context from an attack on McCrory’s immigration record. And a television ad from Budd’s campaign features Budd denouncing President Joe Biden over immigration and other subjects — but uses border footage from Donald Trump’s presidency to illustrate his point.

Here’s a look at all three ads.

McCrory ad leaves out Budd quotes about Putin

An ad from McCrory’s campaign portrays Budd as a supporter of Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But it achieves this effect by leaving out critical comments from Budd.

McCrory begins the ad by saying, “Ukrainians bled and died.” The ad then cuts to Budd saying of Putin: “He’s a very intelligent actor.” McCrory then says, “Congressman Budd excused their killer.” The ad then cuts back to Budd saying of Putin, “There are strategic reasons why he would want to protect his southern and western flank. We understand that.”

Facts First: The McCrory ad misleadingly omits comments in which Budd sharply criticized Putin. While Budd did call Putin “a very intelligent actor,” Budd called Putin “evil” and “an international thug” in the same interview. And while Budd did say in another interview that “we understand” that there are “strategic reasons” why Putin would want to protect his flanks, Budd said in the sentences immediately following: “But still, I mean, this is evil. This is a sovereign nation in the Ukraine, and we stand with the Ukraine people.”

Club for Growth Action, a Super PAC that supports Budd, has released its own ad calling the McCrory ad “a low-down, dirty hit job” and playing some of the Budd comments the McCrory ad left out. Budd campaign senior adviser Jonathan Felts told CNN in an email on Friday that McCrory “is running a distorted misinformation campaign that multiple news outlets have labeled false and misleading.”

Here’s the full context of Budd’s comments about Putin.

“A very intelligent actor”

In late February, a reporter for Raleigh-based television station WNCN (CBS 17) asked Budd if he agreed with Trump’s claim that Putin is “pretty smart.” (Trump said at a February fundraiser, with Budd in attendance, that Putin is pretty smart for “taking over a country,” Ukraine, for “$2 worth of sanctions.”)

Here’s how Budd responded: “Well, you have to look at it in two ways. One of it is good and bad — and I would say Putin is evil. But that doesn’t mean he’s not smart. He’s a very intelligent actor, although I would say he’s been quite erratic in this approach to the Ukraine.”

Budd added, “It was very predictable what he would do. But at the same time, Putin is evil. He’s been — he’s an international thug. But he is intelligent, so we have to treat him as such.”

The McCrory ad only quoted the “he’s a very intelligent actor” part of these comments. That line alone doesn’t come close to accurately capturing Budd’s overall message about Putin or the invasion of Ukraine.

“Strategic reasons”

In an interview on Fox News in late February, Budd said this:

“Putin is trying to reverse history and undo what happened in 1991. We should have known this all along. At his State of the Union in 2005, he essentially said that it was — he considered it (Ukraine) to be part of larger Russia. But he’s essentially trying to build the glory of Russia. There are strategic reasons why he would want to protect his southern and western flank, because of the flatlands of Russia. We understand that. But still, I mean, this is evil. This is a sovereign nation in the Ukraine, and we stand with the Ukraine people.”

Again, it’s misleading to frame Budd as a Putin-excuser by using a small part of an interview in which Budd also called Putin’s actions “evil” and expressed support for Ukraine.

This McCrory ad has previously been fact-checked by PolitiFact and A McCrory campaign adviser didn’t respond to a CNN request for comment.

Super PAC ad leaves out context about McCrory and driver’s licenses

An ad from a Super PAC called Conservative Outsider PAC depicts McCrory as soft on illegal immigration, calling McCrory “just too liberal.” One of the ad’s claims is that “McCrory’s administration even gave driver’s licenses to illegals.”

Facts First: This claim about McCrory and driver’s licenses omits important context. McCrory’s gubernatorial administration only gave driver’s licenses to a certain group of undocumented immigrants — “Dreamers” who were enrolled in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — and only did so after the office of the state’s Democratic attorney general Roy Cooper, who is now the governor, issued an opinion saying that state law “requires” the state to grant licenses to DACA enrollees. McCrory’s administration did not give driver’s licenses to the broader group of undocumented immigrants in North Carolina.

The “Dreamers” are people who came to the US illegally as children. DACA, a program for Dreamers who meet specific criteria, does not grant enrollees official “legal status” in the US, but it does temporarily shield them from deportation and authorize them to work.

McCrory became governor in 2013, the year after then-President Barack Obama created DACA. After Cooper’s office issued its opinion that the state was obligated to grant licenses to DACA enrollees, McCrory’s administration initially announced that enrollees would be given licenses with a special pink stripe at the top. The administration then abandoned the pink-stripe plan amid criticism — instead issuing DACA enrollees licenses that said, “LIMITED TERM” and “LEGAL PRESENCE NO LAWFUL STATUS.”

McCrory made clear in 2013 that he was following the attorney general’s declaration by issuing licenses to DACA enrollees, initially saying the pink-striped licenses were a “very sound resolution based upon” decisions from the federal government and attorney general. He then supported the special licenses without the pink stripe. But he told PolitiFact in 2019, “We were following the law reluctantly.”

CNN was unable to reach Conservative Outsider PAC for comment on Monday.

Budd ad uses video from Trump era to depict Biden border policies

An ad from the Budd campaign uses a video from Trump’s presidency to illustrate its attack on Biden’s immigration policies.

The ad, which touts Trump’s endorsement of Budd, begins with grainy black-and-white video of a migrant jumping to the ground from a border barrier. More than a dozen other migrants are seen already on the ground past the barrier.

As the ad shows this footage, the ad’s narrator says, “Open borders.” As the screen flashes to side-by-side footage of a shooting outside a convenience store and of a woman on a street speaking to someone in a vehicle, the narrator continues: “Crime. Drugs.” Then, as the screen shows a video clip of Biden, the narrator says, “The worst president ever.”

Facts First: The footage of the migrant jumping to the ground from a border barrier is from 2019, two years into Trump’s presidency, not from the Biden era.

US borders have never actually been “open” under Biden, though “open borders” is a standard piece of Republican rhetoric. In this article, we’ll focus on the Budd campaign’s use of the old video.

The video was posted on January 23, 2019, by the Twitter account for the Arizona arm of US Customs and Border Protection. The account said that two days prior in Border Patrol’s Yuma sector, “Agents apprehended a group of 110+ Central Americans who illegally scaled the wall with the assistance of a smuggler with a ladder.”

The Arizona Republic reported at the time: “CBP said Border Patrol agents responded immediately to the breach. Once across the border, migrants turned themselves in for processing.”

The barrier shown in the video was not “Trump’s wall”; taller barriers were constructed in the Yuma area later in Trump’s tenure. Still, the Budd ad promotes his endorsement from Trump while using Trump-era footage to bash Biden.

The Budd campaign stood by the use of the footage. In an email comment on Friday, which was laced with humor, Felts, the campaign senior adviser, said that footage from the border “disaster” of the Biden era could “terrify” families trying to relax in front of the TV after dinner, so the campaign used tamer 2019 footage “even though we knew some lame-stream-media types would quibble about it.”

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