Trump can’t prove claim that Cruz was behind nude wife ad

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Says Ted Cruz distributed the ad showing a nude Melania Trump on a rug.

— Donald Trump on Tuesday, March 29th, 2016, in an interview on CNN

Call it the war over the wives.

An ad suggesting that Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, might not be modest enough to be first lady started a series of nasty exchanges between Trump and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz that have been the talk of the campaign for more than a week.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper grilled Trump about the ad during a March 29 interview in Wisconsin, questioning Trump about his accusation, made in a March 22 tweet, that Cruz was responsible for the picture.

“I did not start this,” Trump told Cooper seven days after the tweet. “He sent out a picture and he knew very well it was a picture … “

“He didn’t send out a picture,” Cooper interrupted. “It was an anti-Trump super PAC.”

When Cooper asked Trump whether he had any proof that Cruz was behind the ad, Trump said: “No. Everybody knows he sent it out. He knew the people in the super PAC. He knew.”

Trump added: “I didn’t send the photo to everybody in the state of Utah. He did. It was his people, who were his friends.”

For this fact check, we’ll look at whether Trump is correct that Cruz distributed this Facebook ad containing a nude photograph of Trump’s wife.

Federal law says political ads must clearly identify their source, and this one lists the source as a political action committee called Make America Awesome. Such groups are called super PACs because they can spend limitless amounts of money advocating for or against a candidate or a point of view.

Super PACs have one major restriction: They can’t coordinate their efforts with a candidate’s official campaign, which is restricted in its spending.

If Cruz did arrange for the ad under the auspices of the super PAC, it would be a serious violation of federal law.

The super PAC says …

“The Cruz campaign had nothing to do with this ad whatsoever,” said Republican strategist Liz Mair, who is behind the super PAC.

Make America Awesome, based in Virginia, was founded in December and reports $20,752 in contributions through February, with most of the money that it spent going to small purchases of airtime in nine states, according to the Federal Election Commission website.

There’s no evidence that the PAC is a front for the Cruz campaign.

When we checked the PAC’s YouTube page, we found four commercials, only two of which are the standard length for broadcast. The Jan. 20 “Buyer Beware” commercial, obviously made on a shoestring budget, includes a lighthearted rundown of nine Republican presidential candidates as breakfast cereals.

In the ad, the shopper buys the Trump cereal, which featured a voucher inside to attack the liberal establishment, and ends up regretting the purchase.

Mormon women targeted

“The only ads we’ve run in favor of any candidate are the three Facebook ads we ran targeting Mormons in Utah and Arizona, of which the Melania one was one,” Mair wrote in an email.

The Melania ad, she wrote, “was targeted only to Mormon women of (if I recall correctly) ages 45-65 living in Utah and Arizona who self-identified as moderate, conservative or very conservative.

“The shot we used was chosen because of the presence of handcuffs, which was particularly bothersome to the target audience,” Mair said. “However, there are definitely racier shots of her out there that would no doubt be considered more scandalous by a lot of voters across the entire political spectrum.”

Although the ads urge voters to support the Texas senator, he was only one of two viable alternatives to Trump currently on the ballot in those states.

Picture purchased?

In a March 27 interview with ABC News, Trump claimed Cruz or his campaign bought the rights to the Melania photo and gave it to the super PAC.

There’s no evidence that Cruz, the campaign or Mair’s group purchased rights to the photo, taken when she was Trump’s girlfriend.

“The image was, at the time we concepted out and then created the ad, already republished all over the Internet at numerous sites,” Mair told us in an email.

The photographer who took the image for the 2000 photo spread in British GQ, Antoine Verglas, told our friends at that nobody contacted him to buy rights to the picture.

“As for Cruz himself,” Mair said, “I think I’ve met him at gatherings attended by many people maybe once or twice in my life (and it will have been some time ago), and I have never spoken to him privately.”

We contacted the Trump campaign but didn’t get a response.

Our ruling

Trump said Cruz was responsible for the racy ad questioning whether people wanted Melania Trump to be first lady.

One of the tenants of PolitiFact is that the person making the claim is responsible for substantiating it.

Trump said on CNN that he has no real proof.

And all the evidence we found points to the ad being the work of a political action committee whose goal has been to block Trump’s nomination. There’s no proof of Cruz working with that committee, which would be illegal.

We rate Trump’s claim as False.