AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s false account of Ukraine episode
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump gave a false account Wednesday of some of the circumstances that got him impeached.
As the Senate impeachment trial wrestled with the fate of his presidency, Trump offered distorted statements about how the episode developed. He claimed Ukraine got U.S. military aid early, when the package of assistance at the heart of the impeachment case was conspicuously late.
In a claim easily refuted by the calendar, but often repeated by him nonetheless, Trump said he only released a rough transcript of his phone call with Ukraine’s president because a Democrat had misstated the content of the call. In fact, Trump released it before that Democrat gave his account of the call.
The White House, as an institution, joined in the distortion, contending Trump never pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation during their phone conversation. Trump actually devoted much of the call to pressing for such a probe, and witnesses testified he exerted pressure in other ways for such a probe to be declared publicly.
A look at some of Trump’s claims from the economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, and statements by others in the matter:
IMPEACHMENT and UKRAINE
TRUMP, on military aid to Ukraine: “Remember this, they got their money and they got it early.” — interview Wednesday with Fox Business Network.
TRUMP: “They got their money long before schedule.” — news conference.
THE FACTS: They got the money months late.
Congress approved nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in the early months of 2019. U.S. officials involved with the aid learned in the summer that Trump had ordered the assistance to held back, as he pressed Ukraine to announce an investigation of Democrats.
It was released Sept. 11, only after a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine had surfaced and a few days after Democrats in Congress opened the investigation.
Previous rounds of assistance were not similarly disrupted.
TRUMP, on Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment manager for the Senate trial: “I’d watch his lies. I watch where they’ve actually played a rerun, which they shouldn’t even do, it was so bad, where he goes before Congress, and he makes a statement that I made, and it was a total fraud. I never made it. That’s why I released the conversation, because if I didn’t release it, people would have said that I made the statement that he made. This guy is a fraud.” — Fox interview.
THE FACTS: No, Schiff spoke after Trump released the rough transcript of his July phone call, not before. Trump’s claimed motive for coming out with the transcript is demonstrably untrue.
The White House released the account of the conversation on Sept. 25. Schiff gave his account on Sept. 26, while leading a House Intelligence Committee hearing on the matter, as the panel chairman.
Trump has made much of Schiff’s account, seizing on how the Democrat put words in Trump’s mouth in describing the president’s conversation with Ukraine’s leader. Schiff made clear in the hearing he was not to be taken literally — he said he was characterizing Trump’s conversation “in not so many words,” attempting to describe “the essence” of it, and doing something of a “parody.”
Schiff based his account on the rough transcript. He obviously did not cause it to be released.
THE WHITE HOUSE: “Schiff keeps lying. At no point on the call did President Trump ask President Zelensky to announce investigations.” — tweet Wednesday after Schiff’s opening argument in the Senate trial.
THE FACTS: The White House accusation is both groundless and hairsplitting. Schiff did not say that Trump demanded that Ukraine’s leader “announce” an investigation during the phone call.
Schiff said: “President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations.” That comports with testimony given to his House committee. In essence, Trump wanted that announcement but didn’t ask for it in the phone call. The pressure came in other ways.
The rough transcript of the call, to which the White House tweet links, actually shows Trump repeatedly pressing Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden and Democrats. He did not demand in that call that Zelenskiy “announce” it. He pressed him to conduct it.
After brief opening chatter about Zelenskiy’s election win, Trump quickly if obliquely raises a grievance: The U.S. has been good to Ukraine, he said, but that’s not necessarily been reciprocated “because things are happening that are not good.”
When Zelenskiy says Ukraine is almost ready to buy more anti-tank missiles from the U.S., Trump immediately — and now famously — responds, according to the rough transcript: “I would like you to do us a favor, though.” He adds: “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation.”
Thus begins an extended exchange, consuming most of Trump’s remaining remarks, about Trump wanting Ukraine to do the probe and to have his personal lawyer and the U.S. attorney general involved, resolving “we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out.” He dangles the possibility of a White House visit for Zelenskiy before they conclude.
Gordon Sondland, Trump’s EU ambassador and a point man in the effort to get Ukraine to do what the president wanted, testified in Schiff’s hearings that Trump didn’t actually care if the Ukrainians followed through on a probe. He just cared that an investigation be announced, he said.
TRUMP, on Ukraine aid: “There’s something else I’m always stressing. Why isn’t Germany and France and U.K. and all these other countries in Europe that are much more affected than us, why aren’t they paying something?” — Fox interview.
THE FACTS: They are paying plenty.
European Union institutions have provided far more development assistance to Ukraine than the $204 million from Washington. Specific EU members as well as Japan and Canada also contribute significantly.
Since 2014, the EU and European financial institutions have mobilized more than $16 billion to help Ukraine’s economy, counter corruption, build institutions and strengthen its sovereignty against further incursions by Russia after its annexation of Crimea.
The U.S. is a heavy source of military assistance. The aid package held back by Trump as he pressed Ukraine to investigate Democrats was worth nearly $400 million. But NATO also contributes a variety of military-assistance programs and trust funds for Ukraine. In most such cases, the programs are modest and NATO countries other than the U.S. take the lead.
TRUMP on his July phone call with Zelenskiy: “The president of Ukraine said it was perfect.” — Davos news conference.
THE FACTS: No, Ukraine’s president didn’t say that.
While Zelenskiy initially said there was no discussion of a quid pro quo, he told Time last month that Trump should not have blocked military aid to Ukraine. Zelenskiy also criticized Trump for casting the country as corrupt.
On that call discussing military aid, Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Trump’s political rivals in the U.S.
“Look I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo,” Zelenskiy said. “But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness.”
It’s true that in early October, Zelenskiy had told reporters “there was no pressure or blackmail from the U.S.” But he did not state the call with Trump was perfect.
In any event, Zelenskiy knew months before the call that much-needed U.S. military support might depend on whether he was willing to help Trump by investigating Democrats.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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