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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s thin rationale on Ukraine aid

September 25, 2019
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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Explaining circumstances that sparked a Democratic impeachment inquiry, President Donald Trump said Wednesday he froze U.S. aid to Ukraine earlier this year because he’s tired of his country being the only one helping there. His rationale rings hollow — other allies pitch in plenty.

Trump also pointed to developments in the stock market as evidence that the financial world, at least, thinks the impeachment episode is overblown. That, too, was off base.

Under pressure Wednesday, the White House released its account of a phone conversation Trump had in July with Ukraine’s new president, asking him to “do us a favor” and subject Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his businessman-son to a corruption investigation. The prospect that Trump sought foreign help to advance his re-election prospects had prompted Democrats a day earlier to move ahead with a formal impeachment inquiry.

It’s illegal to seek foreign government assistance for U.S. elections.

Days before that phone call, Trump ordered a freeze on a package of military assistance to Ukraine that had been approved by Congress. Democrats want to know if the money was held back to coerce President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to order the investigation of the Bidens. Hunter Biden was doing business in Ukraine when his father was vice president.

A look at some of Trump’s comments:

TRUMP: “I want to see other countries helping Ukraine also, not just us. As usual the United States helps and nobody else is there. So I want to see other countries help.” — remarks to reporters Wednesday.

TRUMP: “I’d withhold again, and I’ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine. Because they’re not doing it; it’s the United States. ... Why is it only the United States putting up the money?” — remarks to reporters Tuesday.

THE FACTS: It isn’t only the U.S. putting up money. It’s false to say “nobody else is there.”

European Union institutions have provided far more development assistance than the U.S: $425 million in 2016-2017 compared with $204 million from the U.S. EU members, 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 indeed a heavy source of military assistance. The aid package held back by Trump, and recently released, amounted to nearly $400 million in such aid. 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.

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TRUMP: “The stock market went up when they saw the nonsense. All of a sudden the stock market went down very substantially when they saw a charge. After they read the charge, the stock market went up very substantially.” — remarks to reporters in New York on Wednesday.

THE FACTS: He’s not actually charged with anything. He’s saying the market went down Tuesday when the impeachment drive was announced and up after the White House memo on his phone call with Ukraine’s president came out. That’s roughly right, but it’s wrong to tie the market fluctuations solely — or even primarily — to the impeachment episode.

The market cares even more about the economy, and currently the biggest wild card for the U.S. economy is how much Trump’s trade war with China could curtail growth. Since it began last year, the stock market has fallen with each escalation of tensions and risen when the two sides appeared close to resolving the dispute.

The 142-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Tuesday was partly due to the impeachment developments but was also tied to Trump taking a hard line on China in a speech to the United Nations, which seemed to dim the prospects that coming talks would resolve the trade standoff. And while the market did move higher Wednesday after the release of the memo, the Commerce Department released some solid numbers on the housing market around the same time.

Moreover, just after the comment on the stock exchange, Trump told reporters a deal with China “could happen sooner than you think,” and the Dow quickly doubled its gain.

The economic-political dynamic was evident in the impeachment inquiries of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. After the initial inquiry of Nixon in October 1973, the S&P 500 index fell 33% the next year. But the S&P 500 gained 39% after the Clinton impeachment inquiry started in October 1998. The difference: The economy was headed toward a recession in the mid-1970s, while the economy was growing strongly in the late 1990s. For Trump, the U.S. economy slowed to growth of about 2% in the second quarter from 3% in the first quarter and current estimates are for 2% growth in the third quarter.

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Harloff reported from New York.

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