Fact Check: Trump’s false account of Ukraine episode
Washington – 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.
A look at some of Trump’s claims from the economic forum in Davos, Switzerland:
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 be 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.
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 Ukrainian President Volodymyr 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.