AP FACT CHECK: Trump stretches in assailing witnesses
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused witnesses at the House impeachment hearings of spreading word-of-mouth information about matters they have no knowledge of themselves. But the testimony of Lt. Col Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams did not come from a rumor mill.
Both listened directly to Trump’s phone conversation with Ukraine’s president in July and had their own concerns about his request for a politically beneficial “favor.”
At the hearing, Republicans tried to defend Trump by pushing a widely discredited claim that former Vice President Joe Biden pressed Ukraine’s government to shut down a corruption investigation of Burisma, the energy company where Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.
A look at some of the remarks in the second round of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee and Trump’s response:
TRUMP: “All these people are talking about – they heard a conversation of a conversation of another conversation that was had by the president.” – Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: Trump is wrong that the witnesses testifying Tuesday only had thirdhand information about the call at the center of the whistleblower complaint.
Both Vindman, a National Security Council expert on Ukraine, and Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, directly listened to the July call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
CALIFORNIA REP. DEVIN NUNES, the top Republican on the committee, speaking of the news media: “You’d think they would be interested in Joe Biden threatening to withhold U.S. loan guarantees unless the Ukrainians fired a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma. That would be a textbook example of bribery.”
THE FACTS: Nunes is incorrect to say Joe Biden pressed to have the prosecutor fired while he was investigating Burisma. In fact, by the time Biden came out against the prosecutor, the investigation was dormant.
Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have defended their actions in asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens by citing a video of Joe Biden from 2018. Speaking on a public panel, Biden recounted threatening to withhold a $1 billion loan guarantee from Ukraine’s government unless it fired the prosecutor who the U.S. and other countries said was failing to fight corruption.
But officials in the U.S. and Europe wanted Ukraine to do a broader, more aggressive investigation of corruption in the country. Biden was among the international leaders who considered the prosecutor ineffective.
TRUMP: “Right now you have a kangaroo court headed by little shifty Schiff, where we don’t have lawyers, we don’t have witnesses, we don’t have anything.” – Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: Depends on the meaning of “we.” Republicans on the committee have a lawyer asking questions of the witnesses, so it’s not true that they have no legal representation. And several witnesses were invited at the request of Republicans on the committee.
It’s also true, though, that Trump himself does not have a lawyer speaking for him at the hearings. That’s not unusual. The inquiry is meant to be a fact-finding process and the president is not charged with anything.
He will have legal representation if the House Judiciary Committee moves ahead to draft articles of impeachment against him.
REP. JIM JORDAN, R-Ohio: “The call leaks, the whistleblower goes to Chairman Schiff’s staff. Then he runs off to the lawyer, the same lawyer who said in January of 2017 the coup has started against President Trump.”
THE FACTS: Jordan’s chronology is problematic. The whistleblower didn’t go running to lawyer Mark Zaid, who more than two years ago did tweet about a “coup” against Trump after the acting head of the Justice Department refused to defend Trump’s travel ban on visitors from some majority Muslim countries.
The whistleblower’s original, and lead, attorney is Andrew Bakaj. Zaid joined the team weeks later.
Jordan’s timeline about the call leaking also may be confusing.
Details of the call had not yet been leaked to the public when the whistleblower contacted the House Intelligence Committee for guidance, speaking to an aide who counseled the official to contact the inspector general.
The details emerged publicly in the whistleblower’s complaint itself.
When Jordan spoke of the call leaking, he may have meant that those who heard the conversation spread the word to others inside the administration.
NUNES: “Now that the whistleblower has successfully kickstarted impeachment, he has disappeared from the story, as if the Democrats put the whistleblower in their own witness protection program.”
THE FACTS: The whistleblower hasn’t “disappeared.” That person has offered to submit written testimony; Republicans have rejected that.
Trump and his GOP allies are suggesting that the whistleblower’s complaint is false, and so the person has vanished. But key details have been corroborated by people with firsthand knowledge of the events who have appeared on Capitol Hill.
The rough transcript of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s leader also showed that the whistleblower had accurately summarized the conversation in the complaint sent to the acting director of national intelligence.
The whistleblower has offered through the whistleblower’s lawyers to answer questions directly from Republicans on the committee “in writing, under oath & penalty of perjury.” But Republicans, who are interested in exposing the whistleblower’s identity, want that official to appear at the public hearings.
U.S. whistleblower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. Lawmakers in both parties have historically backed those protections.
Trump himself refused to provide anything but written answers in response to limited questions during the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election. Trump this week suggested he may submit written answers for the impeachment inquiry as well.
— Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Mark Sherman contributed to this report.