Fact check: Trump tries to rewrite reality on his Ukraine controversy
Posted October 14, 2019 2:01 p.m. EDT
CNN — President Donald Trump is making a brazen attempt to rewrite the reality of his dealings with Ukraine.
He has said at least 18 times over the last 15 days that the whistleblower who lodged a highly accurate complaint about his phone call with Ukraine's President had been highly inaccurate. And over the weekend, he pushed three other fictions -- reversing the timing of two events and touting a supposed Nancy Pelosi quote there is no evidence the House speaker ever said.
Pelosi's reaction to the call
Trump has been slamming Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for performing a rendition of his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that included words Trump did not say.
But Trump himself appears to have concocted comments from Pelosi -- repeatedly describing supposed Pelosi quotes that are the opposite of what she has publicly said.
Trump claimed last Monday, Friday and Saturday that Pelosi expressed surprise and dismay after Trump released the rough transcript of the call with Zelensky. His suggestion was that Pelosi had found, and said, that the call was more innocent than she was first told.
"When she saw it, she said, 'This is not what the whistleblower said,' " Trump told reporters on Monday at the White House.
"She was angry as hell when she got to read the transcript. Because she said, 'Wait a minute, that's not what I was told,' " Trump said at his Friday rally in Louisiana.
"She was very angry when she read the actual call," Trump said at his Saturday speech to the Values Voter Summit of social conservatives.
Facts First: There is no evidence Pelosi said or thought that the rough transcript was underwhelming or substantially different than she expected. "It's complete fiction," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told CNN of Trump's claim. While we can't know what Pelosi might have said in private, Pelosi's public statement on the Trump call was scathing.
We've explained that Schiff's account of Trump's call was at very least confusing and that Trump had reasonable cause to be miffed. It's worth noting, though, that Schiff did say he was offering the "essence" of Trump's words, not a verbatim recitation, and that at least some of Schiff's comments closely resembled what the rough transcript shows Trump said.
Trump's Pelosi statements, conversely, have no apparent basis in fact.
The call and the ambassador
Trump is facing scrutiny over his decision to recall Marie Yovanovitch from her job as ambassador to Ukraine. She testified to Congress on Friday that she had been the victim of "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives," including Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his associates.
Trump offered a different explanation in a Fox News interview on Saturday. He said Zelensky had told him, "out of the blue," that he didn't like Yovanovitch.
"But even if you listen to the very good conversation that I had, a very, very good, no-pressure, congenial conversation with the new President of Ukraine, he had some things that were not flattering to say about her. And that came out of the -- out of the blue," he told Fox host Jeanine Pirro. "So, you know, it would be nice to have somebody that he liked, because he's going -- the person will have to deal with the President of Ukraine."
Zelensky's criticism of Yovanovitch had not come out of the blue.
Facts First: The rough transcript of the July phone call shows that Trump, not Zelensky, was the one who brought up Yovanovitch: "The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that," Trump said. Zelensky responded, "It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%."
Zelensky did criticize Yovanovitch, saying, "Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough." But he had been prompted by Trump, not disparaging her on his own.
The timing of Schiff's comments
Trump had previously bashed Schiff for doing the exaggerated paraphrase of the Zelensky call even though a transcript was available to him. Late last week, though, Trump started claiming that Schiff had only made those comments because he thought Trump would never release a transcript.
His new story was that he had outwitted Schiff.
"When Schiff goes out and speaks before Congress, they never thought I was going to release the transcript of my call," Trump said at the Louisiana rally on Friday.
"By the way, he only did it because he never thought that I was going to release the transcript," Trump said at the Values Voter Summit on Saturday; he added, "I gave the transcript of the call, but he did it and then I released the transcript. They never thought in a million years, even in terms of violation with another country -- but we got the approval, so he's very embarrassed."
"He made a conversation that didn't exist...He never thought in a million years that I was going to release the real conversation," he said in the Fox interview.
Facts First: Schiff made his comments about Trump's call with Zelensky after Trump released the rough transcript, not before. The White House issued the document on September 25. Schiff spoke at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on September 26.