Fact-checking Trump’s barrage of anti-impeachment tweets

President Donald Trump has lashed out again at Democrats’ impeachment push, tweeting a rapid-fire series of arguments in his own defense over three tweets Tuesday morning.Trump has made these same claims (or very close) before. But since public impeachment hearings are beginning on Wednesday, it’s worth breaking down his case.Let’s go point by point:

“Why is such a focus put on 2nd and 3rd hand witnesses…”

Various witnesses who have testified in the impeachment inquiry have had firsthand knowledge of various components of the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine.For example, witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Tim Morrison of the White House’s National Security Council both listened to Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; so did witness Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence.The former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified about what she had been directly told about why Trump was abruptly removing her from her post.Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified about his own comments to Ukrainian officials about how US military aid would not “likely” be issued until Ukraine declared that it was conducting an investigation related to Joe Biden. (Sondland described this proposed declaration as an “anti-corruption statement.”) Among other firsthand testimony, Trump’s current top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, testified about his own concerns about the role Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was playing in relations with Ukraine.

“…many of whom are Never Trumpers…”

There is no evidence that “many” of the impeachment witnesses are “Never Trumpers” under the traditional definition of the term: longtime Republicans who refuse to support Trump.Though we can’t be certain of the private political beliefs of people who have testified, the witnesses have included Trump’s own appointees; administration aides; and career diplomats with no history of public support of or opposition to political candidates.Trump appears to be trying to redefine the term “Never Trumper” so that it applies to anyone who criticizes his actions.

“…or whose lawyers are Never Trumpers…”

Trump has a better case here. After Trump was elected, Taylor’s lawyer John Bellinger joined “Checks and Balances,” a group of conservative lawyers formed to speak out against Trump. Mark Zaid, a lawyer for the whistleblower, has represented both Democrats and Republicans and sued both Democratic and Republican administrations, but he has been open about his opposition to Trump: “Anti-Trump. Worst presidential choice in modern history. Not a repub or dem issue,” he wrote on Twitter in 2017.

“…all you have to do is read the phone call (transcript) with the Ukrainian President and see first hand?”

The document the White House released says on its first page that it is “not a verbatim transcript.” Vindman has testified that some details were omitted from the document.Regardless, Trump’s frequent contention that the phone call was “perfect” is highly questionable. Contrary to Trump’s repeated assertions, the call document shows that the whistleblower’s allegations about the call were highly accurate: Trump sought to get Zelensky to investigate Biden, to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory about Democratic computer servers, and to speak to Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.The whistleblower described these requests as pressure, which Trump is entitled to dispute. But the underlying facts are not in dispute.

“He (Zelensky) and others also stated that there was ‘no pressure’ put on him to investigate Sleepy Joe Biden…”

Zelensky has indeed said that he did not feel pressured by Trump. “Nobody pushed me,” he told reporters while sitting beside Trump at a meeting at the United Nations in September. (When CNN’s Clarissa Ward asked Zelensky the next week if he felt pressure from Trump to investigate the Bidens to get the aid, Zelensky responded indirectly, saying, “I’d like to tell you that I never feel pressure. I have lots of people who’d like to put pressure on me here and abroad. But I’m the president of an independent Ukraine and I’d like to think and my action suggests, no one can put pressure on me.”)CNN, the The New York Times and others have described a difficult internal debate within Zelensky’s team about how to handle Trump’s push for an announcement of investigations.

“…as President, I have an ‘obligation’ to look into corruption, and Biden’s actions, on tape, about firing the prosecutor…are certainly looking very corrupt (to put it mildly!) to me.”

There is no evidence of Biden acting corruptly.Trump appeared to be referring to a 2018 video of Biden telling the story of how he used a threat to deny Ukraine a $1 billion loan guarantee to successfully pressure Ukrainian leaders to fire a chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was widely seen by the US government, its European allies and Ukrainian activists to be ineffective in fighting corruption.”He was executing U.S. policy at the time and what was widely understood internationally to be the right policy,” Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, testified.All that aside, nothing would have obligated Trump to push a foreign leader to investigate an American political rival or announce an investigation into that person, nor to link such an investigation or announcement to the execution of American foreign policy.

“His son’s taking millions of dollars, with no knowledge or talent, from a Ukrainian energy company, and more millions taken from China, and now reports of other companies and countries also giving him big money…”

Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, did make significant money from his role on the board of directors of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma; he has not denied reports that his salary was $50,000 per month.Hunter Biden, a lawyer who had worked in the Commerce Department and served on the Amtrak board, acknowledged in October that he would “probably not” have been invited to join the Burisma board if his father were not Joe Biden; he said he had done “nothing wrong at all” but had used “poor judgment” in getting involved in such a “swamp.”It is not clear how much money Hunter Biden has earned from China. Trump has repeatedly claimed that Hunter Biden pocketed $1.5 billion, but he has not presented evidence for this claim; Hunter Biden told ABC that it has “no basis in fact,” adding, “No one ever paid me $1.5 billion, and if they had, I would not be doing this interview right now.”A lawyer for Hunter Biden, George Mesires, says the investment company in which his client has held a 10% stake was capitalized with a total of about $4.2 million in Chinese money at today’s exchange rates, “not $1.5 billion.” (Even this investment — made when Biden was a member of the company board, not a part-owner — was not a direct payment to him, and Mesires says Biden has not made a profit from his investment.)There is no evidence of illegal behavior by Hunter Biden.

“Both Bidens should be forced to testify in this No Due Process Scam!”

Trump didn’t specify here what he was referring to, but he has previously alleged that he is being denied due process because his lawyers are not being permitted to participate in the impeachment hearings.Trump is entitled to make this subjective argument. The Constitution, however, does not mandate the House of Representatives to allow the President’s lawyers to participate in impeachment proceedings. The Senate holds a trial after the House votes to impeach; the House is not obligated to treat its own process as if it were a trial.Democrats are beginning their public hearings in the House Intelligence Committee. Their rules will permit Trump lawyers to submit evidence and ask questions of witnesses once the process moves to the House Judiciary Committee, which will make the decision about whether to draw up articles of impeachment.Trump’s campaign has noted that lawyers for Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were permitted to cross-examine witnesses. That happened in the Judiciary Committee; those impeachment processes did not begin with the House Intelligence Committee.

[CNN]

Trump claims Adam Schiff is faking the transcripts he’s putting out from Intelligence Committee depositions

President Donald Trump tweeted out another conspiracy theory about Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Monday as two more transcripts were released from those testifying in the House Intelligence Committee as it prepares for impeachment.

“Just like Schiff fabricated my phone call, he will fabricate the transcripts that he is making and releasing!” Trump tweeted.

Trump also claimed that Shiff will not allow Trump any witnesses. The president’s lawyers haven’t explained to him that the House does not hold the trial for impeachment, it’s the Senate that holds the trial. That’s where witnesses will be presented and the White House can refute the claims. Schiff is having a hearing around the impeachment inquiry and investigation.

Last week Republicans demanded that the depositions be made public. Once Shiff announced that the hearings would be public and he would release the transcripts of the depositions to the public, Republicans then said the hearings should be behind closed doors and the president claimed the depositions were fake.

Republicans were present during the depositions and are quoted in the transcripts.

Trump did not present any evidence of his claim.

[Raw Story]

On Veterans Day, Trump Laments Passing Whistleblower Law Meant to Improve VA: ‘To Think I Signed!’

On Veterans Day, President Donald Trump lamented passing a whistleblower law meant to increase protections for employees who uncovered wrongdoing in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“To think I signed the Whistleblower Protection Act!” Trump said Monday, stepping on an announcement from the White House twitter account praising Trump’s accomplishments for veterans.

The actual Whistleblower Protection Act was passed in 1998, but Trump has passed at least two laws related to whistleblower protections, according to a review of the congressional record.

The White House tweet is apparently referring to the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which was sponsored by GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. The law passed the Senate via voice vote.

The law established a new special office in the VA to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and makes it easier to fire employees accused of misconduct. However, an Inspector General report released late last month found the office had largely failed in its mission to protect whistleblowers and conducted corrupt investigations.

Trump also signed the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 into law, which is named for a VA doctor who was ousted and later killed himself after he blew the whistle on the over-prescription of opiates at his VA facility.

[Mediaite]

Trump on Megadonor and Ambassador Sondland: ‘I Hardly Know the Gentleman’

President Donald Trump, when asked about Gordon Sondland’s damaging testimony in the impeachment inquiry, claimed “I hardly know” his ambassador who gave a million to his inauguration.

“Let me just tell you, I hardly know the gentleman,” Trump told reporters Friday. “But this is the man who said there was no quid pro quo, and he still said that. And he said that I said that.”

In addition to Sondland donating $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee, Trump tweeted about Sondland last month–calling him “a really good man and great American” when he directed him not to testify.

Sondland was eventually subpoenaed and testified behind closed doors. A transcript of his testimony was released earlier this week.

Trump also alluded to another phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, which he floated also releasing a transcript of to the public.

“What they want is they want my first phone call. I had another phone call. And it’s a very important phone call,” Trump said. “They found out there’s another phone call and that’s the first phone call and they want it released and we’re considering them.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Wants Whistleblower’s Lawyer Sued ‘Maybe for Treason,’ Which Definitely Isn’t a Thing

President Donald Trump tried his hand at tort law on Friday by suggesting the intelligence community whistleblower “should be revealed” and that their lawyer should be sued “maybe for treason.”

“So the whistleblower is a disgrace to our country” Trump said. And the whistleblower, because of that, should be revealed. And his lawyer who said the worst things possible two years ago, he should be sued and maybe for treason. Maybe for treason, but he should be sued. His lawyer is a disgrace.”

It appears that Trump was referring to attorney Mark Zaid. The comments were made during a press assemblage on the White House lawn where the president also addressed the closed-door impeachment hearings and the state of the 2020 presidential race.

The suggestion of treason as a civil action, however, quickly sent legal commentators into a tailspin of eyebrow-raising ridicule.

First Amendment attorney and legal commentator Adam Steinbaugh noted: “you… you can’t be sued for treason.”

That’s true. Treason is a criminal charge. Suing someone is an action taken in a civil court. Criminal charges are leveled by the state. Civil actions–which we usually call lawsuits–are usually filed by the state or private individuals in an effort to obtain money or information.

Treason, in other words, is a suggestion that simply makes no sense whatsoever under the present circumstances. This isn’t an issue that’s subject to debate. There’s plainly and clearly no cause of action known as “treason” under any state or federal law in the United States. (And this probably shouldn’t even have to be explained.)

Under the laws of the United States, treason has a very specific and very limited definition. Per the U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

There’s also a separate codification of treason under at 18 U.S. Code § 2381 which barely tweaks the constitutional definition and also assigns specific penalties for committing the criminal act.

No concept, provision or sleight of legalese that exists in the U.S. legal order would be capable of transmogrifying the above potential crimes into something that anyone could sue anyone else for. The point, now a bit belabored, is basically the end of the story.

Except for maybe the jokes.

“Treasonous infliction of emotional distress, dude,” offered Reason‘s criminal justice reporter C.J. Ciaramella. “Look it up.”

On Thursday, it should be noted, one of the intelligence community whistleblower’s attorneys sent White House Counsel Pat Cipollone a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Trump stop calling for their client’s identity to be exposed and to stop using “rhetoric that may endanger their life.”

“I am writing to respectfully request that you counsel your client on the legal and ethical peril in which he is placing himself should anyone be physically harmed as a result of his, or his surrogates’, behavior,” attorney Andrew P. Bakaj wrote.

The whistleblower’s attorney later laid it on the line:

In the best light, such statements seek to intimidate my client–and they have. As I am sure you are aware, my firm was in the process of coordinating with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to have my client deposed by congressional investigators. However, as a direct consequence of the President’s irresponsible rhetoric and behavior, my client’s physical safety became a significant concern, prompting us to instead state our willingness to only answer written interrogatories [questions].

Trump’s campaign to expose and smear the intelligence community whistleblower has, effectively, given the whistleblower pause about how and whether they should testify. Bakaj says that’s a crime.

“In light of this, it is reasonable to submit that your client’s activity constitutes a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512, Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant,” Bakaj continued. “Furthermore, because my client is a lawful whistleblower and a prospective congressional witness, any threats to influence, obstruct, or impede my client’s cooperation is a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1505, Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees. Finally, reprisal against my client for cooperating with a congressional inquiry would be a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1513, Retaliating against a witness, victim, or an informant.”

Despite this warning, Trump once again called for the whistleblower’s identity to be revealed.

The 45th president is arguably skilled at asymmetric attempts to muddy the waters and that’s as good an explanation as any for what happened on the White House lawn Friday morning. That doesn’t mean necessarily mean any of this is well-advised. 

Those most recent attacks on these attorneys and their clients are exactly the sorts of statements cautioned against in the cease-and-desist missive. They’re also the sort of statements that congressional investigators are likely to add to any eventual articles of impeachment.

[Law and Crime]

Trump claims bribery isn’t an impeachable offense — but it’s in the Constitution as an example

President Donald Trump went off on Twitter Sunday against the idea that “some” reports are incorrectly citing Republican senators believe he tried to extort Ukraine.

“False stories are being reported that a few Republican Senators are saying that President Trump may have done a quid pro quo, but it doesn’t matter, there is nothing wrong with that, it is not an impeachable event. Perhaps so, but read the transcript, there is no quid pro quo!”

Quid pro quo” is a Latin word that simply describes extortion or bribery. The Constitution outlines “high crimes and misdemeanors” as impeachable offenses and gives examples in Section 4 of Article II.

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

[Raw Story]

Trump Says He Doesn’t Know Marie Yovanovitch When Asked About Her Testimony to Congress

President Donald Trump said he did not know his own former ambassador to Ukraine as the House released damaging testimony from Marie Yovanovitch in the impeachment inquiry.

“Was Marie Yovanovitch the target of a smear campaign by your allies?” a reporter asked Trump as he was leaving for a Kentucky rally Monday evening.

“I really don’t know her,” Trump responded. “If you look at the transcripts the president of the Ukraine was not a fan of hers either. He did not exactly say glowing things. I’m sure that she’s a very fine woman. I just don’t know much about her.”

“You have to take a look at the transcript,” Trump said.

It is true that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky criticized Yovanovitch, but he did so after Trump claimed she was “bad news” in the July 25 phone call–according to the transcript memo of the call released by the White House.

“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 in the call.

“It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President, and she was on his side,” Zelensky told Trump, implying they had discussed Yovanovitch before.

“Well, she’s going to go through some things,” Trump responds to Zelensky. Yovanovitch told Congress that she interpreted this comment as a threat.

Trump did not answer a follow-up question about Yovanovitch expressing concern to the administration about what Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine.


[Mediaite]

Trump Threatens to Expose Information on Vindman

Donald Trump on Sunday appeared to threaten to expose information on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the decorated veteran who reportedly testified that the president omitted certain key words and phrases from the White House’s memo of the Ukraine phone call at the center of an impeachment inquiry. While speaking to reporters outside the White House, Trump repeated unfounded claims that Vindman is a “Never Trumper,” a label he also bestowed on former Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor after his impeachment inquiry testimony outlined how Trump officials made demands of the Ukrainian government in exchange for investigations into the Bidens. 

Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran and National Security Council official, reportedly testified that he was instructed by White House counsel John Eisenberg to keep quiet about the call after voicing his concerns. “It’s a whole scam… it’s between the Democrats and the fake news media,” Trump said of the inquiry. When asked what evidence he had that Vindman is a “Never Trumper,” the president responded: “We’ll be showing that to you real soon.”


[The Daily Beast]


Trump Baselessly Claims ‘Freak’ Adam Schiff Will ‘Change the Words’ of Impeachment Inquiry Transcripts

President Donald Trump baselessly claimed transcripts from his impeachment inquiry will be altered in some way by “freak” Rep. Adam Schiff, demanding the GOP release their own versions.

“If Shifty Adam Schiff, who is a corrupt politician who fraudulently made up what I said on the “call,” is allowed to release transcripts of the Never Trumpers & others that are & were interviewed, he will change the words,” Trump claimed Sunday night.

“Republicans should give their own transcripts of the interviews to contrast with Schiff’s manipulated propaganda,” he continued.

Trump also called for the impeachment of Schiff, saying he is “really the one who should be impeached!”

There is no mechanism to impeach members of Congress.

A number of House Democrats have said transcripts of private testimony in the impeachment inquiry will be released to the public in the coming week.

Trump also attempted to corral Republicans who have said Trump may have “done a quid pro quo” but that it is not impeachable behavior.

“Perhaps so, but read the transcript, there is no quid pro quo!” Trump said.

[Mediaite]

Trump: Stock Market Up Cause People Saw Ukraine Call Transcript and Said ‘Oh, This Is Good’

President Trump attributed the stock market gaining 300 points on Friday to the text of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky being released by the White House. “One of the reasons [the stock market] is up 300 points today is that people finally got to see the transcribed letter… of the phone call with the president of Ukraine,” Trump told reporters before departing for a campaign rally in Mississippi. “And everybody that saw it said, ‘oh, this is good!’ and the market went up a lot over the last short period of time… because they finally got to see it.” The text of the Ukraine call, which an NSC official reportedly said was missing certain information, was released by the White House on Sept. 25—more than a month before Friday’s market performance.

Reality

The reality is the stock market rose because of a October jobs report that has been going strong since 2009 when Barack Obama turned the economy around.

Trump is absolutely un-tethered from reality when it comes to the stock market. It’s as if he has no idea how it works. Just the day prior Trump was claiming the stock market was down because of impeachment.

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