Fact-checking the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump

Wednesday brought the beginning of House Democrats’ formal arguments during the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

But a number of people involved in the trial dished some not-quite-accurate claims over everything from Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to the Obama administration’s aid to Ukraine.

Below are three fact-checks from the beginning of the trial:

Trump switches up dates of Schiff’s version of Zelensky phone call

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga at the World Economic Forum, Jan. 21, 2020, in Davos, Switzerland.

President Donald Trump repeated one of his frequent factual errors Wednesday about Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s exaggerated version of the now-infamous July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The president has claimed that the White House released its partial transcript of the call in response to Schiff’s rendition, but it was released the day before, on Sept. 25. Speaking during an Intelligence Committee hearing on Sept. 26, Schiff did a “parody” of Trump’s words on the call and the president reacted by accusing him of treason.

“I’d watch his lies,” Trump said of Schiff in a Fox Business interview Wednesday. “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,” Trump said.

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The president made a similar claim during a press conference in Davos, Switzerland Wednesday. “When we released that conversation, all hell broke out with the Democrats, because they say, ‘Wait a minute. This is much different than Shifty Schiff told us.'”

Trump is correct that Schiff’s version was not totally accurate relative to the summary of the call released by the White House, but the administration could not have released the call summary in response to Schiff. Rather, Schiff’s version was based on the White House’s summary.

As FactCheck.org explained, Schiff gave “an embellished rendition of the White House memo of the July phone call,” adding, “As we’ve explained before, Schiff said he was recounting ‘the essence of what the president communicates’ and ‘in not so many words.'”

– Jeanine Santucci

Cruz: Obama admin. sent ‘blankets and MREs’ to Ukraine

Speaking during a break in the trial Wednesday night, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the Obama administration “sent blankets and MRE’s” to Ukraine, “but they wouldn’t give lethal aid.”

“I traveled to Ukraine in 2014, came back, and urged Barack Obama to give lethal military aid to Ukraine. The Obama administration refused to do so,” Cruz said. “Instead, they sent blankets and MRE’s, but they wouldn’t give lethal aid.”

Cruz’s remarks echo others by fellow Republicans. For example, Trump has previously said Obama provided Ukraine with “pillows and sheets.” And in 2015, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticized the Obama administration reportedly saying “The Ukrainians are being slaughtered and we’re sending them blankets and meals. Blankets don’t do well against Russian tanks.”

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Furthermore, the Obama administration provided hundreds of millions in aid to Ukraine, according to both CNN and PolitiFact.com

But Cruz is correct that lethal military aid only began to be provided to Ukraine during Trump’s tenure. “The first lethal deliveries came from Trump,” Jim Townsend, deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO Policy during the Obama administration, told PolitiFact.

– Martina Stewart and Savannah Behrmann

Were Republicans, Trump allowed to participate in the House inquiry?

In a wide-ranging pair of speeches on the Senate floor Tuesday, Jay Sekulow, a private lawyer for President Donald Trump, and White House counsel Pat Cipollone accused Democrats in bracing language of seeking to remove Trump since he was elected.

Sekulow said Schiff committed a “trifecta” of improprieties by denying Trump access to evidence, counsel access at hearings and the right to cross-examine witnesses during the House inquiry.

“That’s a trifecta, a trifecta that violates the Constitution of the United States,” Sekulow said.

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House Democrats on three committees held closed-door depositions during the inquiry, but Republicans were allowed to attend and ask questions. The Judiciary Committee then invited Trump’s lawyers to attend and participate in hearings by questioning witnesses, but the White House declined to participate in what Cipollone called a “baseless and highly partisan” inquiry.

So, GOP lawmakers were a part of the depositions and the White House lawyers representing the president declined to participate in the House Judiciary Committee hearings, as detailed by PolitiFact

– Bart Jansen

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