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9 things Donald Trump got wrong today on Ukraine, a whistleblower and the media

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg October 2, 2019
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson October 2, 2019
Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy October 2, 2019
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman October 2, 2019

President Donald Trump lashed out at the media and Democrats Wednesday for their descriptions of a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine.

At a press scrum in the Oval Office and at a news conference with the Finnish president in the East Room, Trump made many claims that clashed with verifiable facts.

Here are just nine.

(We updated this story after Trump's news conference.)

"This is an exact word-for-word transcript of the conversation, taken by very talented stenographers."

This is wrong. The White House released a memorandum of the telephone call in July between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that has become a key focus of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry.

But the document itself contradicts Trump’s assertion that it is a "word for word transcript" of what was said. The document includes a note of caution that it "is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion."

Here’s the full note:

"CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty Officers and NSC policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place. A number of factors can affect the accuracy of the record, including poor telecommunications connections and variations in accent and/or interpretation. The word ‘inaudible’ is used to indicate portions of a conversation that the notetaker was unable to hear."

— Louis Jacobson

"The whistleblower said terrible things about the call, but I then found out he was second-hand and third-hand."

This is wrong. The Intelligence Community Inspector General issued a statement that said the whistleblower indicated they had first-hand and second-hand knowledge of the incidents described. 

The statement said its staff "determined that the Complainant had official and authorized access to the information and sources referenced in the Complainant’s Letter and Classified Appendix, including direct knowledge of certain alleged conduct."

— Jon Greenberg

"In other words, he didn't know what was on the call."

This is wrong. The whistleblower report is correct on key details about the call, according to the White House memo about it. While it’s true that the whistleblower wasn’t on the call, the whistleblower complaint said the conversation included an effort to get "a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals. The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well."

The White House description of the call has Trump saying "I would like you to do us a favor though." Shortly after that, he said, "There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great."

And Trump also said, "Rudy (Giuliani) very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him, that would be great."

— Jon Greenberg

"Two reporters from the Washington Post" wrote a book on Trump’s immigration policies. 

This is wrong. Trump went on to describe how the Post and its owner — Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — are corrupt.

 But the book he’s talking about was written by reporters by the New York Times, not the Washington Post. The book was authored by Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, two reporters for the Times, not the Post. Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster on Oct. 8.

— Louis Jacobson

Trump said the new book wrongly claims that he "wanted sharp spikes at the top (of his border wall) so if anyone gets it it goes piercing through their skin."

Trump said the book gets wrong details of his discussions about the wall. But on the point of sharp spikes at the top of a wall, Trump himself supported — and tweeted about — such a plan.

Trump approvingly tweeted an image of a proposed barrier fence with spikes on Dec. 21, 2018. The image offered a close-up of three spikes with razor-sharp points.

 — Louis Jacobson

"I heard Rick Scott today say that was a perfect conversation. How can they impeach him on that conversation?"

This is wrong. Trump exaggerated what Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said about Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. 

A couple of hours before Trump spoke, Scott was interviewed about the impeachment inquiry on Fox News. He did not say the phone call was "perfect," as Trump has described it many times.

When asked on Fox News about how he interpreted the conversation, Scott said: "I still don't see what the crime is. I keep saying show me what the crime is. No one ever says that. They say, ‘Well he shouldn't have done it.’ Well, all of us would do things differently than other people would do it but if we are going to impeach somebody there ought to be something that they did wrong." 

When asked a followup question about the part of the phone call when Trump suggested Zelensky investigate Trump’s potential 2020 opponent, Scott turned the focus on the Bidens, asking, "Shouldn't we actually know what happened?" 

— Amy Sherman

"Why are we the only one that gives big money to Ukraine?"

This is wrong. Since 2014, the European community has provided Ukraine with $15 billion in aid, including over $2 billion in grants.

The United States has provided $1.5 billion in military aid, which includes sales of weapon systems. The United States has offered up to $3 billion in loan guarantees, but that uses the guarantee of the United States to give Ukraine a lower rate on loans, it isn’t aid itself.

–– Jon Greenberg

Says Adam Schiff "got up and relayed a call that didn't take place. He made up the language … He went out and he gave a whole presentation of words that the president of the United States never said."

This is wrong. Schiff, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, prefaced his congressional testimony last week by saying he was describing "the essence" of Trump’s phone call "shorn of its rambling character and in not so many words." 

Schiff, as we reported previously, never tried to read the president’s remarks in full. And, importantly, the White House document is not an exact transcript of the call to begin with.

— Bill McCarthy

"The WTO has been much better to us since I have been president, because they understand they can’t get away with what they’ve been getting away with for so many years, which is ripping off the United States."

This is misleading. For decades, the United States, like essentially all countries, has lost most World Trade Organization cases in which it was a defendant. But, like essentially all countries, it has won most cases when it was the complaining party.

Under Trump, there are some indications of an improved (though still losing) U.S. record in cases it’s defending against. But trade experts told us this has had little to do with Trump’s policies. WTO cases often take years to reach a final decision, and Trump’s own efforts to block new judges for WTO’s appellate body have in fact put the WTO’s continued operations at risk.

— Louis Jacobson

RELATED STORY: Trump’s Ukraine call, a whistleblower and the Bidens: What we know, what we don’t 

RELATED STORY: Donald Trump's false claim about a change in whistleblower rules

RELATED STORY: In context: Adam Schiff’s dramatized version of the Trump-Zelensky call

RELATED STORY: Adam Schiff's retelling of Donald Trump's phone call isn't treason

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9 things Donald Trump got wrong today on Ukraine, a whistleblower and the media