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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman November 11, 2019

Rand Paul’s false equivalence about Trump, Biden on Ukraine

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., suggested that threats by President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden to withhold aid from Ukraine were "exactly" the same.

Speaking on Meet the Press days before the first public hearings on impeachment, Paul said that Americans want fairness.

"And I don't think they're going to judge fairness, when they're accusing President Trump of the same thing Joe Biden did, threatening the aid, if some kind of corruption is not investigated. And it seems like everybody, both parties, have been threatening aid, if some kind of investigation either doesn't happen or is ended. And so I think, really, what's going to happen is people are going to say, ‘Oh, they're impeaching President Trump for exactly the same thing that Joe Biden did.’"

Paul continued:

"He threatened the aid, if they didn't fire someone. And supposedly, the president did, if they didn't investigate someone. So it sounds exactly like what Joe Biden did. And if they weren't going to impeach Joe Biden, they look like, you know, hypocrites, in a way, for going only after President Trump and having not a word to say about what Joe Biden did."

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., disputed Paul’s characterization later on in the show.

"Let's be very clear. The president of the United States demanding, extorting a vulnerable country to do his political bidding, to go after his opponent, has nothing to do with Joe Biden executing the foreign policy of the United States," Himes said.

We found that Paul created a false equivalency when summarizing the actions of Trump and Biden. The two cases are not the same, or even particularly similar.

We told a Paul spokesperson that based on our previous fact-checking, the actions by Trump and Biden are not the same.

"The question itself shows the bias of the media on this issue," a spokesperson replied. "The motivations of then-Vice President Biden clearly could have included shielding his family and their oligarch patron from scrutiny, yet this is dismissed because of bias. "

What the evidence shows about Biden’s actions

Paul’s reference to Biden threatening aid stems from when Biden called for Ukraine to fire prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. 

Biden assumed a lead role in U.S. diplomacy toward Ukraine after a popular revolution in early 2014 that led to pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country. Shokin became top prosecutor in 2015.

Many Western leaders and institutions, as well as Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, viewed Shokin as corrupt and ineffective for failing to prosecute anybody of significance, and for protecting members of the ruling class.  

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A frustrated Biden in December 2015 threatened to withhold $1 billion unless Shokin was fired, in hopes that a new prosecutor would do more to enforce the law. According to Biden, it worked. 

At a Jan. 23, 2018, event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden recounted his threat to then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and from then-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

"I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours," Biden recounted. "If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a b----. He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time."

The big point: On top of the international support for what he did, Biden was representing the views of the U.S. government and its foreign policy analysts.

What the evidence shows about Trump’s actions

Paul’s reference to Trump threatening aid if Ukraine didn’t investigate someone stems from a July 25 phone call between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenksy.

According to a readout of the call published by the White House on Sept. 25, Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Biden and his family’s dealings in Ukraine. 

Trump 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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me."

The withholding of the aid while asking a foreign leader to investigate a potential political rival is at the heart of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry in the House. 

Trump told Zelensky that he would have his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr call him.

Trump temporarily froze $400 million in aid to Ukraine before their July 25 phone call. The frozen aid was released Sept. 11, after Trump’s call became publicly known.

During the phone call, Trump said "a lot of people are talking about" the removal of a "very fair prosecutor" in Ukraine. We rated that statement False.

A complaint by the whistleblower lodged to the inspector general of the intelligence community stated that other White House officials were "deeply disturbed" by the phone call. They discussed how to treat the phone call because they had believed Trump was using his position for personal gain.

Our ruling

Paul said Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president "sounds exactly like what Joe Biden did."

Paul equated the actions of Trump and Biden, but they are not the same. Biden threatened to withhold aid unless Ukraine fired a prosecutor who was widely viewed as corrupt — in line with U.S. and international policy. Trump, by contrast, temporarily froze aid and then asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden, his potential 2020 political rival. 

We rate this statement False.

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Rand Paul’s false equivalence about Trump, Biden on Ukraine

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