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Donald Trump
stated on October 9, 2019 in an ad:
"Fact: Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its prosecutor .... Fact: the prosecutor said he was forced out for leading a corruption probe into Hunter Biden's company. Fact: Democrats want to impeach President Trump for discussing this investigation with Ukraine's President."  
true false
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman October 11, 2019

Donald Trump ad misleads about Joe Biden, Ukraine and the prosecutor

A campaign ad from President Donald Trump claims it has "facts" about the Bidens and Ukraine, but instead mashes ideas together to create a highly misleading 30-second tale.

"Fact: Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its prosecutor," the narrator says, and then cuts to a clip of a Biden statement: "if the prosecutor is not fired you’re not getting the money. Well son of a bitch, he got fired."

The ad then continues:

"Fact: the prosecutor said he was forced out for leading a corruption probe into Hunter Biden's company. Fact: Democrats want to impeach President Trump for discussing this investigation with Ukraine's President. Fact: Donald Trump won but Democrats want to overturn the election."

The ad distorts the known facts about Ukraine prosecutor general Viktor Shokin and Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, where Biden’s son Hunter Biden served on the board.

The Trump campaign announced the TV ad on Oct. 9. It has also been visible on social media.

Key takeaways:

• Biden did want Shokin fired, but western leaders had widely criticized the prosecutor general as corrupt and ineffective. Biden was leading a widespread consensus in asking for removal.

• A former Ukrainian official said the investigation into Burisma was dormant under Shokin.

• Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry for Trump’s statements suggesting he wanted Ukraine to investigate a political rival in exchange for political favors.

"Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its prosecutor."

Biden did call for Ukraine to fire Shokin, but the ad fails to note that there were widespread calls for his ouster.

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, after Yanukovych went into exile. A frustrated Biden in Dec. 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. 

The Trump campaign ad includes a clip of Biden’s partial reports at a Jan. 23, 2018, event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. Biden spoke about getting a commitment from 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."

Featured Fact-check

"Fact: the prosecutor said he was forced out for leading a corruption probe into Hunter Biden's company." 

There is evidence that 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 Yanukovych’s and Poroshenko’s circles. 

When Shokin was fired in the spring of 2016, press reports explicitly linked his ouster to corruption. 

Steven Pifer, a career foreign service officer who held positions in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, previously told PolitiFact that "virtually everyone" he knew in the U.S. government and virtually all non-governmental experts on Ukraine "felt that Shokin was not doing his job and should be fired." 

"All decent people were in favor of Shokin's sacking," Anders Åslund, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council told PolitiFact. "Biden led a Western/anticorruption consensus."

Shokin did inherit some of the investigations into Burisma and owner Zlochevsky. Recently, Shokin said in a statement that his refusal to formally close the investigations led to his ouster. 

But Vitaliy Kasko, who served as Shokin’s deputy overseeing international cooperation until he resigned in protest, told Bloomberg in 2019 that, under Shokin, the investigation into Burisma remained dormant. Kasko said the matter was "shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015," and Bloomberg reported that documents backed up his account.

The Trump campaign pointed to reporting by the New York Times that Yuriy Lutsenko, a subsequent prosecutor general, had cleared Burisma initially but then reopened the investigation in March.

At the very least, Shokin's credibility in discussing the case has been undercut by other evidence and the widespread descriptions of his office as uninterested in prosecuting corruption cases.

Democrats’ impeachment inquiry

The ad says that "Democrats want to impeach President Trump for discussing this investigation with Ukraine's President." 

The ad soft-pedals Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25 by describing it merely as a discussion. The ad omits that a summary of the call shows Trump encouraging Zelensky to work with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and Attorney General William Barr and "look into" Biden.

Before the call, Trump froze $400 million in aid to Ukraine. The hold on the money was lifted Sept. 11. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would move forward with an impeachment inquiry in September. Democrats are investigating whether Trump abused his presidential power by withholding the aid while asking its government to look into Biden, his potential 2020 opponent. They have not yet formulated articles of impeachment. 

Our ruling

A Trump ad says "Fact: Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its prosecutor .... Fact: the prosecutor said he was forced out for leading a corruption probe into Hunter Biden's company. Fact: Democrats want to impeach President Trump for discussing this investigation with Ukraine's President."

Biden called for Ukraine to fire Shokin, the prosecutor general, but so did many others. The facts show that Biden wanted Shokin removed due to widespread concerns that Shokin was ineffective in pursuing corruption cases — not that he was too aggressively pursuing cases. The Trump campaign cites Shokin himself, but he is not a reliable source. And Democrats want to impeach Trump for using foreign policy to promote his own re-election, not his desire to investigate corruption. 

This ad claims a compilation of "facts," but it’s presentation and lack of context is so misleading as to be inaccurate. We rate this statement False.

Our Sources

Donald Trump, Campaign ad, October 2019

Factcheck.org, Fact: Trump TV Ad Misleads on Biden and Ukraine, Oct. 9, 2019

Politico, Trump campaign to drop bomb on Biden in early voting states, Oct. 3, 2019

CNN, Facebook denies Biden campaign's request to remove false Ukraine ad by Trump campaign, Oct. 9, 2019

MSNBC’s Dylan Byers, Tweet, Oct. 9, 2019

CNN’s Donnie O’Sullivan, Tweet, Oct. 8, 2019

New York Times, Facebook’s Hands-Off Approach to Political Speech Gets Impeachment Test, Oct. 8, 2019

New York Times, Trump, Biden and Ukraine: Sorting Out the Accusations, Sept. 22, 2019

New York Times, Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies, May 1, 2019

Washington Post, As vice president, Biden said Ukraine should increase gas production. Then his son got a job with a Ukrainian gas company., July 22, 2019

Washington Post, New York Times, Bloomberg square off over Biden-Ukraine reporting, May 9, 2019

Washington Post The Fact Checker, A quick guide to Trump’s false claims about Ukraine and the Bidens, Sept. 27, 2019

Just Security, The swift boating of Joe Biden, Sept. 24, 2019

Atlantic Council’s Anders Aslund, Shokin’s Revenge: Ukraine’s Odious Prosecutor General Fires Honest Deputy Before Parliament Sacks Him, March 29, 2019

John Solomon, Shokin statement, Sept. 4, 2019

Kyiv Post, Trump whistleblower scandal, explained from Ukraine, Sept. 23, 2019

PolitiFact, Donald Trump’s boasts about former Ukrainian prosecutor’s fairness ring false, Sept. 26, 2019

PolitiFact, The inaccurate or unproven things Rudy Giuliani said about Ukraine on 'This Week,' Oct. 2, 2019

PolitiFact, Timeline: The Trump impeachment inquiry, Oct. 3, 2019

PolitiFact, PolitiFact's Trump-Ukraine-Biden coverage in one place, 2019

Email interview, Andrew Bates, Joe Biden campaign spokesman, Oct. 10, 2019

Email interview, Anders Aslund, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, Oct. 10, 2019

 

Email statement from the Donald Trump re-election campaign, Oct. 10, 2019

 

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Donald Trump ad misleads about Joe Biden, Ukraine and the prosecutor

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