Trump repeats many falsehoods in letter to Pelosi about impeachment

On the eve of the House’s expected vote on impeachment, President Donald Trump wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which he called the accusations against him “disingenuous, meritless, and baseless invention of your imagination.”

Trump accused the Democrats of suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome” after losing the election in 2016 and said they are trying to steal the election in 2020.

The letter included specific attacks on the overall impeachment process, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff and former Vice President Joe Biden — while making several false or misleading claims. We fact-checked some of the more prominent ones.

Trump: “You know full well that Vice President Biden used his office and $1 billion dollars of U.S. aid money to coerce Ukraine into firing the prosecutor who was digging into the company paying his son millions of dollars. You know this because Biden bragged about it on video. Biden openly stated: ‘I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars…I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.’” 

This is a misleading and incomplete representation of the facts. 

Biden as vice president took a lead role in U.S. diplomacy toward Ukraine after a popular revolution in early 2014 led to the ouster of a pro-Russia Ukrainian president. Viktor Shokin became Ukraine’s top prosecutor in 2015, after the Ukrainian president went into exile. Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion from Ukraine unless Shokin was fired, in hopes that a new prosecutor would do more to enforce the law. 

Trump omits that the U.S. government, many Western leaders and institutions, as well as Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, viewed Shokin as corrupt and ineffective. We’ve also found no evidence that Biden advocated with his son’s interests in mind; and it’s not clear that a Ukrainian gas company that Biden’s son worked for was actively under investigation or that a change in prosecutors would have benefited the company. At a January 2018 event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden recounted how he told Ukrainian leaders that they would not get $1 billion from the United States unless Shokin was fired. Biden at the event did not mention the company his son worked for or his son, Hunter.

— Amy Sherman, Louis Jacobson

“Even Joe Biden admitted just days ago in an interview with NPR that it ‘looked bad.'”  

The “it” is out of context. From the letter, it appears Trump is saying Biden’s pressure-campaign to oust Shokin looked bad. In reality, Joe Biden in his NPR interview mentioned what his son Hunter had to say about the fallout of  joining the Ukrainian company.

The NPR interviewer brought up that George Kent, a State Department official, testified that he had raised his concern that “Hunter Biden’s status as a board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest.”

Kent testified in his closed-door deposition that when he raised his concern with a member of Biden’s staff, he was told that they didn’t have the “bandwidth” to deal with it while Biden’s son Beau was dying of cancer.

Biden told NPR: “Well, my son was dying, so I guess that’s why he said it, because my son was on his deathbed. But that, that’s not the reason why — they should have told me. And the fact of the matter is, my son testified and did an interview saying if he, looking back on it, made a mistake, he made a mistake although he did nothing wrong. The appearance looked bad and it gave folks like Rudy Giuliani an excuse to come up with a Trumpian kind of defense, why they were violating the Constitution. His, his words speak for themselves.”

— Amy Sherman

“Now you are trying to impeach me by falsely accusing me of doing what Joe Biden has admitted he actually did.”

Trump is trying to compare his actions on Ukraine’s to Biden’s. But the two actions aren’t equal. 

Biden was pushing for action that overall U.S. foreign policy supported, as well as the international community.

When Biden confronted Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko in 2015, he was delivering a message not only from the United States, but from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. All three entities were focused on curtailing corruption in Ukraine, and all three were deeply suspicious that Poroshenko’s prosecutor was playing a familiar game of tamping down investigations as a form of political favoritism.

By all credible accounts, the prosecutor had slow-walked the investigation of the energy company that hired Biden’s son; so, if anything, the prosecutor was doing the Bidens a favor. Getting rid of him would do the opposite.

By contrast, Trump sought a public announcement from Ukraine that it was investigating the Bidens. Trump was pressing for something that fell outside the recommendations of federal agencies. 

— Jon Greenberg

Says Jonathan Turley is a “liberal law professor.”

This is an oversimplification.

At times, Turley has articulated traditionally liberal views, and during his impeachment testimony, he said, “I am not a supporter of President Trump. I voted against him in 2016 and I have previously voted for Presidents Clinton and Obama.” Turley added, “I have been highly critical of President Trump, his policies, and his rhetoric, in dozens of columns.”

However, in recent years, his views have been more heterodox, siding with conservatives in several notable situations – including Trump’s impeachment, when he was called to testify by the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. 

For instance, Turley was critical of President Barack Obama’s use of executive authority, including working on behalf of House Republicans on a health care lawsuit. He also testified favorably on behalf of one of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, Neil Gorsuch.

— Louis Jacobson

Says he beat Hillary Clinton “in an Electoral College landslide (306-227).’’

By any reasonable measure, Trump’s victory wasn’t a landslide.

Since the end of World War II, Trump’s percentage of the Electoral College vote is lower than 12 previous results (1948, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012). By contrast, Trump’s electoral vote haul was bigger than only five elections in the post-World War II era (1960, 1968, 1976, 2000 and 2004).

For the record, history will record Trump winning 304 electoral votes, because two Texas electors didn’t vote for Trump. They voted for John Kasich and Ron Paul.

— Bill McCarthy

“I have been deprived of basic Constitutional Due Process from the beginning of this impeachment scam … More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.”

Without getting into the witch trials of the late 17th century, Trump’s claim is wrong. We’ve fact-checked similar versions four times.

The House Judiciary Committee invited Trump to participate in its impeachment hearings, but the White House rejected both of those invitations.

The Constitution is vague on the rules for impeachment, saying only that the House “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and the Senate “shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

If due process rights were to apply at all, legal experts told us they would be granted during the Senate’s trial phase, not the House stage. The House’s inquiry is akin to an investigation by the police, a prosecutor or a grand jury — and due process rights are not granted then, either.

But even in the Senate, it’s not clear that an impeachment trial would require due process protections, experts told us. That’s because Trump would stand to lose only his position in the White House, rather than his life, liberty or property.

— Bill McCarthy

Impeachment “is nothing more than an illegal, partisan coup.”

We have rated a virtually identical claim about a coup as Pants on Fire. 

A coup d’état is “the sudden and irregular (i.e., illegal or extra-legal) removal, or displacement, of the executive authority of an independent government,” as defined by the The Coup D’etat Project at the University of Illinois’ Cline Center for Democracy.

Impeachment is  described in the Constitution as the way to remove a president who has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

— Louis Jacobson

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