PolitiFact: Fact-checking Trump, Ukraine impeachment hearings, day 1

Author: Jon Greenberg, Amy Sherman / PolitiFact
Published: Updated:
Ukrainian Ambassador William Taylor testifies during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 13, 2019. – Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

The first public presidential impeachment hearings in two decades opened with Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., saying the hearings would attempt to answer a key question: “Whether President Trump sought to condition official acts, such as a White House meeting or U.S. military assistance, on Ukraine’s willingness to assist with two political investigations that would help his re-election campaign?”

The ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., dismissed the inquiry as a “low-rent Ukrainian sequel” to the investigation of links between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. Nunes painted a picture of Democrats lurching from one effort to topple Trump to the next.

Democrats focused on details of the delay in aid. Republicans noted that the aid ultimately flowed and challenged the motives of Democrats.

Here is some of the back and forth.

Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.: “I do not know the identity of the whistleblower.

Wanting to draw attention to the whistleblower whose account launched an impeachment inquiry, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked Schiff when the committee would vote on having the whistleblower appear in a closed-door session.

“You are the only member who knows who that individual is,” Jordan said. “Your staff is the only staff of any member of Congress that’s had a chance to talk with that individual.”

Schiff replied: “As the gentleman knows, that’s a false statement. I do not know the identity of the whistleblower. I’m determined to make sure that identity is protected.”

Schiff’s staff was contacted by the whistleblower. It’s possible Schiff himself might not know the person’s identity, but it’s reasonable to think his team knows.

The New York Times reported Oct. 2 that shortly before filing a whistleblower report, a CIA officer approached a House staffer. The staffer told the whistleblower to get a lawyer and meet with the Inspector General for the intelligence community.

“Like other whistle-blowers have done before and since under Republican and Democratic-controlled committees, the whistleblower contacted the committee for guidance on how to report possible wrongdoing within the jurisdiction of the intelligence community,” said Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff, told the newspaper.

The New York Times reported the House staffer did not share the identity of the CIA officer with Schiff.

We rated Schiff’s earlier claim that his committee had no contact with the whistleblower as False.

House Intelligence Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif.: The Obama administration “provided blankets as defense against invading Russians.”

Nunes’ statement inaccurately downplays military aid given to Ukraine under Obama to fight Russian aggression. While the Obama administration refused to provide lethal weapons in 2014, it did provide extensive military and security aid.

Obama rejected a request from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for lethal aid that included Javelin anti-tank missiles. (Trump later approved them,.) U.S. officials were concerned that providing the Javelins to Ukraine would escalate their conflict with Russia, which had invaded Crimea.

However, Obama’s White House approved a $53 million aid package that included vehicles, patrol boats, body armor and night-vision goggles, as well as humanitarian assistance.

The help didn’t stop: Between 2014 and 2016, the United States committed more than $600 million in security assistance to Ukraine. Under Obama, the federal government started the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which sent other kinds of U.S. military equipment to the country. From 2016 to 2019, Congress appropriated $850 million.

Diplomats Kent and Taylor compared the U.S. aid to Ukraine to foreign help that U.S. revolutionaries needed to defeat the British in the country’s earliest days.

This inaccurate talking point has been regularly repeated. Like Nunes, Trump has referred to the aid from Obama as “pillows and sheets.” Former Ukraine President Poroshenko had used similar language in 2014, and so did the late Sen. John McCain in 2015.

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Rep. Devin Nunes: Democrats tried “to obtain nude pictures of Trump from Russian pranksters who pretended to be Ukrainian officials.”

Russian pranksters did record a call with Schiff in April 2017, and they did say there were nude photos of Trump with a Russian model. They said they had recorded calls of the model and her friend talking about sharing the photos with the Russian government.

In the call with the pranksters, Schiff asked about the audio recordings, but not nude photos. He also said he intended to involve the FBI.

“We would welcome a chance to get copies of those recordings, so we will try to work with the FBI to figure out along with your staff how we can get copies of those,” Schiff according to the video the pranksters posted on YouTube. “I think it’s probably best to provide these materials to both our committee and to the FBI, so we’ll make arrangements between my staff and yours on how to facilitate that.”

In 2018, the Daily Mail asked Schiff’s office about the call. A spokesman told the newspaper Schiff’s people contacted the FBI about the call, before it took place.

“We were aware that it was likely bogus and had already alerted appropriate law enforcement personnel, as well as after the call,” the spokesperson told the paper.

Rumors that the Russians have compromising information on Trump goes back to the earliest reporting on Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. The Steele dossier, an independent investigator’s file first commissioned by Republicans and then by Democrats, included unsubstantiated accounts that the Russians could embarrass Trump if they wanted.

Did you hear something from the impeachment hearings that needs a fact-check? Email truthometer@politifact.com.

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