President Donald Trump repeatedly made false claims Wednesday about his handling of Ukraine foreign aid, seeking to publicly defend himself as Democrats began opening statements in the Senate trial on whether to remove him from office.
Trump — who has sought to block White House documents and aides from offering evidence in the trial and insists there is no basis to Democrats’ claims — repeatedly said that Ukraine got their foreign aid early and that Ukrainian officials have said he did nothing wrong.
Neither claim is completely true, but the president’s remarks — made from Davos, Switzerland — suggest that his defense against the impeachment charges will be rooted in his own reading of the facts.
Let’s review his claims.
Ukraine got their money early
“They got their money long before schedule, they got all their money,” Trump said at a news conference in Davos, Switzerland.
“Remember this, they got their money and they got it early,” Trump said in a Fox Business interview.
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This is false. The funds were held for months in violation of the law, according to the Government Accountability Office. What’s more, Congress had to act again to ensure the American ally would get the money it had been promised.
Congress appropriated about $400 million for Ukraine to provide aid, equipment and support to the military amid its war with pro-Russian separatists.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, testified he became aware that military aid had been held up “by about July 3.”
In a secure call with national security officials on July 18, an aide from the White House Office of Management and Budget announced that there was a freeze on Ukraine aide based on a presidential order to the budget office.
Ukraine and American officials scrambled to find the source of the holdup in the weeks that followed. The president eventually released the aid suddenly on Sept. 11, days after a whistleblower complaint triggered House investigations.
The aid was appropriated to be delivered by Sept. 30, and the House impeachment inquiry report notes that Congress had to pass a bill to extend the deadline in late September to ensure Ukraine would get all of it.
In November, the Pentagon told The Los Angeles Times that some $36 million still hadn’t been sent to Ukraine and would be obligated “over the next several weeks.”
Check with Ukraine
The president also said critics should check with Ukrainian officials, claiming they had defended him.
“There was one call, which was perfect, and then there was a second call I guess a couple of months later, which was perfect,” Trump said at the news conference on Wednesday. “The president of Ukraine said it was perfect. The foreign minister of Ukraine said it was perfect.”
“Speak to the president of Ukraine or the foreign minister who say nothing happened. Absolutely nothing happened,” Trump also told Fox Business.
This is misleading. Ukraine’s leaders have indeed downplayed allegations of Trump wrongdoing — Ukraine’s foreign minister has said Trump didn’t pressure Ukraine in the July call — but they haven’t cleared him either.
While still president-elect, Zelenskiy had already spent spent hours talking to aides about how to avoid becoming entangled in the U.S. election because of Trump’s request for investigations, according to an AP report. When directly asked at a late-September news conference whether he had felt pressured by Trump, Zelenskiy repeated his desire not to get involved in the U.S. elections and added, “I think, and you read it, that nobody … pushed me,” referring to a detailed summary of his and Trump’s July 25 phone call that had been released by the White House hours earlier.
Here’s what Zelenskiy — a leader of a country that is dependent on U.S. foreign aid — later said in an interview with Time and a handful of European publications.
“Look, I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo,” he said. “That’s not my thing. … I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand, we’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying.”