As President Donald Trump’s impeachment seems to be all but a forgone conclusion in the House of Representatives, the Republican Party is still desperately spinning the damning facts of the case.
At every opportunity, they lie, distract, and distort the record in a brazen attempt to cover up for Trump’s misconduct in the Ukraine scandal. Unfortunately, because a major section of the news media is organized in order to promote a right-wing agenda, millions of Americans have been deluged with lies about impeachment and never offered any substantial corrective.
Here are 10 fake facts that Republicans have tried to convince themselves and others of to protect the president:
1. Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy shows “no conditionality”
The president and his defenders have brazenly adopted the tactic of urging people to read the partial transcript of Trump’s infamous July 25 call with Zelensky, despite the fact that it contains damning evidence against the president. During a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said: “We saw the call transcript, and there is no conditionality.” In essence, he was arguing that Trump never made his request for investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee conditional on U.S. military aid.
The problem is the call record shows the opposite. Zelensky brings up military aid, and Trump, who had just been discussing how the U.S. had been generous to Ukraine, even though the generosity had not always been reciprocated, said: “I would like you to do us a favor though …” He then went on to detail the requests for the investigations. Mentioning reciprocation, and asking for a “favor though” after a request from Zelensky, is clear conditionality, even if Gaetz refuses to see it.
2. Trump cares about corruption
Another claim Republicans make in defense of Trump is that his call was acceptable because he really just cared about fighting “corruption” in Ukraine. But almost all the known facts cut against this interpretation. He shows no interest in fighting corruption in other countries, like Russia. Trump wanted to cut money to federal programs fighting corruption abroad, including in Ukraine. In both of his two calls with Zelensky, Trump neglected to mention general “corruption” once, despite the fact that his advisers had urged him to. And Trump cares little about corruption domestically, as he personally tries to profit off the presidency, tolerates rampant corruption in his Cabinet, and has made no moves to promote anti-corruption policy in Congress.
3. Allegations about the Bidens and the DNC are actually about Ukrainian corruption
Related to the defenses above is the idea that the investigations Trump wanted of both Bidens and the DNC were out of a genuine desire to fight corruption in Ukraine. But this is a complete non sequitur. Even if the trumped-up allegations about the Bidens and the DNC were true, it would be inappropriate for the U.S. Justice Department to look into their conduct. Ukrainian corruption largely has to with corrupt actors in Ukraine itself — and, of course, their ties to Russia — rather than political figures in the United States. This line of plausible deniability has worked for Trump figures who only mentioned an investigation of “Burisma,” a Ukrainian oil company, in conversations with the country’s officials. But in his call, Trump explicitly makes clear that he cares about the Bidens, not Burisma.
And Trump made no mention of corruption in Ukraine by anyone who isn’t also a political rival of his in the United States. The idea that these are genuine worries about Ukrainian corruption, and not his own re-election chances, are, once again, nonsense.
4. Impeachment reverses the outcome of an election.
There’s another common trope among anti-impeachment Republicans — though it has, unfortunately, been spouted by Democrats and others at different times. This is the idea that impeachment “reverses” the outcome of the previous election.
But one of the results of the 2016 election was that Mike Pence was elected vice president. And if Trump were removed from office, Pence would become the president — yet another consequence of the 2016 result. Nothing Trump did as president — pardons issued, judges appointed, laws signed — would be undone. Impeachment isn’t a reversal, but a response to misconduct, a form of punishment, and a lesson to future presidents about what kind of conduct will be considered unacceptable.
5. All the money was given to Ukraine before the Sept. 30 deadline.
By claiming that Ukraine eventually got the military aid that Trump delayed while he was seeking to pressure the country to open investigations into his rivals, Republicans suggest something along the lines of “no harm, no foul.” Since Ukraine eventually got the money, they say, it would be ridiculous to impeach Trump for withholding it.
There are many problems with this claim. Most commonly, Democrats point out that just trying to withhold congressionally authorized funds for personal gain is an impeachable offense; they also say that Trump only appears to have reversed himself after the scheme was exposed. But even more fundamentally, the claim that Ukraine got its money in the end is wrong. A significant portion of the money still hadn’t made its way to Ukraine long after the September 30 deadline, as administration officials had feared. It’s not clear it has yet made it to Ukraine. This indicates that the Trump administration likely violated the law by withholding it past the deadline for an unauthorized reason.
6. Biden did the same thing.
One favorite claim among Trump defenders is that Biden did the same thing as vice president that the Democrats now accuse Trump of doing: withholding aid to meddle in an election.
There’s a kernel of truth to this, which is why the claim has gained traction. As Biden has said publicly, and as was widely known at the time, he told Ukraine in 2016 that it had to fire its prosecutor general in order to get U.S. aid.
But this is not the same as what Trump did. Biden’s effort was part of the Obama administration’s official policy toward Ukraine, not a backchannel deal run by his personal lawyer. It was also part of an international push for anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine because the prosecutor general was widely seen as corrupt. It wasn’t done out of Biden’s personal interest but as part of a considered public policy, and for that reason, no Republicans raised objections at the time. Trump’s actions, on the other hand, were clearly designed to serve his venal interest.
7. Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
Many Republicans have jumped on board with the Russian-backed disinformation campaign that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. While they don’t necessarily embrace the most conspiratorially minded versions of this view — that Ukraine interfered but Russia didn’t — their claims have served to create an equivalency between the two countries and to suggest that Democrats were just as guilty as Trump in welcoming foreign help.
But this isn’t so. As Fiona Hill explained in her testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, nothing Ukraine did in 2016 was remotely comparable to the Russians’ criminal interference campaign. Many of the things Ukrainian officials have been maligned for — writing an op-ed criticizing Trump’s comments about Ukraine, lambasting him on social media — were actually common in the international community and not even in violation of robust norms.
8. Trump’s conduct is not impeachable.
Some have argued that while Trump’s conduct may be bad (something the president himself refuses to admit), it’s not impeachable conduct.
While it’s ultimately a judgment call for senators when they vote on whether to remove Trump, the claim that his conduct doesn’t fall into the category of potentially impeachable acts is just not supported by the historical evidence. Constitutional scholar Noah Feldman, who testified before the House Judiciary Committee for the Democrats, has argued that Trump’s conduct is precisely what the framers of the Constitution had in mind:
The takeaway from this historical evidence is that abuse of office for personal gain is the archetype of a high crime and misdemeanor under the Constitution. Thus, if the facts show that President Trump sought his own personal gain when he solicited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations of the Bidens and of Crowd Strike, then he has undoubtedly committed an impeachable offense.
9. Impeachment is completely partisan.
In addition to arguing about the facts, Republicans have also repeatedly railed against the process of impeaching Trump. One of their key complaints has been that the impeachment is a purely Democratic campaign, revealing the partisan nature of the process.
But this argument is undercut by the fact that Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) has been a vocal supporter of impeachment for months now — not only with regard to the Ukraine matter but also the Mueller report. Amash was a Republican, but he left the party and became an independent largely because of his support for impeachment. But whatever else you can say about Amash, it would be ridiculous to say that he’s simply supporting impeachment out of partisan hatred. In fact, it’s his complete lack of partisan devotion that led him to support impeachment and leave the GOP in the first place.
10. The Ukrainians were unaware of a quid pro quo.
This was one of the core claims of House Intelligence Committee Republicans who wrote a rebuttal to the Democrats’ case for impeachment. But as Susan Simpson wrote for Just Security:
The minority report suggests that no quid pro quo could have existed, because the Ukrainian side was never informed that such a quid pro quo existed. However, the undisputed testimony of Morrison, Sondland, and Taylor established that the Ukrainians were in fact aware of a link between the security assistance and the investigations, because Ambassador Sondland directly informed them of this on September 1, when Ambassador Sondland told a senior Ukrainian official “that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.”