Monday, September 30, 2019

Fact-checking presidential claims about Ukraine, Bidens

The whistleblower scandal has dominated American news for the past week, and given the importance of the issue, it's worth clarifying the underlying facts. This is necessary, writes Glenn Kessler, editor of The Washington Post's Fact Checker, because complex stories like this "frequently confuse ordinary Americans. Trump appears to be counting on that confusion to offer a fog of claims and allegations to make it appear as if Biden had done something wrong." So, Kessler provides an omnibus fact-check on Trump's statements regarding the whistleblower issue. 

Trump has falsely claimed that then-Vice President Joe Biden pressured the Ukraine government to fire top prosecutor Viktor Shokin in 2015 because Shokin was investigating Ukrainian gas company Burisma, where Biden's son Hunter was a board member. However, Kessler writes, Shokin was not investigating Burisma or Hunter Biden, and many Western officials had pushed for Shokin's ouster because he wasn't investigating extensive corruption in the country.

Trump has also falsely claimed that Hunter Biden made millions of dollars from China or that he "walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund" after riding with Joe Biden on Air Force Two. But there is no evidence to support either of those claims, Kessler reports. 

Joe Biden told reporters that he has never spoken to his son about his overseas business dealings, but Trump said that was a lie, and that Biden had already said he had spoken to Hunter about such things. Trump appeared to refer to a line in a New Yorker story in which Hunter Biden said his dad had discussed Burisma with him only once, and even then only said, "I hope you know what you are doing." On those grounds, Trump's assertion is false, Kessler writes.

Trump said three Democratic senators had threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine if it did not do what the senators wanted. "Trump suggested this was the 'real deal,' unlike allegations that he held up military aid to force the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens," Kessler writes. "Trump is referring to a letter written in 2018, and it does not say what he claims." Instead, the letter to the Ukrainian special prosecutor expresses concern that Ukraine had stopped cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference in order to avoid upsetting Trump. The letter doesn't threaten to withhold aid, but notes that a New York Times article said that Ukraine's move was motivated by the fear that Trump would cut off aid. The letter asks whether the Times report was correct and whether the Trump administration had encouraged the Ukrainian government not to cooperate with Miller; the prosecutor never responded. Since the letter was sent, the senators have voted for almost $870 million in additional aid to Ukraine. Trump held up part of that aid before asking Ukraine's president to "do us a favor, though," by investigating Biden.

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