Fact check: Trump's false claim that Democrats threatened Ukraine aid

Trump and Rep. Devin Nunes have said Democrats did the exact same thing Trump is accused of doing: pressuring Ukraine to investigate political rivals.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Jane C. Timm

President Donald Trump and his allies, amid fallout from the whistleblower complaint alleging he abused the power of his office for political gain, have attempted to turn the tables on Democrats, accusing them of their own Ukraine scandal.

Trump, who faces an impeachment inquiry, floated the claim in a news conference Wednesday, saying that Democrats "threatened" Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy "if he didn't do things." Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and a fierce defender of the president, made a similar point Thursday during the committee's hearing with the acting director of national intelligence.

"Today, they accused the president of pressuring Ukrainians to take actions that would help himself or hurt his political opponents. Yet there are numerous examples of Democrats doing the exact same thing,” the California Republican said.

Here are a handful of claims from Trump and Nunes, and the facts.

Claim: Democratic senators threatened Ukraine's aid

"And it got almost no attention, but in May, CNN reported that Sens. Robert Menendez, Richard Durbin, and Patrick Leahy wrote a letter to Ukraine's prosecutor general expressing concern at the closing of four investigations they said were "critical." In the letter, they implied that their support for U.S. assistance to Ukraine was at stake and that if they didn’t do the right thing, they wouldn’t get any assistance. Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t that sound familiar?" Trump said Wednesday.

This is false — the senators did not imply anything of the sort.

In May 2018, Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Patrick Leahy of Vermont wrote a letter to the top Ukrainian prosecutor at the time expressing concern over media reports that his office was "freezing" investigations in order to limit their cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe for fear of angering Trump.

“If these reports are true, we strongly encourage you to reverse course and halt any efforts to impede cooperation with this important investigation,” the senators wrote.

“The article notes that your office considered these cases as too politically sensitive and politically jeopardizing U.S. financial and military aid to Ukraine,” the letter went on, noting that one of those investigations was into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Manafort worked in Ukrainian politics for years, including as a consultant for the nation’s corrupt, Russia-allied former president.

Nowhere in the letter do the Democratic senators tie their support for the Congress-approved aid Ukraine receives to the reopening of various probes.

Read the letter here.

Claim: A Democratic senator pressured Ukraine not to investigate Biden’s son

“Sen. Chris Murphy literally threatened the president of Ukraine that if he doesn’t do things right, they won’t have Democrat support in Congress,” Trump said Wednesday.

Murphy, D-Conn., who went to Ukraine with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., disputes this allegation, which Nunes reiterated during Thursday's hearing.

“Another Democratic senator went to Ukraine and pressured the Ukrainian president not to investigate corruption allegations on — involving Joe Biden's son,” Nunes claimed.

Murphy has said he asked Ukraine's leader not to listen to Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who has been urging the country to investigate the Bidens ahead of a potential 2020 election matchup.

"It’s an interesting Jedi mind trick by the president, to suggest that I’m engaged in corruption because I’m telling the Ukrainian government to not accede to the president’s corrupt requests for them to interfere in the 2020 election," Murphy told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night. "I’m very clear on what I said to the president in Ukraine. I told him if he’s talking to the U.S., he should be talking to the State Department. He should not be engaged in conversations with the president’s re-election campaign, and if he were to do that, he would damage his credibility globally and in the United States.”

Claim: DNC sought dirt on Trump associates tied to Ukraine

"According to Ukrainian officials, the Democratic National Committee contractor tried to get Ukrainian officials to provide dirt on Trump associates and tried to get the former Ukrainian president to comment publicly on alleged ties to Russia," Nunes said Thursday.

This is mostly true, according to media accounts. Politico and CNN reported that a DNC contractor sought information about Manafort's work in Ukraine and communicated with Ukrainian diplomats in Washington. The DNC and the contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, have said this work wasn't for the DNC, and that she was paid for other work.

Still, CNN reported, a DNC staffer suggested Chalupa inquire about having an American journalist put a question to the former Ukrainian president about then-candidate Trump hiring Manafort, who had ties to Russians.