CLAIM: President Donald Trump withheld a White House meeting, and military aid, from Ukraine until it agreed to announce investigations.
VERDICT: False. There is no direct evidence of that in the entire House record.
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) laid out the case against President Trump in opening arguments on Wednesday in the Senate impeachment trial. The core of his claim was that Trump withheld a White House meeting from new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as essential military aid, unless and until Ukraine announced investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 interference in the U.S. election.
Every part of that claim is untrue, and directly contradicted by the evidence that emerged in the House’s own inquiry.
Schiff is clearly relying on the testimony of U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, who made the surprise announcement in his prepared statement for the public impeachment inquiry in the House Intelligence Committee that there had been a “quid pro quo” — a White House meeting in exchange for an announcement of investigations.
Under questioning, however, Sondland admitted that he had no direct knowledge of a “quid pro quo.” In fact, he testified that when he asked President Trump what he wanted from Ukraine, he said “nothing” and “no quid pro quo.”
Moroever, as the transcript of Trump’s first call with Zelensky in April showed, the president had already invited Zelensky to the White House with no conditions whatsoever — a fact that Schiff neglected to mention in the Senate.
As for the second call, there was never any discussion of withholding aid, or of the 2020 presidential election. The U.S. aid that was temporarily withheld was “security assistance” — not the all-important Javelin anti-tank missiles, which Trump provided earlier (and President Barack Obama had not). The hold had to do with future funding and had no effect on the flow of funds to Ukraine during the summer of 2019, when the temporary hold was in place.
(It is also odd how gung-ho Schiff and his colleagues have suddenly become about helping Ukraine resist Russia when they were silent when President Obama appeased Russia for years and denied aid to a Ukraine under attack.)
As numerous witnesses testified, and as the Ukrainian president and his aides have since said repeatedly, Ukraine was never aware — at least on the senior level — of the hold on aid, nor did they feel any pressure from Trump.
And the aid was delivered in September — before the deadline — without any announcement of investigations.
The president did ask about investigations, but it is untrue that all he was interested in was an “announcement.” One possible reason for an announcement — alluded to in the testimony — was that there was no confidence that Ukraine would undertake the investigations unless it had committed to doing so publicly. Lev Parnas, a witness whom the House Democrats wish to call though he is facing federal indictment, made a similar suggestion on CNN last week.
In sum: there is not one bit of direct evidence to substantiate Schiff’s central claim. The impeachment should fail.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.