Fact Check: CNN Falsely Claims ‘GOP Concedes Trump May Have Withheld Aid But Says It’s Not Impeachable’

Manu Raju (Brennan Linsley / Associated Press)
Brennan Linsley / Associated Press

CLAIM: “GOP concedes Trump may have withheld aid for probes but says it’s not impeachable.” – CNN

VERDICT: FALSE. The claim is not based on a single quote or piece of evidence and relies on distortions.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju published an article on Tuesday evening under the headline: “GOP Concedes Trump May Have Withheld Aid But Says It’s Not Impeachable.”

The opening paragraph claimed (original link):

A growing number of GOP senators are now acknowledging that President Donald Trump may have leveraged US military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an announcement of investigations that could help him politically — but they contend that even that conduct does not warrant removal from office or hearing from additional witnesses.

Notably, the paragraph links to CNN’s version of the impeachment report of the House Intelligence Committee, run by chairman and lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) which was rejected by every single House Republican.

It is true that many Republicans contend — in agreement with liberal Democrat scholar Alan Dershowitz, who testified in President Donald Trump’s defense on Monday evening — that the allegations against the president, even if true, are not impeachable under the Constitution’s standard for presidential impeachment.

But there is not one Republican senator — even among those few who are said to be considering a vote to subpoena more witnesses — who has publicly accepted or “conceded” the claim that Trump may have withheld aid in exchange for investigations. Trump himself has vigorously denied it, as have many of the Democrats’ witnesses and the Ukrainian government itself, the supposed target of Trump’s alleged “scheme.”

Certainly the “GOP” — meaning the party as a whole — has not “conceded” those claims, as Raju suggests.

Raju goes on to claim that “Republicans are arguing” that the claims “are likely true” in the wake of a New York Times report Sunday about a book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton.

The Times — which does not quote the book directly — claims that Bolton has written that “President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.”

The terms “investigations” and “Democrats” are not defined; later in the article, the Times suggests the “investigation” is about 2016 election interference and the “Democrats” are Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. The Times also says that the president “preferred” a withholding of aid; it does not say whether he did so. Nothing is clear.

Raju does not provide a single quote to substantiate his claim that “Republicans” believe the murky claims in the Times article “are likely true.” Instead, he merely states that the claims match House Democrats’ charges.

The following are some of the quotes he cites:

“I don’t think anything he says changes the facts,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the majority whip, told CNN. “I think people kind of know what the fact pattern is. … There’s already that evidence on the record.”

All that quote establishes is that Thune believes Bolton’s evidence matches what Democrats have provided, which many Republicans say is largely hearsay and presumption.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, added: “I think he sounds like a lot of the other witnesses, frankly. I don’t know that he’s got a lot new to add to it.”

Raju suggests Cramer believes Bolton’s reported claims corroborate Democrats’ witnesses instead of simply repeating those claims; he reports that Cramer’s comments “are a departure from the arguments made by House Republicans.”

Asked if anything in the Bolton revelations amounted to impeachable conduct, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the GOP leadership, said: “I wouldn’t think so — for the reasons that were described yesterday on the floor.”

Raju presents Blunt’s comment as if the Bolton “revelations” — unseen and unproven — are to be taken as factual, both by the media and Sen. Blunt himself.

“No,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said bluntly when asked if he thinks what Bolton is reportedly detailing amounts to impeachable conduct. “I don’t think it would be.”

Raju fails to note whether Scott — who has staunchly supported the president throughout the trial — actually believes what Bolton is reported to have said is true. The assumption, in context, is that Scott does.

“Mr. Bolton probably has some things that would be helpful for us and we’ll figure out how we might be able to learn that,” Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, an Alaska Republican and key swing vote, said Tuesday.

Not even Murkowski — who is said to be leaning toward voting to call Bolton as a witness — states that she believes the Times report to be true, only that she wants to hear more.

There are several other quotes — all of which fit a similar pattern of arguing that what the president is alleged to have done is not impeachable, not that the Senators believe him to have actually done what is alleged.

Raju therefore creates what seems to be a false impression that Republicans have been brought around to the Democrats’ case, but are relying solely on a constitutional argument to keep Trump from being removed.

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.


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