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Trump’s mixed-up, invented and false account of his first impeachment

In his rally speech in Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday, former president Donald Trump accused Democrats of telling lies about him. “Disinformation and misinformation, they’re masters at it,” he declared. “They lie, they cheat. These people, they lie, they cheat.”

He then recounted the circumstances of his first impeachment with what can only be described as misinformation.

Some of Trump’s language echoes claims he made when he was president. But more than four years have passed, and memories have faded. Here’s a refresher.

“How about this guy, he may end up being a United States Senator, right? Shifty Adam Schiff. Think of it. Can you believe it? He may end up being a senator. This is one of the most dishonest human beings. He made up my conversation that I had with the president of Ukraine. He made up the conversation.”

— Trump on Saturday

Trump frequently makes up conversations and his own set of facts. But if someone else makes a mistake, he never lets go. As president, he attacked Rep. Schiff (D-Calif.) 90 times for supposedly making up a conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The conversation — which occurred in a not-made-up phone call on July 25, 2019 — was at the center of Trump’s impeachment.

Trump later in his rally speech suggested he had hoodwinked Schiff by releasing “a tape” of his conversation and exposing Schiff’s dishonesty. But Trump had it backward. The White House on Sept. 25, 2019, released a rough transcript, cobbled together from notes of participants, and then Schiff spoke about it at a congressional hearing a day later.

Schiff’s error was that he summarized the transcript for dramatic effect, rather than letting it speak for itself. Schiff told the hearing’s audience that “this is the essence of what the president communicates” and that he would describe “in sum and character, what the president was trying to communicate.” That was a signal to listeners that he was not quoting verbatim from the rough transcription. Nevertheless, Schiff included some eyebrow-raising embellishments.

“Zelensky begins by ingratiating himself, and he tries to enlist the support of the president,” Schiff said. “He expresses his interest in meeting with the president, and says his country wants to acquire more weapons from us to defend itself. And what is the president’s response? Well, it reads like a classic organized crime shakedown.”

Most dramatically, Schiff put these words in Trump’s mouth: “I hear what you want. I have a favor I want from you, though. And I’m going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent. Understand? Lots of it, on this and on that.”

Trump was more subtle than that, according to the transcript. Trump asked for an investigation of Joe Biden, his potential 2020 rival, and suggested that without such a probe, Zelensky would not receive needed weapons. Zelensky also wanted a firm date for a White House meeting, which Trump dangled but did not deliver.

No matter how often Trump spins this as a “perfect” call, this was not a typical presidential conversation with a foreign leader. White House aides who listened to the call at the time later told congressional investigators that Trump’s language calling for a probe of his election opponent was “wrong” and “unusual and inappropriate.”

“He said, there were seven times quid pro quo. Remember that? Quid pro quo seven times. Now, think of it. That means you’ve threatened somebody seven times. I want money, I want this. Then you say it again, I want money.”

Schiff didn’t use the phrase quid pro quo in the hearing. The rough transcript shows that Joe Biden or his son Hunter was mentioned three times, but there are eight distinct Trump requests for a favor or assistance with an investigation. Trump sometimes has claimed that the whistleblower who reported the call to Congress said “quid pro quo” eight times, but the whistleblower report never used the phrase either.

“So I let them go more and more. The stories got wilder and wilder. Then we released the tape.”

This is simply fiction. We’d wonder if Trump’s memory is fading, but in 2019 and 2020 he’d also sometimes suggest he’d played a trick on Democrats. As noted, Schiff spoke at a congressional hearing a day after the release of the transcript — which the Trump White House acknowledged was not verbatim. Republicans at the hearing were able to call out Schiff’s embellishments precisely because they had the recorded words in front of them, not because the Democrats had been speculating, for their own advantage, about something that had yet to be released.

“Nancy Pelosi, who’s a major sleaze, by the way, a major sleaze, Nancy Pelosi, she said to her people, ‘What the hell did you get me into? You hear this call? He didn’t do any of this stuff.’ You know what they said? ‘Let’s just pretend he did and keep going forward.’ That’s how that whole thing came. So she knew it was false because she heard it. But I will tell you this, after they made up the story and then after that they heard the tape, they died. They didn’t know that phone call was taped. That was one good case of a phone call being taped. They were taped and they got caught.”

While Trump knocks Schiff for putting words into his mouth, he then puts fake words in the mouth of then-House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.). In the 12 times he made this claim as president, Trump never offered evidence for his supposed knowledge of Pelosi’s closed-door conversations. Pelosi’s aides insisted Trump’s account is fiction.

Indeed, when the rough transcript was released, Pelosi’s assessment was tough: “The release of the notes of the call by the White House confirms that the President engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office he holds and our national security. The President has tried to make lawlessness a virtue in America and now is exporting it abroad.”

Trump would routinely earn Four Pinocchios for his recounting of the Ukraine saga. He does so yet again. In his speech over the weekend, he exaggerated what Schiff said and falsely claimed he released a tape (not a transcript) after Schiff spoke. That’s both wrong and backward. He then invents comments by Pelosi that are simply not credible.

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This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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