President Donald Trump’s defenses of his actions often change over time. They rarely change quite as head-spinningly fast as they did on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Trump continued to argue that his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect.” He claimed that the “many people” who listened to the call did not have a problem with it.
Then he made a flurry of very different arguments — over the course of 74 total words. His claims in the second half of the paragraph contradicted his claims in the first.
Breaking down Trump’s comments
Here is the paragraph as it appears in the official White House transcript:
“And all of those many people that listened to the phone call, why didn’t they have a problem with it? Because they didn’t have — many people listen to calls between — I know that. For instance, the Secretary of State, Pompeo, was on the call. Nobody had — with all of those people, very few people, that I know, came forward. And they only came forward when you asked. And some of them are Never Trumpers.”
Let’s break it down claim by claim.
1) The many people who listened to the call didn’t have a problem with it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn’t have a problem. Nobody.
2) Very few people Trump knows came forward to raise concerns about the call.
3) The people who raised concerns about the call only did so after they were asked.
4) Some of the people who raised concerns about the call are “Never Trumpers.”
In summary: Trump went from
A) claiming universal support for his actions from those who were on the call to
B) acknowledging people complained about his actions to
C) suggesting those people were prodded into complaining to
D) alleging that those people harbor animosity toward him.
He can be a challenge to paraphrase. So let’s dig in:
A fact check
As Trump had implicitly conceded by the end of the paragraph, there is no basis for his claim that “nobody” who listened to the call had a problem with it.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an active duty Army officer and the top Ukraine expert at the White House’s National Security Council, testified to Congress: “I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”
The Washington Post reported that “at least four national security officials were so alarmed by the Trump administration’s attempts to pressure Ukraine for political purposes that they raised concerns with a White House lawyer both before and immediately after” the call; “concerns soared in the call’s aftermath,” the Post reported officials said, and “within minutes, senior officials including national security adviser John Bolton were being pinged by subordinates about problems with what the president had said to his Ukrainian counterpart.”
The whistleblower who filed a formal complaint about the call said that the White House officials who gave him (highly accurate) information “were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call.”
The White House has acknowledged that it stored a transcript of the call in a highly classified system. A senior official said in a September statement to CNN that this decision came at the direction of National Security Council attorneys.
Trump has not elaborated on his claim that Vindman is a “Never Trumper” — a term that has generally been used to describe longtime Republicans who steadfastly refuse to support Trump but that Trump himself appears to be deploying as a broader label for anyone who criticizes him. Asked what evidence he has to call Vindman a “Never Trumper,” Trump said Sunday, “We’ll be showing that to you real soon. OK?”
It was not clear who Trump was calling “you” when he told reporters that people who criticized the call “only came forward when you asked.” Vindman said he was testifying “voluntarily” after receiving a subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee; the media did not appear to have anything to do with it.