President Donald Trump has made a systematic and highly dishonest attempt to discredit the whistleblower who filed the complaint about his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Trump kept it up at his campaign rally in Louisiana on Wednesday night. Appearing to break from his script, he delivered such a rapid series of false, misleading and bizarre claims about the whistleblower that we couldn’t type quickly enough to keep up in real time.
His barrage was in keeping with his general strategy toward the whistleblower: muddy the waters by saying such inaccurate and confusing things with such frequency that the public can’t keep track of what’s true and what’s false. For example, Trump had claimed on 34 separate occasions through Sunday that the whistleblower, whose complaint was highly accurate, was highly inaccurate. That was more times than he had uttered any other individual false claim related to Ukraine or impeachment.
Trump has continued to focus on the whistleblower even as the public has learned of corroborating, damaging testimony from Trump’s own officials, like Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, and Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine.
The President appears to be betting that he can have more success deceiving people about the words of an anonymous figure than about words his own appointees have said under oath.
It’s worth noting just how wrong and just how nonsensical Trump was at the rally. Here’s a breakdown of five of the claims he made in succession.
Trump: “You know, the whistleblower, the one that came out with this, ‘Oh Trump said this and Trump said that,’ and then, when they heard my real phone call, the whistleblower disappeared.”
There is no evidence the whistleblower has “disappeared,” either from the public discourse or in a literal sense. Whistleblowers do not have an obligation to speak publicly once they have filed their anonymous complaints.
And: Trump did say the things the whistleblower’s complaint alleged he had said. We know this because Trump’s decision to release (a rough transcript of) the “real” call with Zelensky proved that the whistleblower was overwhelmingly correct.
The call document confirmed the whistleblower’s assertions that Trump had urged Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, to investigate a discredited conspiracy theory about Ukraine and Democratic computer servers hacked in 2016, and to speak to Attorney General William Barr and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Trump: “The whistleblower came out with his horrible statement about this call, so I really had no choice. I said immediately — talk about transparency. I said, ‘Release it, release it immediately.’ And then the whistleblower saw it and shifty Schiff saw it — who’s a total crook — Schiff saw it, Pelosi saw it, and they said, ‘We got a problem. We don’t want to have anything to do with the whistleblower anymore.'”
Neither Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff nor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said anything like this publicly, and there is no evidence to suggest they have said it privately either. Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has said that testimony from the whistleblower, who was not on the call, might not be “necessary” given that Trump has already released the rough transcript of the call — and given that the whistleblower is facing threats and efforts to expose their identity.
Trump is entitled to offer his own interpretation of Schiff’s comments. But it is particularly noteworthy that he is putting words in Schiff’s mouth here: the basis for Trump’s frequent recent attacks on Schiff is that Schiff put words in Trump’s mouth in an exaggerated paraphrase of the call Schiff delivered at a September committee hearing.
Trump: “And the whistleblower disappeared. You know who else disappeared? The second whistleblower.”
Again, there is no evidence anyone has disappeared. Trump appeared to be referring to a person the first whistleblower’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, says has first-hand knowledge to support claims made by the first whistleblower.
“The whistleblowers have not vanished,” Bradley Moss, a colleague of Zaid, has said on Twitter.
Trump: “And you know who else disappeared? The informer to the whistleblower. If there was such a person — which I doubt, which I doubt.”
This is nonsensical. The whistleblower, who was not listening live to Trump’s phone call with Zelensky, had to get information about the call from other people. The whistleblower complaint said the information came from “multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call.”
Trump: “I’ll tell you what: it’s so bad. These people are bad people and it’s so bad what they do to our country. They rip the guts out of a country and it’s a shame and they shouldn’t be allowed to do it, and people should stop. Maybe go to the Supreme Court. Maybe — but they got to stop it because we have a country to run and these people in order to do things, are willing to do illegal acts; it’s an illegal act as far as I’m concerned.”
Trump is entitled to his opinions, but there is no evidence of any illegality by the whistleblower, who followed a complaint process set out in federal law, or illegality by the Democrats pursuing the impeachment inquiry.