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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump Muddies Impeachment Timeline

President Donald Trump continues to muddle the timeline of events to falsely suggest that the White House release of a memo summarizing his July phone call with the president of Ukraine silenced whistleblowers and contradicted Democratic leaders.

Contrary to Trump’s claims:

  • The whistleblower did not “disappear” after or because Trump released the memo. The whistleblower has chosen not to reveal his identity, but through his attorney, he has offered to provide written responses to lawmakers’ questions.
  • The second whistleblower did not “disappear” after release of the memo, either. The second whistleblower did not step forward until after the memo was released.
  • There’s no evidence House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “angry as hell” that the memo did not match the whistleblower’s account. In fact, the memo corroborates the main points of the complaint. After the memo’s release, Pelosi said it “confirms that the President engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of our elections.”
  • Rep. Adam Schiff’s dramatic, and embellished, reading of the July 25 conversation was not exposed by the release of the memo. Although Trump claimed he “caught” a “very embarrassed” Schiff in a lie when the White House “released the transcript,” the memo was actually made public a day before Schiff’s recounting of it.

The whistleblower complaint was filed on Aug. 12. However, the first rough outlines of the complaint only began to trickle out publicly in mid-September, beginning with an anonymously sourced story in the Washington Post on Sept. 18. Several days later, the Wall Street Journal, again citing anonymous sources, reported that Trump “in a July phone call repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son,” and urged President Volodymyr Zelensky to “work with Rudy Giuliani on a probe that could hamper Mr. Trump’s potential 2020 opponent.”

Here’s the order of events that happened next over three days in late September.

On Sept. 24, Pelosi announced that the House would begin an impeachment inquiry.

On Sept. 25, the White House released a memo of the call, which confirmed that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. The memo isn’t a verbatim transcript, but rather the notes taken by assigned staff.

On Sept. 26, the House intelligence committee released a redacted copy of the whistleblower complaint.

In his repeated retelling of events, however, Trump falsely claims that the White House release of the memo silenced the complaints, or contradicted them.

Trump, to reporters, Nov. 4: I think that the whistleblower gave a lot of false information. And you have to see who the whistleblower is. Once I released the transcript, which was almost immediately, the whistleblower’s report was very wrong, because as you know, the whistleblower covered mostly my transcript — my call — my call with the president of Ukraine. So once I released that call — I released a very detailed version of that call — all of a sudden, the whistleblower’s report was incorrect. And the whistleblower seems to have disappeared. And I also wonder what happened to the second whistleblower. And what happened to the informant. They all disappeared once I released the report.

Trump, at a rally in Monroe, Louisiana, Nov. 6: You know the whistleblower? The one that came out with this “Trump said this and Trump said that.” And then when they heard my real phone call the whistleblower disappeared. Shifty Schiff, he’s a corrupt politician. Schiff didn’t want to have the whistleblower anymore because nobody thought I was going to release the phone call. … But the whistleblower, before they knew I was going to release, he came out with a whistleblower, you know, like he’s some wonderful person. Take a look at the whistleblower. But 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, he’s a total crook. Schiff saw it. Pelosi saw it, and they said, we’ve got a problem. We don’t want to have anything to do with the whistleblower anymore and the whistleblower disappeared. You know who else disappeared? The second whistleblower. And you know who else disappeared? The informer to the whistleblower if there was such a person, which I doubt, which I doubt.

Trump, in a tweet, Nov. 4: The Whistleblower gave false information & dealt with corrupt politician Schiff. He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable! Where is the 2nd Whistleblower? He disappeared after I released the transcript. Does he even exist? Where is the informant? Con!

Trump, in an interview with WKYT-TV in Lexington, Nov. 4: And I think the whistleblower is very suspect, because … what he wrote is very wrong, and I released the conversation. And when we released the conversation the whistleblower — he disappeared. Everybody sort of disappeared after I did that.

Trump packs a lot of misinformation into those statements.

Memo Backed Up Whistleblower Complaint

For starters, it’s not true that the memo of the call showed the whistleblower complaint to be “false” and “totally wrong,” as Trump has repeatedly claimed. As we have written, the whistleblower’s account of the July phone call largely matches up with the White House-released memo.

Specifically, the whistleblower made these three claims that were corroborated by the memo: Trump asked Zelensky to “initiate or continue an investigation” into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden; assist the U.S. in investigating allegations that “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine”; and “meet or speak” about these matters with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr.

At a House intelligence committee hearing on Sept. 26, Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified that the whistleblower’s complaint “is in alignment with what was released yesterday by the president.”

Whistleblowers Didn’t ‘Disappear’

Contrary to Trump’s claims, the whistleblower did not “disappear” after the release of the memo. From the beginning, the whistleblower has resisted being unmasked, and federal law states that the identity of a whistleblower cannot be disclosed without their consent. In an Oct. 25 op-ed for the Washington Post, the whistleblower’s attorneys argued that “the identity of the whistleblower is irrelevant.”

“Much of what has been disclosed since the release of our client’s complaint actually exceeds the whistleblower’s knowledge of what transpired at the time the complaint was submitted,” Andrew P. Bakaj and Mark S. Zaid wrote. That includes release of the summarized transcript of the call, text messages provided to the House of Representatives by the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine, and congressional testimony from numerous government officials involved in the activities highlighted by the whistleblower. “Because our client has no additional information about the president’s call, there is no justification for exposing their identity and all the risks that would follow.”

But the whistleblower has not “disappeared.” The whistleblower’s attorneys nixed the idea of him testifying privately in person before Congress, or perhaps remotely with his identity protected. But the lawyers for the whistleblower have notified both the House and Senate intelligence committees that the whistleblower is willing to respond in writing to questions and under oath.

As for the second whistleblower “disappearing” after the White House release of the phone call memo, that doesn’t jibe with the timeline.

The second whistleblower, who works in the intelligence community, did not come forward until the first week of October, more than a week after the White House released its memo. Zaid, one of the attorneys representing the original whistleblower, told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Oct. 6 that he was now representing a second whistleblower.

Zaid said the second whistleblower had not filed a complaint but had spoken to the intelligence community’s inspector general and that the person had “first hand knowledge that supported the first whistleblower.” Zaid tweeted that his client “made a protected disclosure under the law and cannot be retaliated against.” According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Whistleblowing can range from a simple conversation with a supervisor, to contacting an Inspector General (IG) Hotline, to providing information, through the proper channels, to Congress. In each instance of lawful whistleblowing, an individual is getting the right information to the right people.”

Even more absurd is Trump’s claim that the “informer to the whistleblower if there was such a person, which I doubt” has also disappeared since release of the memo. The original whistleblower, described by the New York Times as a CIA officer who was detailed to the National Security Council, wrote in his complaint that while he did not participate in Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president, “in the course of official interagency business” he was informed about details of the phone call by “multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call.”

As we wrote when Trump made similar claims, given that the original whistleblower did not participate directly in the Ukraine phone call, and yet got key details about it correct, it stands to reason he was provided that information by an informant.

More important, numerous government officials have now testified before House committees about the phone call and other aspects of the whistleblower’s complaint, and have confirmed its key points. (See “The Whistleblower Complaint Timeline” for more information.)

Schiff ‘Parody’ Came After the Memo Release

Trump also has altered the timeline regarding a rendition of the phone call that Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, gave prior to the Sept. 26 testimony of Acting Director of National Intelligence Maguire. Although Trump claims Schiff was “embarrassed” by the subsequent release of the phone call memo, the memo was released a day before Schiff’s remarks at the beginning of the House hearing.

Trump, at Values Voter Summit, Oct. 12: This crooked Adam Schiff made a statement — long, beautiful statement — and it was a fraud. He repeated my call, but it wasn’t me. He made it so bad. … But then I did something that they didn’t expect. I immediately called up Ukraine, through my representatives. … I got approval to immediately make that call public. … I heard it [Schiff’s version], I said, “That’s not what I said.” He made up a conversation. And it was vicious what he said. And then we caught him. … By the way, [Schiff] only did it because he never thought that I was going to release the transcript. … He did it and then I released the transcript. They never thought in a million years, even in terms of violation with another country, but we got the approval. So, he’s very embarrassed.

Trump, at a rally in Lexington, Kentucky, Nov. 4: How about Schiff? He makes up a conversation. He gets up before the United States Congress. He repeats my conversation with the head of the Ukraine, the new president, a good guy, repeats it. I said, “I never said that.” He made a horrible statement. It was a total lie, and then, I actually went and released the actual conversation, and you haven’t heard about the whistleblower after that. Have you?

As we said, Trump gets the order backward. At the Sept. 26 House intelligence committee hearing, Schiff presented a dramatic retelling of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky that Schiff said was partly “in parody.” As we have previously written, Schiff said he was recounting “the essence of what the president communicates” in his call with Zelensky “in not so many words.”

Some of what Schiff said was similar to the White House’s memo of the phone call. But Schiff also embellished the conversation, claiming, for example, that Trump told Zelensky, “you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent.” Trump never said anything about making up dirt, according to the White House memo on the July 25 phone call. As we’ve written before, we’ll leave it for readers to judge whether it was immediately clear that Schiff was purposefully giving his own dramatic representation that didn’t completely square with the facts.

However, Schiff wasn’t surprised and “embarrassed” by the release of the memo of the call, because, as Trump claimed, Schiff “never thought that I was going to release the transcript.” Indeed, the memo had been publicly released by the White House the day before, on Sept. 25.

No Evidence Pelosi ‘Angry’ Due to Memo

Trump also falsely characterized Pelosi’s reaction to the White House-released memo.

For example, at a rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Oct. 11, Trump said: “Nancy Pelosi said, ‘Well, that’s what he said. Isn’t it?’ But she was angry as hell when she got to read the transcript. Because she said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not what I was told.’ But she was stuck, she was stuck.”

At another rally in Louisiana on Nov. 6, Trump said that when Pelosi read the White House memo of the call, she said, “We’ve got a problem.”

Pelosi did announce that the House would begin an impeachment inquiry the day before the White House released the phone call memo, and two days before the public release of a redacted copy of the whistleblower’s complaint.

But on the day the White House memo of the call was released, Pelosi did not express concerns that she had misrepresented Trump’s actions in calling for the impeachment inquiry. Rather, in a released statement, she said, “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.”

“Either the President does not know the weight of his words or he does not care about ethics or his constitutional responsibilities,” Pelosi stated. “The transcript and the Justice Department’s acting in a rogue fashion in being complicit in the President’s lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry. Clearly, the Congress must act.”