To defend President Trump against the whistleblower allegations, Republicans in Congress are having to dodge or misstate some key facts. Here are the most common talking points they are using to discredit the complaint and why those don’t hold up.
Talking point No. 1: There is no quid pro quo — in the call or the whistleblower complaint
This is technically true. According to a rough transcript of Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump didn’t say: Do this for me, and I’ll do this for you. But he didn’t have to be that explicit. The context surrounding this call would lead any reasonable person to believe that Trump had things to offer the Ukrainian president if he helped Trump out. Consider:
- Days before the call, Trump froze bipartisan military aid to Ukraine.
- Trump mentioned he needed a “favor” from the president right after Zelensky indicated he would like to buy more Javelin missiles from the United States.
- Trump resisted a White House meeting with Zelensky, something Zelensky desperately wanted, for some time. After Zelensky appeared to agree to help Trump out, Zelensky suddenly got what he had long wanted. Trump said: “Good. Well, thank you very much, and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House feel free to call. Give us a date, and we’ll work that out. I look forward to seeing you.”
Plus, the idea of a quid pro quo may be a red herring. “You normally don’t have a quid pro quo stated expressly,” former federal prosecutor Randall Eliason told The Washington Post. “This is almost as close as you can get.”
Talking point No. 2: The whistleblower has political motivations, and so the complaint can’t be trusted
Page 5 of a report about the whistleblower by Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general, mentions that the whistleblower has “arguable political bias … in favor of a rival candidate.”
But in the very next sentence, Atkinson also said he had determined that that did not affect the credibility of the complaint. “Such evidence did not change my determination that the complaint relating to the urgent concern ‘appears credible,’ particularly given the other information the [intelligence community inspector general] obtained during its preliminary review.”
In other words, Atkinson reviewed all angles of potential conflicts of interest by this whistleblower and still found his or her complaint to be credible, including by finding separate evidence.
Also, in questioning Thursday in the House Intelligence Committee, acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire backed up the whistleblower’s credibility. (Maguire said he does not know who the whistleblower is, but read this exchange between him and Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.):
SCHIFF: You don’t believe the whistleblower is a political hack?
MAGUIRE: I believe the whistleblower is operating in good faith and has followed the law.
A few minutes later:
SCHIFF: Do you have any reason to accuse him or her of disloyalty to the country or suggest he is beholden to anything else but the country?
MAGUIRE: Absolutely not. I believe the whistleblower followed the steps every way.
Finally, the inspector general who investigated the complaint found the whistleblower to have “subject matter expertise” about the material.
Talking point No. 3: The whistleblower had only secondhand knowledge
This is also true. But it’s not enough to discredit the entire complaint. If we think of the whistleblower as a reporter, the whistleblower talked to a lot of people who had firsthand knowledge.
In one key instance, we have original source material to back up what the whistleblower has alleged. So far, this person nailed the call between Trump and Zelensky. This person correctly reported nuances about how Trump not only asked about the Bidens, but asked Zelensky for help about other election-related topics.
Notably, Trump is said to have asked Zelensky to “assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm CrowdStrike.”
That’s almost verbatim from the call:
TRUMP: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.
The whistleblower also talked to half a dozen U.S. officials over the course of months to put together this complaint.
Does this mean we should we take everything in this whistleblower complaint as truth? No, of course not. But it’s worth noting that this person has multiple sources in the room of the president.
Talking point No. 4: This is a ‘secondhand conspiracy theory built on biased media reports’
The Washington Examiner reports that the White House gave this talking point to Republicans in Congress on Thursday to counter the complaint. The idea seems to be to discredit the complaint by tying it to distrust of the media.
The whistleblower does use public events, as reported by journalists, to bolster his or her claims and help paint a picture of a president abusing his power for personal gain. But those news reporters are used to bolster his or her own sources. For example, the whistleblower says that as the Ukrainian ambassador was about to lose her job, this person “learned from a U.S. official that ‘associates’ of [Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani] were trying to make contact with the incoming Zelensky team.”
Then this person makes the claim that Giuliani had helped oust the ambassador and cites Giuliani’s interview with a Ukrainian journalist that the ambassador was “removed … because she was part of the efforts against the President.” This person also cites a New York Times article showing Giuliani planned to travel to Ukraine days after the ambassador lost her job “to press the Ukrainian government to pursue investigations that would help the President in his 2020 reelection bid.”
News reports are part of the story, but they’re not the whistleblower’s only story. In addition, broadly speaking, the reporting by The Post and other outlets on the contents of this complaint have proved to be accurate.