FactCheck

Social Posts Distort Facts on Political Relationships

Quick Take

Social media posts falsely claim that California Gov. Gavin Newsom is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s nephew, and that Rep. Adam Schiff has a sister who is married to the son of George Soros. It also falsely states that a daughter of former Secretary of State John Kerry is married to a “mullah’s son in Iran.”

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Viral posts circulating on Facebook claim to show supposed marriages and family relationships among, and between, political and media figures — but they advance several falsehoods and also present some outdated information.

The images, repeatedly posted and shared thousands of times, first advance false claims about the families of three prominent Democrats — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Yes, Gavin Newsom is Nancy Pelosi’s nephew,” the posts begin, falsely drawing that relation between Pelosi and Newsom, the California governor. It then falsely says “Adam Schiff’s sister is married to George Soros son” — a claim we’ve debunked before — and that Kerry’s “daughter is married to a ‘mullah’s son in Iran.”

Here are the facts about those three claims.

Pelosi and Newsom

There are ties between the Pelosi and Newsom families — both prominent California families — that go back several decades, as outlined in a recent commentary piece published by the nonprofit journalism venture CalMatters. But Nancy Pelosi is not Gavin Newsom’s aunt. In reality, Nancy Pelosi’s brother-in-law, Ron Pelosi, was married to the late Belinda Barbara Newsom, who was Gavin Newsom’s aunt.

In other words, Pelosi’s brother-in-law was the uncle (through marriage) of Gavin Newsom. But Barbara Newsom and Ron Pelosi divorced decades ago, in 1977, and Barbara Newsom died in 2008.

Kerry’s Daughter

The claim that Kerry’s “daughter is married to a ‘mullah’s son in Iran” is also bogus.

Kerry’s daughter, Vanessa, is married to Brian Nahed, a neurosurgeon. Nahed is of Iranian descent, but he was born in the United States. According to the couple’s wedding announcement in the New York Times in 2009, Nahed’s father, M. Reza Nahed, is a pulmonologist in California, who operates a private practice managed by his wife — and Brian’s mother — Nooshin P. Nahed. M. Reza Nahed graduated from Tehran University of Medical Sciences and Health Services in 1974, and received his medical license in California in 1979, according to state medical board records.

Both Brian Nahed and Vanessa Kerry, in interviews with FactCheck.org, said the description of the elder Nahed as a “mullah in Iran” was a fabrication. The term in Iran typically describes a Muslim clergyman.

“That is false,” Kerry said, reiterating that her father-in-law is a “devoted doctor” who lives in California and has been in the U.S. since the 1970s.

Moreover, Brian Nahed said, “my parents aren’t religious at all.” Nahed added that his parents immigrated before the Iranian Revolution and haven’t returned since; both Vanessa Kerry and Brian Nahed also said they have never been to Iran.

In 2015 — when then-Secretary of State John Kerry helped negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement online rumors wrongly claimed that the son of Iran’s foreign minister had been the best man at the couple’s wedding years earlier, which Vanessa Kerry publicly debunked. Nahed said similar falsehoods have continued to resurface. “Every once in awhile — maybe once a year — you’ll see it flare up,” he said.

“It’s been incredibly frustrating,” Kerry said of the continued flow of misinformation. “It’s really an invasion of the privacy of my in-laws. They never signed up for a political life.”

Kerry is the co-founder and CEO of a Boston-based nonprofit aimed at improving the health profession around the world. Brian Nahed works at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Schiff and Soros

The claim that Schiff’s “sister” is married to the son of George Soros — a billionaire philanthropist known for funding liberal causes and who is often the subject of falsehoods — is also bogus. As we’ve previously written, Schiff doesn’t even have a sister. The falsehood is born out of the fact that Soros’ son, Robert, was once married to a woman who also had the last name Schiff.

Media Ties

The posts then proceed to list a half-dozen family relationships it presents as proof that “the news system” is “rigged.” That same list — which accurately depicts relationships between members of the media industry and former members of the Obama administration — has circulated since 2016.

At this point, though, some of the information is outdated. For example, David Rhodes — the brother of former Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes — is no longer the president of CBS News. And Ben Sherwood — whose sister, Elizabeth Sherwood, was a deputy secretary of energy under Obama — recently left his post as president of Disney/ABC Television Group.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Ben Rhodes.” Wilson Center. Accessed 19 Nov 2019. 

Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.” U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed 19 Nov 2019.

Gore, D’Angelo. “Adam Schiff and George Soros Not In-Laws.” FactCheck.org. 8 Feb 2018.

Guthrie, Julian. “Belinda Barbara Newsom dies at 73.” SFGate.com. 24 Nov 2008.

Kerry, Vanessa. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 20 Nov 2019.

Mallozzi, Vincent M. “Vanessa Kerry, Brian Nahed.” New York Times. 9 Oct 2009.

Nahed, Brian. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 20 Nov 2019.

U.S. State Department. “Interview With Siamak Dehghanpour of Voice of America Persian.” Transcript. 20 Mar 2014.

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Memes Overstate Yovanovitch’s Wealth

Quick Take

Questionable websites and social media posts claim — without evidence — that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s net worth is as high as $23 million. According to her most recent financial disclosure, Yovanovitch has an estimated net worth of between $1.3 million and $3.3 million.

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Social media posts have recently bestowed upon Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, a personal net worth of anywhere from $6.4 million to $23 million.

However, according to her 2019 financial disclosure, which we requested from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Yovanovitch has assets worth between $1.3 million and $3.3 million.

That includes houses in Boca Raton, Florida, and Alexandria, Virginia, which is near Washington, D.C. The Florida house is valued at between $250,001 and $500,000, and the Virginia house is valued at between $500,001 and $1 million. The rest of her assets are in either bank accounts or investment funds, the estimated value of which can vary widely.

While this kind of financial disclosure report doesn’t give a full account of net worth — it excludes some financial information, such as government retirement benefits and some bank accounts worth less than $5,000 — it does provide an outline of her wealth.

The posts on social media, on the other hand, either don’t include any evidence to support the figures they cite, or they link to websites that, similarly, don’t include any supporting documentation. One of those websites, for example, lists Yovanovitch’s net worth as $17 million, but it doesn’t explain where that number came from. The website was registered in September and is based in Pakistan, according to domain registry details. The site’s owner did not respond to our email.

The claims about Yovanovitch’s net worth are part of the flood of attention the former ambassador has attracted since she testified during the impeachment inquiry focused on President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

One unsourced tweet from a user who includes the pro-Trump MAGA hashtag in his bio, claimed that he had “tracked down” Yovanovitch’s net worth to be between $17 million and $23 million, but “the ENTIRE WEB had been scrubbed” of the evidence. That claim was retweeted more than 4,300 times and then it migrated to Facebook.

One of the most popular memes about Yovanovitch’s finances on Facebook gives a lower estimate. It says: “Someone needs to ask Maria Yovanovitch how she amassed a networth over $6.4 Million with a $124 K salary? Always Follow the $$$”

It’s unclear what that appraisal is based on, but, according to her financial disclosure, it appears that most of Yovanovitch’s wealth is in either real estate or investment funds.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Yovanovitch, Marie. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. U.S. Department of State. Accessed 19 Nov 2019.

Yovanovitch, Marie. Public Financial Disclosure Report. U.S. Office of Government Ethics. 28 May 2019.

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Legal Implications of Outing the Whistleblower

In one heated exchange during day three of the impeachment hearings, Rep. Adam Schiff cut off a line of questioning to protect the whistleblower’s identity, saying the whistleblower has “a statutory right to anonymity.” But the law he cited does not explicitly prohibit members of Congress from disclosing a whistleblower’s name.

Federal law prevents only inspectors general and their staffs from revealing the name of a whistleblower.

The dispute over the identity of the whistleblower came during the Nov. 19 testimony of Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the White House’s National Security Council who listened in on President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. In the hearing, Vindman disclosed that he spoke with “an individual in the intelligence community” about the call. Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence community, asked which agency within the intelligence community when he was cut off by Schiff, the committee chairman.

“If I could interject here,” said Schiff. “We need to protect the whistleblower. … I want to make sure that there’s no effort to out the whistleblower.” After Nunes resumed questioning Vindman, Schiff again interrupted.

“The whistleblower has the right — a statutory right to anonymity,” Schiff said. “These proceedings will not be used to out the whistleblower.”

The Trump campaign fired back with a statement to reporters while the hearing was in progress that said “there is NO LAW that gives the whistleblower a ‘statutory right to anonymity,’ as Schiff claims.”

Later in the hearing, when challenged to produce the statute, Schiff said, “I would be happy to enter into the record the whistleblower statute that allows the whistleblower to remain anonymous.”

Schiff’s office referred us to the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998, which it said combined with the Inspector General Act of 1978 sets forth the process that the whistleblower must follow in order to make a “protected disclosure.”

It is true that the whistleblower is permitted under those federal laws to anonymously report alleged wrongdoing to inspectors general, Congress and other appropriate authorities, as explained in an FAQ on the website of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto, which bills itself as “the nation’s top whistleblower law firm,” and described in detail in a Sept. 23 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The IC whistleblower statute “defines formal processes for submitting complaints that ensure the protection of any classified information,” the CRS report says, and the Inspector General Act specifically bars the inspectors general and their staffs from disclosing the identity of a whistleblower.

CRS, Sept. 23: Section 7(b) of the Inspector General Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.) provides for the identity of an employee making a complaint, such as a whistleblower, to remain undisclosed to the extent practicable:

The Inspector General shall not, after receipt of a complaint or information from an employee, disclose the identity of the employee without the consent of the employee, unless the Inspector General determines such disclosure is unavoidable during the course of the investigation.

It is this law that the Trump campaign also cites in criticizing Schiff. “Numerous legal experts have stated there is no legal prohibition on disclosing the whistleblower for others than the intelligence community inspector general,” the campaign said in an email to FactCheck.org.

While there is no statute that specifically prevents anyone, other than the inspectors general and their staffs, from disclosing a whistleblower’s identity, legal experts we consulted said there may be cases when disclosing the identity of a whistleblower could result in actions that are subject to other federal laws.

“[T]here is no generic whistleblower confidentiality statute,” Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, told us in an email. “However, it’s not just that the vacuum fails to make outing an anonymous [whistleblower] legal.”

In a blog post titled “Fast Facts on Legal Accountability for Outing the Anonymous Whistleblower,” Devine lists some of the laws that could be triggered if the whistleblower is unmasked.

For example, Devine writes, “18 USC 1505 … makes it a felony with five year’s imprisonment to engage in communications that ‘endeavor to influence, obstruct, or impede’ any ‘inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress.’” Schiff’s staff also cited this law to us, saying it is illegal to obstruct a congressional investigation.

Devine writes that “exposing the anonymous whistleblower will have a chilling effect on others who want to defend the law but are afraid of retaliation,” and will encourage “attempts to influence proceedings, by scaring off witnesses whose testimony challenges the President’s actions. That obstructs a balanced record, and impedes achieving a complete record.”

Stephen Kohn, of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto, told us in an email that unmasking an anonymous whistleblower also could result in legal exposure if it results in retaliation.

Kohn cited the case of Halliburton Inc. v. Administrative Review Board, in which a Halliburton employee, Anthony Menendez, won a retaliation lawsuit after his employer disclosed in an email that he anonymously filed a complaint about Halliburton’s accounting practices with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Menendez was horrified when he saw the email disclosing his identity as the SEC complainant, and he described that day as one of the worst in his life. Colleagues began to treat him differently, generally avoiding him,” according to the court opinion upholding the Review Board’s ruling in Menendez’s favor.

Menendez was awarded $30,000 in damages under a federal law that protects whistleblowers for employees of publicly traded companies.

“The federal obstruction of justice law, which applies to ALL PEOPLE, government employees or not, protects whistleblowers from retaliation by making it a crime to retaliate,” Kohn said in his email to us. “Furthermore, ‘outing’ a CIA agent or intelligence community employee’s identity would have severe employment-related consequences and would unquestionably constitute a serious felony under federal law.”

That may be, but the act of obstructing a congressional investigation or illegally retaliating against a whistleblower is separate from the act of identifying the whistleblower, which is prohibited only for the inspectors general and their staffs.

Editor’s Note: For more about the whistleblower and the impeachment inquiry, please see our stories “The Whistleblower Complaint Timeline” and “Q&A on Intelligence Community Whistleblower.”

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Trump Misquotes Pelosi

In an early morning tweet, President Donald Trump falsely attributed a quote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The quote was actually a Fox News reporter’s characterization of Pelosi’s words. Trump then distorted what she actually said.

Nancy Pelosi just stated that “it is dangerous to let the voters decide Trump’s fate.” @FoxNews In other words, she thinks I’m going to win and doesn’t want to take a chance on letting the voters decide. Like Al Green, she wants to change our voting system. Wow, she’s CRAZY!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2019

The president’s tweet echoes a Republican talking point that the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry is designed to subvert the outcome of a 2020 presidential election that Democrats are convinced they cannot win.

In his speeches, Trump frequently says of Democrats, “They know they can’t win, so let’s try and impeach him.” Or, as he put it during a speech in Florida on Oct. 3, “And that’s why they do the impeachment crap, because they know they can’t beat us fairly.”

Despite the quote marks in the tweet indicating that those were Pelosi’s exact words, they are not. Rather, they are the words of Fox News Chief Congressional Correspondent Mike Emanuel, who said on air about an hour before Trump sent his tweet: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi circulating a memo to Democrats tonight telling them it would be dangerous to let voters decide President Trump’s fate when it comes to the Ukraine investigation.” (You can view the video as captured by Mediaite.)

The memo Emanuel was referring to was one Pelosi addressed to her Democratic colleagues, and released publicly, to update them on the latest developments in the House impeachment inquiry.

“The facts are uncontested: that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests,” Pelosi wrote.

“The weak response to these hearings has been, ‘Let the election decide,’” Pelosi added. “That dangerous position only adds to the urgency of our action, because the President is jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections.”

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, told us in a phone interview that the Fox News reporter’s summary of that statement distorts Pelosi’s actual words and meaning.

Pelosi’s comment spoke to “the urgency of needing to hold the president accountable for his actions,” Hammill said. The facts are “uncontested” that Trump attempted to get a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election. Congress, he said, had “no choice but to hold him accountable.”

The full quote shows Pelosi said the Republican position to “let the election decide” is dangerous, in part, “because the President is jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections.”

In a White House-released memo of a July 25 phone call that Trump placed to the recently elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Several witnesses in the impeachment inquiry have said the request was accompanied by a pressure campaign that included the withholding of U.S. security aid, and the dangling of a White House visit for Zelensky.

In her “Dear Colleague” memo, Pelosi made no reference to wanting to “change our voting system,” as Trump put it. Rather, Pelosi has argued that it is Congress’ responsibility to determine whether the president committed an impeachable offense.

In a press conference on Oct. 17, Pelosi made clear that she views the impeachment and the election as separate events.

“I keep saying to people impeachment is about the truth and the Constitution of the United States,” Pelosi said. She then went on to list several differences she has with the president on policy issues, but added, “that’s about the election.”

“That [policy difference] has nothing to do with what is happening in terms of our honoring our oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution and the facts that might support,” Pelosi said. “We don’t know where this path will take us, but could take us down a further path, but the two are completely separate.”

A reporter then asked Pelosi at what point she might decide to just let the voters decide whether Trump committed an impeachable offense.

“No, no,” Pelosi said. “The voters are not going to decide whether we honor our oath of office. They already decided that in the last election.”

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Scalise Spins Facts on Security Aid

Rep. Steve Scalise spun two keys facts about Ukrainian aid to defend President Donald Trump against accusations that Trump withheld that aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate the alleged Ukraine interference in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

  • Scalise claimed, “The law required that before any taxpayer money go to Ukraine, the president had to ensure that they are rooting out corruption, which ultimately they did.” Actually, the law required the Defense Department to certify that substantial progress had been made toward fighting corruption before releasing some of the money. That was done in May.
  • Scalise argued that Trump did nothing wrong because “Ukraine got the money.” It’s true that the aid was released, but only after diplomats privately and the media publicly had begun to raise questions with Trump officials about the aid being tied to investigations, after the House intelligence committee officially learned about the existence of a whistleblower complaint, and after three House committees announced investigations into whether Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tried to pressure Ukraine into conducting “politically-motivated investigations.”

The comments by Scalise, the House Republican whip, came during an occasionally contentious interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

Federal Law Didn’t Require Trump Review

Early in the interview, Wallace got right to the heart of the impeachment issue: whether Trump suspended that aid simply as a tactic to get Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens.

Scalise argued that the legislation appropriating the aid specifically required Trump to ensure that Ukraine was “rooting out corruption.” And, he said, the aid was released when Trump was convinced Ukraine was meeting that obligation.

Scalise, Nov. 17: And in fact part of what Congress appropriated had language attached to it that required that the administration make sure that Ukraine’s rooting out corruption because there were elections during that same period you just mentioned and Zelensky got elected on a platform of rooting out corruption, which we are glad about, but nobody really knew if that was what he was going to follow through on because of Ukraine’s history of corruption. The law required that before any taxpayer money go to Ukraine, the president had to ensure that they are rooting out corruption, which ultimately they did. And the money was released and then he got — he got the money he needed.

Later, he said, “President Trump released the aid after he made sure, by law, by the way, and then Pelosi voted for that law, Schiff voted for the law that requires that he ensure that corruption is being rooted out before taxpayer money goes to a country like that.”

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019 passed the House 359-54 on July 26, 2018, with 139 Democrats voting in favor of it. And as Scalise said, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, both voted for it.

The law did tie Ukrainian aid to a determination that Ukraine was making substantial progress toward reducing corruption. And according to the law, that determination was left to the Pentagon in coordination with the State Department.

Since 2017, the National Defense Authorization Act has stated that no more than half of the aid to Ukraine could be released until certification by the secretary of defense that “substantial actions” have been taken to decrease corruption. (See the fiscal 2017 law section 1237 and amendments to the 2019 law section 1246.)

NDAA, Section 1237 (c)(2): The certification described in this paragraph is a certification by the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms … for purposes of decreasing corruption, increasing accountability, and sustaining improvements of combat capability enabled by assistance. … The certification shall include an assessment of the substantial actions taken to make such defense institutional reforms and the areas in which additional action is needed.

The Defense Department certified that Ukraine was taking steps to reduce corruption months before the money was released.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood wrote in a May letter to congressional committees that he, “on behalf of the Secretary of Defense, and in coordination with the Secretary of State” had “certified” that Ukraine “has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption, increasing accountability, and sustaining improvements of combat capability enabled by U.S. assistance.” Rood’s letter said “now that this defense institutional reform has occurred,” the Defense Department could move forward in providing the congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine. “Implementation of this further support will begin no sooner than 15 days following this notification,” the letter said.

“Substantial progress has been made on defense reform since 2014, but there remain areas that require significant attention,” Rood wrote. Those areas included “increased transparency in acquisition and budgeting” and “implementation of a modern human resources management system,” but there was no mention of corruption.

This was the second notice sent to Congress regarding $250 million Congress had appropriated for fiscal 2019. (The White House also froze $141.5 million in aid from the State Department.) An aide to Sen. Dick Durbin, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on defense appropriations, told us the Defense Department sent the first notice in February.

On June 18, the Defense Department announced it would send the $250 million in security assistance to Ukraine. But just over a week later, the White House Office of Management and Budget — at Trump’s direction — put a hold on the aid.

“All that the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the President to the Chief of Staff to OMB,” William Taylor, the charge d’affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, would later tell Congress.

Lauren Fine, a spokeswoman for Scalise, said that while the aid was certified by the Department of Defense, “the White House also needed to ensure that Ukraine continued to decrease corruption following Zelensky’s inauguration and their parliamentary elections and wait and see if the legislature passed anti-corruption measures.”

But the law only mentions the need for the Pentagon certification.

In his public testimony on Nov. 13, George Kent, deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs in the State Department, confirmed that the certification is the responsibility of the Defense Department.

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, Nov. 13: Are you surprised that there would be questions about corruption in Ukraine and that it would be discussed withholding some of this aid that’s actually required by law that it be withheld if they can’t certify that corruption has been eliminated or is being addressed?

Kent: The certification in that case is done by the secretary of defense upon advice of his staff in consultation with the interagency community. We were fully supportive of that conditionality, and the secretary of defense had already certified that that conditionality had been met.

After the White House froze the aid, Politico reported, the Pentagon completed a second White House-ordered review of the aid package by late August. But that wasn’t required in the NDAA. The aid was ultimately released on Sept. 11 — two days after House committee chairs announced they would investigate whether Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into conducting “politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity.”

The Aid-Was-Paid Defense

Scalise repeatedly invoked a popular talking point among Republicans: How could Trump be guilty of orchestrating a quid pro quo if Ukraine ultimately got the aid and Zelensky never publicly opened an investigation into the Bidens?

In his “Fox News Sunday” interview, Scalise employed that defense on several occasions.

“The real bottom line is he [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] got the money,” Scalise said. “Ukraine got the money.”

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan made a similar argument on CBS’ “Face the Nation” the same day. “So [the aid] gets released on the 11th and most importantly … the Ukrainians did nothing to, as — as far as investigations goes, to get the aid release,” Jordan said. “So there was never this quid pro quo that the Democrats all promise existed before President Trump released the phone call.”

But let’s review some of the events that occurred in the days and weeks just before the release of the aid on Sept. 11.

About two weeks prior, on Aug. 28, Politico reported the Trump administration was “slow-walking” the aid money to Ukraine, and the following day the Defense Department confirmed there was a hold on the $250 million in military aid appropriated by Congress, an aide to Durbin told us.

On Aug. 29, Taylor, the charge d’affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, wrote a cable to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that described the “folly” in withholding military aid to Ukraine “at a time when hostilities were still active in the east and when Russia was watching closely to gauge the level of American support for the Ukrainian government.” Taylor told Pompeo that he could not defend such a policy.

Prior to the release of the aid, the media had begun to ask questions about whether Trump was withholding aid in an effort to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

In a press conference on Sept. 2, a day after meeting with Zelensky in Poland, Vice President Mike Pence was asked by a reporter whether he spoke about Biden with Zelensky, and whether the freeze on Ukraine funding had anything to do with “efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family.” Pence cited the administration’s “great concerns about issues of corruption” in Ukraine and said he “called on [Zelensky] to work with us to engage our European partners to participate at a greater level in Ukraine.” Pence said he did not speak to Zelensky about Biden. 

On Sept. 3, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, urging him to release the appropriated aid to Ukraine. “This funding is crucial to the long term stability of Ukraine,” read the letter from Democratic Sens. Durbin, Jeanne Shaheen and Richard Blumenthal, and Republican Sens. Rob Portman and Ron Johnson.

In a phone call on Sept. 8, Taylor told Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that “holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was ‘crazy.’”

On Sept. 9, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, notified the House intelligence committee that he received a whistleblower’s complaint relating to an “urgent concern” on Aug. 12. He said he found the information credible, and sent “my determination of a credible urgent concern” along with a copy of the complaint to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

That day, three House committees announced investigations into whether Trump and Giuliani tried to pressure Ukraine into conducting “politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity.”

Two days later, on Sept. 11, the administration released $391 million in security aid to Ukraine, including $250 million Congress had appropriated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative for fiscal year 2019 and $141.5 million in security assistance through the State Department.

So to review, by the time Trump made the decision to release the aid to Ukraine, the White House would have known that the House intelligence committee had been told about the existence of the whistleblower complaint. It would have known that diplomats like Taylor had raised questions about tying the release of aid to investigation of the Bidens. It would have known that reporters were asking questions about that too, and the White House would have known three House committees announced investigations into whether Trump and Giuliani tried to pressure Ukraine into conducting “politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity.”

Republicans argue that the president’s decision to release the aid without Ukraine undertaking the investigations is evidence that there was no quid pro quo. The impeachment inquiry is still ongoing, but Scalise and others ignore evidence gathered to date showing that several events could have influenced the release of the aid.

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FactCheck.org Partners with Hearst TV

FactCheck.org’s work during the 2020 election cycle will be featured on Hearst Television Inc. outlets as part of a recent agreement.

Our work and interviews with our staff will air on Hearst TV and radio stations — which include 34 TV and two radio stations reaching 39 states — as well as appear on stations’ websites.

Under the partnership, Hearst’s WJCL 22, an ABC affiliate in Savannah, aired two fact-checking segments in late October, featuring FactCheck.org Managing Editor Lori Robertson. In those segments, Robertson talked about our stories on claims made by President Donald Trump and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff regarding the impeachment inquiry, and our work on assertions about Syria by both Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate. 

An ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City, KOCO News 5, was one of numerous Hearst properties that featured our Oct. 31 story, “What We’ve Learned from Impeachment Inquiry,” on its website.

In November, KCRA 3, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, produced a segment on our story “Trump Again Misunderstands California’s Wildfires,” in which we wrote about the president’s false claim that other states don’t have “close to the level of burn” as California and his inaccurate assertion that poor forest management was to blame for the recent wildfires in the state.

Also, WCVB 5, an ABC affiliate in Boston, posted our story about impeachment polls — “Trump Twists Impeachment Polls” — and a video segment about it. The president said that “if you look at the poll numbers in the swing states, they’re saying, ‘Don’t do this.'” But that depends on what “this” is. In swing state polls, a majority opposes removing Trump from office via impeachment, but a majority supports moving forward with the impeachment inquiry. A number of national polls show more Americans want Trump impeached and removed from office than those who don’t.

For more on these issues, follow the links above to our articles.

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