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Image: Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskyy
President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, on Sept. 25, 2019.Evan Vucci / AP file

Why the GOP is rewriting the history of Trump’s Ukraine scandal

How do we know Donald Trump’s Ukraine/Zelenskyy scandal still matters three years later? Because Republicans are starting to lie about it again.


The first sign of political trouble came early last week. As the world responded to Russia’s war in Ukraine, Donald Trump issued a written statement that claimed, among other things, he heroically provided Ukraine with “very effective anti-tank busters” known as Javelins. It was proof, the former president suggested, of how awesome his awesomeness is.

What the Republican neglected to mention is that he initially didn’t want to provide Ukraine with the Javelins, and when he grudgingly changed his mind, Trump tried to extort our ally: He’d provide the military assistance if Ukraine helped him cheat in the 2020 election.

Nevertheless, it was a reminder that the race to rewrite the history of Trump’s Ukraine scandal — the scheme that led to the first of the Republican’s two impeachments — was on.

The former president kept this going yesterday, issuing another written statement, boasting, “The Fake News Media refuses to report that I was the one who very early and strongly gave the anti-tank busters (Javelins) to Ukraine.” This remains delusional: Congress approved the military assistance; Trump didn’t want to provide the assistance; and he ultimately tried to leverage the assistance to advance his ambitions.

At a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday, a reporter asked House Minority Whip Steve Scalise about the 2019 scandal, and its renewed relevance in light of the ongoing crisis. The Louisiana Republican replied:

“[Y]ou look at that conversation, President Zelenskyy had called President Trump to thank him for the leadership that he provided. In fact, when Zelenskyy got elected, he said he modeled his campaign after President Trump’s — and ultimately he got the relief money he was asking for.... President Trump stood with President Zelenskyy.”

As part of the same pitch, Scalise criticized the Obama/Biden administration for forcing out a Ukrainian prosecutor before the Trump era even began.

Oh my.

The record is unambiguous. In 2015, the Obama administration, European diplomats, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations, leaned on Ukraine to fire Viktor Shokin because he refused to investigate corruption. Why the House minority leader is complaining about this now is a mystery.

Four years later, on July 25, 2019, there was a phone meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This was not, as Scalise claimed, a conversation in which Zelenskyy called his American counterpart to thank him for providing “leadership”; it was a call in which Trump called his Ukrainian counterpart to congratulate him on his election victory.

According to the official White House call summary, Zelenskyy specifically told Trump, as part of a discussion about security measures, “We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically, we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.”

A moment later, the Republican replied, “I would like you do us a favor, though.”

As regular readers know, what followed was a scheme in which the then-American president tried to leverage security aid to an ally in the hopes that Zelenskyy and his government would help Trump cheat ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections. This was an illegal extortion scheme for which the Republican was impeached.

As outrageous as Trump’s misconduct appeared at the time, it looks even worse now. Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist, told NPR yesterday, “There’s just a lot of evidence that Trump was wrong on this issue [Ukraine] and that in many ways, we undermined the NATO alliance and we undermined Zelenskyy’s position in the eyes of Russia and Putin.”

Look, I realize Republicans have an unfortunate affinity for rewriting the history of recent events. From Jan. 6 to the pandemic to Trump’s Russia scandal, GOP voices have a habit of manufacturing strange counter-narratives, telling false stories they prefer to politically inconvenient truths.

But given the seriousness of Trump’s wrongdoing, Republicans like Scalise should come to terms with what actually happened, not peddling nonsense.