White House

Trump ‘lynching’ tweet just latest impeachment myth — from both sides

Inquiry has featured misleading statements thrust into ether by GOP and Dems, muddying probe

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 10. His comparison of the ongoing impeachment inquiry to a "lynching" drew bipartisan criticism. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump’s comparison of his possible impeachment as a “lynching” set off a war of words Tuesday between his staunchest defenders and his fiercest critics. Accusations have flown back and forth during the nearly month-old inquiry, but they have not always rung accurate — or been even remotely true.

Trump’s “lynching” tweet is a prime example of the latter, with even some of his political allies making a rare break with a president who still has the support, according to multiple polls, of nearly 90 percent of Republican voters. But both sides have been guilty of pushing myths about how this impeachment is playing out and the nature of the constitutionally based process.

The rhetorical jousting and finger-pointing since Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sept. 24 announced a formal impeachment probe is somewhat inevitable. The authors of the Constitution designed it as a political — rather than legal — endeavor. And words always have been a political weapon.

Here is a grab bag of misconceptions thrust into the political ether by both sides:

‘A lynching’

Just before 8 a.m. Tuesday, Trump poked the unhealed and deep wounds from America’s bloody racial history, writing: “All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here - a lynching. But we will WIN!” It was the first time he has used that word in a tweet, according to the independent Trump Twitter Archive website.

Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary J. Hogan Gidley was dispatched to defend the boss, but would not acknowledge lynching’s negative history and connotations. “The president wasn’t trying to compare himself to the horrific history in this country at all,” he said. “He has used many words to describe how he has been relentlessly attacked by the media."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, after a recent public spat with Trump over his Syria troop-withdrawal decision, was back on the president’s side Tuesday. Trump merely meant “lynching” in this case as “somebody taking the law in their own hands and out to get somebody for no good reason.”

But words like “lynching” matter, both Democrats and many Republicans argued Tuesday.

“This is a hurtful reminder of a very, very painful past. And I’m really furious about it,” said Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. Asked if he thinks Trump’s comment was meant as some sort of signal to his base, Cleaver replied: “I don't think he thinks that deeply.”

During a House Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Rep. Barbara Lee of California brought up the tweet and later told reporters: “Don’t tell me it doesn't hurt the African American community. I think it does. … His standing in the black community, everywhere I go, people are disgusted and really want to see him out of office.”

‘False account’

The whistleblower gave a false account,” Trump told reporters during another wild Cabinet meeting-turned-press conference on Monday. “Now we have to say, ‘Well, do we have to protect somebody that gave a false account?’”

The president’s contention is the version of events spelled out in a still-anonymous intelligence official’s formal complaint to a top government inspector general does not reflect what happened on a July 25 telephone call with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

On this, Trump has repeatedly — almost daily — contradicted himself.

That’s because he also says a White House-prepared summary of the call accurately reflects what he said to and requested of Zelenskiy. So much so that a large number of House Democrats have said the Intelligence Committee need not investigate for too long because the White House corroborated much of the complaint.

In short, one cannot be “false” and the other true.

‘Mafia boss’

“There was only one message that that president of Ukraine got from that call and that was: ‘This is what I need, I know what you need.’ Like any mafia boss, the president didn't need to say, ‘That’s a nice country you have — it would be a shame if something happened to it.’”

That was House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff of California during a Sept. 25 press conference.

Only Trump never directly linked the military aid package to a Ukrainian government investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden, at least according to any now publicly available information. That includes Zelenskiy’s own account of the conversation.

One GOP source called Schiff’s claim a “whopper” that “led to a symbolic censure attempt.” (House Democrats defeated a GOP measure Monday night that would have slapped just that on the chairman.)

‘Spoken directly’

Speaking of Schiff. He also said this at the start of the inquiry: “We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower. We would like to.”

“We” became problematic for the chairman because the New York Times and Washington Post last month both reported an Intelligence Committee staffer was approached by the whistleblower seeking advice before taking his formal complaint to the top intelligence community inspector general.

Asked on Sept. 16 on CNN if “you” had been contacted by the whistleblower or his attorney, Schiff sidestepped the question: “I don’t want to get into any particulars. I want to make sure that there’s nothing that I do that jeopardizes the whistleblower in any way.”

That helped get him four Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker team. That opened the door for Trump to call him “Shifty Schiff” multiple times per day on Twitter, and before media cameras in the Oval Office, on the South Lawn and at campaign rallies.

Dems ‘stick together’

“They’re vicious and they stick together. They don’t have Mitt Romney in their midst, they don’t have people like that. They stick together.”

That was Trump on Monday during the Cabinet meeting, a sentiment he later repeated during a primetime interview with Fox News personality Sean Hannity.

But even a quick study of House Democrats’ recent family history undercuts this notion very quickly. The progressive wing of the party was pressing Pelosi to launch an inquiry long before she actually did so. Moderate members of the caucus were the ones who fell in line with the liberals, bringing a previously reluctant speaker with them.

Exhibit B: Pelosi’s on-again-off-again feud with “the squad” — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna S. Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — the four House female freshmen with whom she clashed over a list of matters.

‘No due process’

“The president was clearly articulating the way he feels he’s been treated by the media. … The president’s not comparing what’s happened to him to one of the country’s darkest moments. … He has been receiving no due process.”

That was Gidley, the No. 2 White House spokesman, on Tuesday continuing to defend the president’s “lynching” tweet. The latter reflects a leading White House gripe with how Pelosi and Schiff have set up the inquiry.

Data compiled by the NAACP shows there were 4,743 lynchings in the United States from 1882 until 1968, and 3,446 of lynching victims were black. That’s 72.7 percent of all lynching victims during the same span.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a 2016 Trump primary rival, offered a searing fact-check on Twitter: “The President is not a victim. He should be the most powerful person on the planet. To equate his plight to lynching is grotesque.”

The group that Team Trump, though it’s unclear if they realize it, should really be upset with are the country’s founders. They gave the House majority broad powers to design an impeachment inquiry, and stipulated Article I of the Constitution hands the “sole power of impeachment” to the House and declares each chamber has the authority to “determine the Rules of its Proceedings.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.