Fact check: Viral post conflates Trump impeachment vote with approving funding block
The claim: In 2020, 52 of 53 Republican senators voted to let Trump block Ukraine arms sale
A Feb. 26, 2022, Facebook post (direct link, archived link) from the liberal group Occupy Democrats shows an image of former President Donald Trump superimposed on an image of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a group of men in military fatigues.
"Reminder: In February 2020, just 2 years ago, 52 of 53 Republican senators voted to allow then President Trump to block congressionally authorized sale of critical military supplies to the courageous President Zelensky of Ukraine, unless Ukraine manufactured anti-Democratic propaganda," reads the post.
The post generated nearly 9,000 shares in a year and recently regained traction on Facebook.
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Our rating: False
No such vote took place in February 2020. The post is conflating Trump’s decision to withhold aid for Ukraine in 2019 with a February 2020 vote to acquit the former president on an article of impeachment that was opposed by 52 of 53 Republican senators.
No such vote occurred in February 2020
There is no record of 52 Republican senators voting against Ukraine aid in February 2020, according to Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University. The Senate’s website doesn’t list any such roll call votes made during that time span, either.
The post is conflating two different events that took place during Trump's presidency: the former president’s decision to withhold aid to Ukraine in 2019 and a February 2020 vote to acquit Trump on an article of impeachment related to that withheld aid.
The aid in question for Ukraine included $250 million appropriated in September 2018 and $141 million appropriated in February 2019.
The 2019 commitments came as Russia was positioning forces on Ukraine's border, according to Smith.
"Both funds are utilized to allow Ukraine to purchase arms and equipment, as well as fund training and other capacity building activities to strengthen the full spectrum of Ukraine’s defense capabilities," reads an emailed statement from the State Department.
Trump's 2020 impeachment trial centered around his withholding these funds in an alleged attempt to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate President Joe Biden, his political rival, as USA TODAY reported.
The Washington Post reported that the White House didn't lift its hold on the funds until September 2019, despite congressional officials being notified about the aid in February 2019 and May 2019.
In December 2019, the House voted to impeach Trump for two charges – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – related to withholding the funds, as USA TODAY reported.
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In February 2020, 52 Republican senators voted to acquit Trump of abuse of power, while one Republican senator – Mitt Romney – and 47 Democratic senators voted to convict. The post is referencing this vote to acquit the former president.
Grant Stern of Occupy Democrats said the claim is “factually accurate” and referred USA TODAY to articles from Reuters and BBC about the 2020 impeachment vote. But neither source provides proof that any vote to allow Trump to block the sale of weapons occurred.
Experts say the Occupy Democrats post is not an accurate description of what happened.
"That article (of impeachment) concerned abuse of power, which involved conditioning aid to Ukraine on Ukraine conducting investigations in contacts with the Ukraine president in July 2019," Smith said. "The vote was not to 'allow Trump to block authorization of military supplies.' Rather, the vote was about convicting and removing Trump from office for that abuse of power."
Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer at Mark S. Zaid, P.C., agreed.
"This post clearly conflates the impeachment vote regarding abuse of power with the idea of authorizing a block in aid to Ukraine," Moss said. "There was no vote to do the latter, it was strictly a vote on whether to convict Mr. Trump for abuse of power tied to his halting of the aid in the context of his demand for an investigation into President Biden."
All 53 Republican senators voted to acquit Trump on the obstruction of Congress charge, while 47 Democratic senators voted guilty.
Our fact-check sources:
Steven Smith, March 10, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Kenneth Mayer, Feb. 27, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Bradley Moss, March 23, Email exchange with USA TODAY
State Department, March 17, Email exchange with USA TODAY
USA TODAY, Sept. 15, 2019, Trump administration releases details of call with Ukrainian President Zelensky amid impeachment inquiry
USA TODAY, Jan. 16, 2020, Watchdog: White House budget office violated federal law by withholding Ukraine security funds
USA TODAY, Dec. 10, 2019, The 2 articles of impeachment against President Trump explained
Politico, Feb. 5, 2020, How senators voted on Trump’s impeachment
PolitiFact, Oct. 7, 2019, The U.S. aid to Ukraine that Donald Trump froze, in one chart
The Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2019, Trump ordered hold on military aid days before calling Ukrainian president, officials say
Government Accountability Office, Jan. 16, 2020, Decision
Congress.gov, accessed March 14, H.Res.755 - Impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Congress.gov, accessed March 20, Roll Call Votes 116th Congress - 2nd Session (2020)
House Permanent Select Committee, Dec. 17, 2019, The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report and Report of Evidence in the Democrats' Impeachment Inquiry in the House of Representatives
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Republicans voted to acquit Trump on impeachment charge