Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) “made up a conversation. He made a conversation that didn’t exist. He never thought in a million years that I was going to release the real conversation. And when it did, the whistleblower turned out to be totally inaccurate.”

— President Trump, interview with Jeanine Pirro on Fox News, Oct. 12

“Nancy Pelosi hates the United States of America because she wouldn’t be doing this. And I’m telling you, foreign nations, foreign people looking at us, they honestly think we’re nuts. And then you have presidents and saying nothing was wrong. … But Nancy Pelosi said, ‘Well, that’s what he said. Isn’t it?’ But she was angry as hell when she got to read the transcript. Because she said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not what I was told.’ But she was stuck, she was stuck.”

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In our database of President Trump’s false or misleading claims, we’ve documented how he twists things out of proportion or simply invents stories out of whole cloth. Sometimes, he even goes through a time warp. All of these elements are present in this pair of statements, which are similar or identical to other statements he made over the weekend at various events or media availabilities.

Central to the president’s message is a Four-Pinocchio claim: that the whistleblower complaint inaccurately portrayed his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the events surrounding it. But we’ve documented that most of the whistleblower’s factual allegations have turned out to be on target.

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But the president wants his supporters to believe that the complaint falsely portrayed the phone call so he can explain why, in his words, the man leading the impeachment investigation “made up” a conversation and the House speaker supposedly was upset when she saw the actual transcript. In an added twist, Trump sometimes tries to adjust the time frame to make his point appear even more dramatic.

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The Schiff description

In a bit of a self-inflicted wound, Schiff at a congressional hearing on Sept. 26 summarized the content of Trump’s July 25 call, occasionally with dramatic effect (or what Schiff later called a parody), that he opined was “a classic organized crime shakedown."

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There is no exact transcript of the conversation — in which Trump urged an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 election rival — as the summary was cobbled together from notes by White House officials. So Schiff told the audience that “this is the essence of what the president communicates” and that he would describe “in sum and character, what the president was trying to communicate.” That was a signal to listeners that he was not quoting verbatim from the rough transcription. Nevertheless, Schiff included some eyebrow-raising embellishments.

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In particular, Schiff suggested that Trump, after asking for “a favor,” said something along the lines of: “I’m going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent.”

This is where Schiff gave Trump an opening for attack. Biden’s name came up twice in the call, not seven times. The president also urged a probe into the discredited conspiracy theory that a private company had a role in starting the “Russian hoax” because supposedly a Democratic National Committee server has been spirited to Ukraine. Trump also said three times that his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani or Attorney General William P. Barr would get in contact with Zelensky. So there were a number of requests — ABC News counted eight — but not seven about Biden. Trump also did not request that Zelenksy “make up dirt” on Biden.

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Trump has taken this inaccurate account by Schiff and run hard with it. (Never mind the fact that Trump routinely embellishes his “facts.”) He has even declared that Schiff was guilty of a “crime” and should be tried for “treason” or even “impeached,” even though members of Congress cannot be impeached.

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“He gave the most horrible rendition, adding his own words. … He took my really — believe it or not — congenial and gentle words, and he made me sound like a tyrant,” Trump said Oct. 5.

Apparently, even this spin was not good enough for the president. In recent days, he has added a new wrinkle: that Schiff gave his description of the call before Trump released the transcript, thereby providing a gotcha moment for his fans.

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  • “He made a conversation that didn’t exist. He never thought in a million years that I was going to release the real conversation. And when it did, the whistleblower turned out to be totally inaccurate.” (Oct. 12, Fox Interview)
  • “This crooked Adam Schiff made a statement — long, beautiful statement — and it was a fraud. He repeated my call, but it wasn’t me. He made it so bad. … But then I did something that they didn’t expect. I immediately called up Ukraine, through my representatives. … I got approval to immediately make that call public. … By the way, he only did it because he never thought that I was going to release the transcript. … He did it and then I released the transcript. They never thought in a million years, even in terms of violation with another country, but we got approval.” (Oct. 12, Value Voters summit)
  • “When Schiff goes out and speaks before Congress, they never thought I was going to release the transcript of my call.” (Oct. 11, campaign rally in Lake Charles, La.)
  • “Democrat’s game was foiled when we caught Schiff fraudulently making up my Ukraine conversation, when I released the exact conversation Transcript.” (Oct. 14, tweet)

But this is totally mixed up. The rough transcript — which the White House acknowledged was not verbatim — was released on Sept. 25 and Schiff held the hearing on Sept. 26. Republicans at the hearing were able to call out Schiff’s embellishments precisely because they had the recorded words in front of them.

Pelosi’s reaction

While Trump has been knocking Schiff for putting words into his mouth, he has also been putting fake words in the mouth of House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.). In Trump’s dramatic telling, Pelosi authorized the impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24 — only to be shocked when the rough transcript was released a day later.

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  • “They came out with a whistleblower report before they saw the conversation. Had they waited one day, Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t have made a fool out of herself, and she would have been able to say what I said. Because when she saw it, she said, ‘This is not what the whistleblower said.’ ” (Oct. 7, remarks at White House)
  • “Nancy Pelosi said, a day before seeing the transcript of the call with the Ukrainian President, 'We’ve got to impeach him. We’ve got to impeach him, right?’ And then she saw the call and she said to her people, ‘What the hell? Nobody ever told me this was the call.’ But she keeps going anyway because the press is fake, and they play right into their head.” (Oct. 10, Minneapolis campaign rally)
  • Nancy Pelosi said, ‘Well, that’s what he said. Isn’t it?’ But she was angry as hell when she got to read the transcript. Because she said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not what I was told.’ But she was stuck, she was stuck.” (Oct. 11, Lake Charles, La., campaign rally)
  • “It was a terrible, terrible fraudulent thing. And then Nancy Pelosi went on television. She was very angry when she read the actual call, because this was an exact — I guess stenographers, they took it down. And she was very angry because she got led — she was a day early when she started talking about impeachment.” (Oct. 12, Value Voters summit)

Trump offers no evidence for his supposed knowledge of Pelosi’s “angry as hell” closed-door conversations. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, said Trump’s account is fiction.

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When the rough transcript was released, Pelosi’s assessment was tough: “The release of the notes of the call by the White House confirms that the President engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office he holds and our national security. The President has tried to make lawlessness a virtue in America and now is exporting it abroad.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The Pinocchio Test

We’ve gone well beyond irony at this point.

To make his case against impeachment, Trump argues that the whistleblower did not get his phone call correct, when key elements of the complaint are confirmed by the rough transcript released by the White House. The rest of the whistleblower complaint checks out well, too.

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Then Trump alters the timeline to make it appear as if the release of the transcript came after Schiff’s dramatic reenactment, in a false effort to claim he played gotcha on the Democrats.

Finally, in complaining that Schiff concocted the words used in the call, Trump conjures up an invented conversation of Pelosi with her staff. That further undercuts whatever complaint he might have about Schiff’s description of the conversation with Zelensky.

The president earns Four Pinocchios, yet again.

Four Pinocchios

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