On September 25 2019, Politicus USA published an article headlined, “Trump Is Now Trying To Get Mike Pence Impeached,” claiming in part:
During a press conference, Trump said that if he is going to be investigated, Vice President Pence’s phone calls with Ukraine should also be investigated.
According to the official White House transcript as provided to PolitcusUSA, Trump said:
the witch hunt continues, but they’re getting hit hard in this witch hunt, because when they look at the information, it’s a joke. Impeachment? For that? When you have a wonderful meeting, or you have a wonderful phone conversation? I think you should ask. We actually — you know, that was the second conversation. I think you should ask for the first conversation also. I can’t believe they haven’t, although I heard there’s a — there’s a rumor out they want the first conversation. It was beautiful. It was just a perfect conversation.
At the time of the article’s appearance on Facebook, news about House Democrats’ beginning an impeachment inquiry was being reported across news sites. On the same day the claim Trump was “trying to get Mike Pence impeached” appeared, ABC News reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had announced its launch:
The speculation over Democrats calling for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump has been swirling with varying levels of seriousness, and may be reaching a possible tipping point with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that she is officially launching an impeachment inquiry.
The phone conversation with the Ukrainian president may be the most recent issue to raise a clamor of calls for impeachment hearings, but this is far from the first time that the prospect has come up during Trump’s administration, and the president has weighed in previously.
Politicus USA (or PoliticusUS) further reported that Trump was definitively attempting to implicate Pence in the inquiry. Under the first excerpt above, the Politicus USA article referenced a tweet and clip of Trump purportedly suggesting Pence’s impeachment:
Nothing to see here. Just Trump trying to get his own vice president, Mike Pence, impeached. pic.twitter.com/Zi6JDMeONP
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) September 25, 2019
Nothing to see here. Just Trump trying to get his own vice president, Mike Pence, impeached.
That tweet was published by a user with “Politicus” in their user name, and a Twitter bio indicating they worked for the same site. On the site Media Bias Fact Check, Politicus USA was described as having previously been “criticized for utilizing sensational/misleading headlines that do not always match the reality of the story.” Additional analysis noted:
These media sources [in the category of “left bias/extreme” are moderately to strongly biased toward liberal causes through story selection and/or political affiliation. They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes. Some sources in this category may be untrustworthy.
Overall, we rate PoliticusUSA, borderline extreme Left Biased in wording and editorial positions and factually High due to proper sourcing of news.
The site also appeared on RationalWiki’s extensive “Fake News” entry, under the category “Biased or dishonest representation of real news.” Under “Speciality,” RationalWiki added “ridiculously exaggerated pro-Democratic Party news.”
In its coverage, Politicus USA stated a “transcript” of the comments was provided to the site, but the comments in question were widely reported and extensively shown in video across news sites. No aspect of it was difficult to unearth or otherwise under-reported, as its phrasing implied.
Going back to the original claim (that Trump was angling to get his vice president impeached in his stead), it should then come as no surprise that Trump’s commentary was widely reported on mainstream news and politics sites. Vox writer Aaron Rupar tweeted:
Here's Trump roping Mike Pence into the Ukraine scandal: "I think you should ask for VP Pence's conversation, b/c he had a couple of conversations also. I could save you a lot of time — they're all perfect." 👀 pic.twitter.com/uODHpO2q9p
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 25, 2019
Rupar reported that Trump was “roping” Pence into the “Ukraine scandal,” not trying to get him impeached. On the same day, Politico published an article (“Trump encourages questions to Pence about his own Ukraine calls) and reported:
President Donald Trump said on [September 25 2019] that reporters should ask Mike Pence to release details of his conversations with Ukraine, seemingly drawing his vice president into the scandal that has engulfed the administration.
“I think you should ask for Vice President Pence’s conversation, because he had a couple of conversations also,” Trump said at a news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. “I could save you a lot of time. They were all perfect. Nothing was mentioned of any import other than congratulations.”
Trump also said he could be persuaded to release more information about an earlier conversation he had with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, while repeating that he did nothing inappropriate in his contacts with the foreign leader.
USA Today reported that the Ukraine scandal would “test” Pence, not that Trump was purposely implicating him. RealClearPolitics published Trump’s transcribed remarks without added interpretation. RawStory claimed that Trump “threw Pence under the bus,” but didn’t claim he was actively attempting to get Pence impeached or removed.
In short, other news organizations quoted U.S. President Donald Trump’s September 25 2019 remarks about his vice president’s contact with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. At the time, Trump faced an impeachment inquiry based on his own contact with Zelensky. But Politicus USA’s assertion that Trump was “trying to get Pence impeached” was opinion presented as fact, predicated on unproven subtext in Trump’s remarks. In their full context, Trump could just as conceivably be referencing Pence as ostensibly credible or trustworthy. Assigning a motive of harming Pence was inherently misleading, and most political news sites did not make such claims.