White House Sends Impeachment Talking Points to Democrats, Then Tries to Recall Them

“They’re complete Orwellian lies and toxic trash,” Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat who received the message, said of the talking points. (He did not use them.)

ImageThe White House sent top Democratic lawmakers a list of talking points to counter “myths” it said were being spread by Democrats.
The White House sent top Democratic lawmakers a list of talking points to counter “myths” it said were being spread by Democrats.CreditCreditSamuel Corum for The New York Times
Niraj Chokshi

A White House official on Wednesday accidentally sent talking points for allies defending the president to Democratic officials, then tried to “recall” the memo.

In the email, the White House laid out guidance for how supporters should publicly discuss President Trump’s July phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine. An allegation that Mr. Trump tried to use that conversation for political gain contributed to the decision by House Democrats to announce a formal impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.

But the White House list of concise points and counterpoints was also sent to the offices of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers.

“They’re complete Orwellian lies and toxic trash, but maybe you’d like to read them to appreciate their corruption!” Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said on Twitter, alongside screenshots of the email.

Representative Brendan F. Boyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said that his office had also received the email. “I will not be using their spin and will instead stick with the truth,” he said on Twitter. “But thanks though.”

The email, sent by Tori Q. Symonds, a White House communications staff member, argued that there were “myths” being spread by Democrats about the phone call, which had “triggered a media frenzy of false accusations.”

It portrays the conversation between the two leaders as “entirely proper” and the handling of a related whistle-blower complaint about the call as being “absolutely by the book.” The email also made reference to the “Deep State,” a phrase that has fueled conspiracy theories of government bureaucrats working to undermine President Trump. Sharing such messaging guidance with allies is common among both parties in Washington.

Shortly after the memo went out, a follow-up message from Ms. Symonds’s account stated that she would “like to recall” the previous email. Such messages are often sent by Microsoft Outlook when an individual who uses the program seeks to revoke an email from a recipient.

The misfire came as the White House scrambled to coordinate responses to Democrats who the day before had announced a formal impeachment inquiry. Democratic Party leaders have accused the president of betraying his oath of office in seeking Mr. Zelensky’s help in targeting former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

On Wednesday, the White House released a reconstructed transcript of the call between the two men and invited a dozen or so top Republican lawmakers, including Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise and Liz Cheney, to review the document in advance and pose questions, officials familiar with the meeting said. At one point, Mr. Trump dialed into the meeting from the United Nations.

“The House Democrats have been careening from impeachment theory to impeachment theory, they’ve careened from target to target,” Ms. Cheney said on Wednesday. She accused Ms. Pelosi of “trying to weaken the president, trying to weaken his hand as he’s dealing with crucial issues of national security.”

One of the few exceptions was Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, who pointedly did not suggest that Ms. Pelosi had gone too far: “She’s able to do what she feels is right. That’s up to her.”

And he expressed deep concern for what he had read.

“Clearly what we’ve seen in the transcript is deeply troubling,” Mr. Romney told reporters.

Later, at The Atlantic’s annual discussion festival, he explained why he thought his party was sticking to the talking points. “I think it’s very natural for people to look at circumstances and see them in the light that’s most amenable to their maintaining power,” he said, “and doing things to preserve that power.”

Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter based in New York. Before joining The Times in 2016, he covered state governments for The Washington Post. He has also worked at The Atlantic, National Journal and The Recorder, in San Francisco. @nirajc