Oct 13, 2019 - Politics & Policy

What matters most in the Trump-Ukraine scandal

President Trump waits to enter his campaign rally in Lake Charles, La., on Friday.
President Trump waits to enter his campaign rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana., on Friday. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters

This morning, Axios goes back and puts in order for you the most important things we have learned about President Trump and Ukraine.

Why it matters: There’s just so much new each day. Some consequential revelations get overlooked; some ephemeral developments get overblown. Even people who follow it all fairly diligently can get wildly confused.

This happened fast. It was Sept. 24 — 19 days ago — that Speaker Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry. Here's what has happened since then:

  • A rough transcript of a July 25 phone call shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky bringing up the possibility of buying more U.S. Javelin missiles for Ukraine's war against Russia, before Trump says: "I would like you to do us a favor though."
  • Trump goes on to ask Zelensky to look into Ukraine's alleged involvement in the 2016 election, and to work with Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who did business in Ukraine.

Trump maintains that the contents of the conversation were "perfect."

  • Democrats say it's evidence of the president abusing his office to solicit foreign election interference.

The first witness to be deposed in the House's impeachment inquiry was former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.

  • He turned over text messages that show him coordinating with two other diplomats to secure a "deliverable" for Trump and Giuliani — a written statement from Zelensky announcing these investigations.
  • The reward for the new Ukrainian president is a visit to the White House.
  • But one diplomat — Bill Taylor — is troubled by his impression that $400 million in military aid that Ukraine desperate needs is being used as leverage.
  • Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, a million-dollar Trump donor, picks up the phone and calls Trump, before eventually responding to Taylor: "The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quos of any kind." (The WashPost reports in this morning's lead story that Sondland plans to tell Congress this week that he was just repeating what Trump had told him.)

4 plot twists:

  1. A week into the inquiry, Trump told reporters on the South Lawn that Ukraine should start "a major investigation into the Bidens" — the exact request that prompted Democrats to launch their impeachment inquiry. Then Trump topped it: "China should start an investigation into the Bidens."
  2. Last week, two Florida businessmen who helped introduce Giuliani to Ukrainian officials were indicted on charges of funneling foreign money into Republican campaigns.
  3. The former mayor himself is now under criminal investigation — by the very U.S. attorney's office he used to run.
  4. And the White House is trying to block any witnesses from cooperating with the impeachment inquiry, calling it "constitutionally illegitimate."

The bottom line: Barring dramatic new information, expect Trump — like Bill Clinton — to be impeached by the House, then acquitted by the Senate.

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