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Trump-Ukraine scandal: The key players, dates and documents

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The House's impeachment inquiry has been driven forward by new disclosures of what exactly President Trump wanted the government of Ukraine to do — revealed in 3 key documents, but nonetheless distorted and disputed along the way.

We've gathered the key players, events and disclosures of the Trump-Ukraine saga in one place to clear up what's happened so far and examine where we go from here.

The key players

  • The whistleblower: An anonymous CIA officer who had been assigned to the White House, per NYT. Trump is demanding to know the whistleblower's identity.
  • Rudy Giuliani: Trump’s personal lawyer. He pressed Ukrainian officials to pursue investigations into the Bidens and the origins of the Russia investigation.
  • Rep. Adam Schiff: House Intelligence chairman. He has been tasked with leading the House impeachment inquiry, which thus far is focused on the Ukraine allegations. Trump has accused him of treason.

The Ukrainians:

  • Volodymyr Zelensky: Ukraine's president, elected on promises to fight corruption and end the war with Russia. Zelensky is a comedian who used to play the president on TV.
  • Viktor Shokin: Ukraine’s prosecutor general from 2015 to 2016, accused of failing to curb corruption. Joe Biden and a chorus of Western officials, including 3 GOP senators, demanded he be fired.
  • Yuri Lutsenko: Shokin’s successor, fired by Zelensky when the new administration took power. He made a series of unfounded allegations, including against Joe Biden, seized on by Trump and Giuliani.
  • Andrey Yermak: Zelensky’s aide who was in regular contact with Kurt Volker and met with Giuliani.

The diplomats:

  • Gordon Sondland: U.S. ambassador to the EU. Formerly a hotelier and Trump donor.
  • Kurt Volker: Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine.
  • Bill Taylor: The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.
  • Marie Yovanovitch: Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Trump had her replaced in May in part because of Lutsenko's unfounded allegations, according to the whistleblower.

The key dates

2014

  • Russia intervenes militarily in Ukraine and annexes Crimea.
  • Hunter Biden joins the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, raising conflict-of-interest concerns because the company faces corruption claims and his father is the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine.
    • Fact check: Joe Biden did push for a Ukrainian prosecutor to be fired — but not to protect his son (read our full fact check).

2016

  • Ukraine's National Anticorruption Bureau releases damaging information about Paul Manafort, Trump's then-campaign chairman who was a former adviser to Ukraine's Kremlin-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych.
  • Manafort resigns and is later indicted for failing to register as a foreign agent. Trump becomes "obsessed" with Ukraine's role in embarrassing his campaign, per the NYT.
    • "Mixed in with the issues related to Mr. Manafort is the unsubstantiated theory that the hack of Democratic National Committee emails in 2016 could have been carried out by Ukrainians who in turn pinned the blame on Russia."

2019

  • April 21: Zelensky wins Ukraine’s presidency. Trump congratulates him on a phone call (that transcript hasn't been released).
  • July 18: State Department and Pentagon are informed Trump is withholding $392 million in military aid to Ukraine, but not told why.
    • The aid was released on Sep. 11.
  • July 25: Trump and Zelensky speak on the phone (details below).
  • Aug. 12: Whistleblower complaint is filed (details below).
  • Sept. 13: Schiff subpoenas Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, demanding he turn over the complaint. Maguire refuses.
    • As the struggle continues, reports emerge that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
    • Trump later concedes that he did, but denies there was a quid pro quo linked to military aid.
  • Sept. 24: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces a formal impeachment inquiry.
  • Sept. 25: White House releases a partial transcript of the July call, hours before Trump and Zelensky’s first face-to-face meeting at the UN.
    • Zelensky says he didn't feel pressured during the call.
  • Sept. 26: Whistleblower complaint released.
  • Sept. 27: Volker resigns as Ukraine envoy.
    • Appearing before 3 House committees the following week, he turns over communications with U.S. and Ukrainian officials (details below).
  • Oct. 6: Attorneys for the original whistleblower say they're also representing a second whistleblower.
  • Oct. 8: State Department prevents Sondland from testifying to House investigators at the last minute.
    • Trump tweets that he didn't want the ambassador to appear before a "totally compromised kangaroo court."
    • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also rebuffed the House committees, saying he won't let them "intimidate and bully" his department's employees.

The key documents

1. The whistleblower complaint

"In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President's main domestic political rivals. The President's personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well."

So begins a 9-page document — much, but not all of which has subsequently been substantiated. Read it.

  • The whistleblower alleges White House officials restricted access to records of the July call for political reasons — and had taken similar extreme measures with previous calls.
  • He describes efforts by Giuliani to secure Ukrainian cooperation in investigating the Bidens, and by Volker and Sondland to help the Ukrainians "navigate" Trump's demands.
  • He draws a line between Trump's suspension of military aid and pressure on Zelensky to "play ball" with the investigations.

2. The Trump-Zelensky call memo:

"[W]e are almost ready to buy more Javelins [missiles] from the United States for defense purposes."
— Zelensky
"I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it."
Trump

That's the most hotly debated portion of a 5-page partial transcript of the July call. Read the memo.

  • Trump's accusers claim that in that exchange, he's directly linking the delivery of sorely needed military aid with politically motivated investigations.
  • Trump has repeatedly described the call as "perfect."

3. The text messages:

"As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
— Bill Taylor, on Sept. 9
"Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign I suggest we stop the back and forth by text."
— Gordon Sondland, in response

The text messages released by Volker show him and Sondland working with Giuliani to secure Ukrainian commitments to pursue the investigations Trump wants. Read the texts.

  • Hours before the Trump-Zelensky call, Volker tells Yermak he's been told by the White House that Zelensky must convince Trump "he will investigate / 'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016" — before securing a White House invitation.
  • Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, is a recurring voice of concern.
    • He threatens to resign in one text and in another asks, "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?"
  • The Wall Street Journal and others have reported that before denying to Taylor via text that there is a quid pro quo, Sondland phoned Trump directly.

The big picture: Everyone agrees that Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and matters relating to the 2016 election.

  • Trump and his allies paint that as part of an effort to encourage Ukraine to root out corruption. They also claim the whistleblower was politically motivated.
  • Democrats who consider this grounds for impeachment claim Trump betrayed America’s interests and sold out Ukraine to further his own political aims.

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