Oct 13, 2019

What matters most in the Trump-Ukraine scandal

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.

Go deeper

All the people Trump says he doesn't know in the Ukraine investigation

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In a tweet Sunday, President Trump attacked Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, for her testimony in a closed-door impeachment hearing, calling her a "Never Trumper" while also claiming he doesn't know who she is.

The big picture: Over the past few weeks, the president has continually claimed that he does not know several of the key people involved in the impeachment inquiry — despite them serving in his own administration.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Nov 17, 2019

House Democrats' impeachment roadmap

An excerpt from House Democrats' document request for Fiona Hill.

Ahead of this week's subpoenas and depositions, new documents obtained by Axios show how Democrats are taking the impeachment inquiry in two tightly focused directions: Ukraine and obstruction of justice.

Why it matters: There are new temptations for Democrats to broaden the scope of their inquiry after developments last week including President Trump's gift to Turkey, new questions about coordination with the Chinese over Hunter Biden, and the dramatic airport arrests of two of Rudy Giuliani's associates with Eastern European backgrounds and their indictments on campaign finance violations.

Go deeperArrowOct 13, 2019

Trump says he'd love Ukraine's Zelensky to visit the White House

Presidents Zelensky and Trump during a meeting in New York on Sept. 25. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump told reporters Saturday he "would love" to have Ukraine's leader visit the White House and he thinks "he’d like to come," Reuters reports.

Why it matters: His July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky is at the center of a whistleblower complaint and subsequent impeachment inquiry into whether Trump withheld Ukraine's military aid to encourage an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump denies any "quid pro quo" took place.

Go deeper: Trump-Ukraine scandal: All the key players, dates and documents