Start to Finish: What You Need to Know About the Situation With Trump and Ukraine

President Trump’s impeachment inquiry is building, adding drama to an already sensational presidency. After months of swirling “will they or won’t they” rhetoric in the House, mounting evidence of Trump’s alleged wrongdoing, and Twitter rampages, Nancy Pelosi announced that there would be a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump

Citing that “no one is above the law,” Pelosi was initially reluctant to begin an impeachment inquiry, but changed her mind with the unfolding story of Trump and the Ukraine. When news broke of President Trump asking Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to “look into” presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son Hunter, some believed Trump was getting a head start on the 2020 elections, as CNBC reported. Democrats seemed to believe that digging up dirt about Biden, the most successful Democratic candidate at that point, regarding a Ukrainian affair seemed like an easy way to tarnish the pedestal Biden stood on.

However, much like every presidential scandal, further digging into the story has uncovered more messes than answers.

So grab a coffee, and let’s dive into the Trump-Ukraine situation. 

 

The Background

The story began in 2017, when Trump pushed a debunked theory that a Ukrainian company had possession of the hacked DNC computer server, per WSB-TV Atlanta. This theory was brought up again during Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy.

The story then moves to the end of 2018, when Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, first heard about a possible Biden-Ukraine connection while on a Skype call with former Ukrainian prosecutor-general Viktor Shokin, according to NPR. The suspicion was that Biden had played a hand in Shokin’s firing. Shokin was meant to play an instrumental part in helping clean up corruption in Ukraine, but was fired for his alleged lack of doing exactly that.

Trump and his allies claim that this dismissal was unfair. They touted the idea that Biden withheld loans and forced the dismissal of Shokin due to a criminal investigation he was leading into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. Thus far, there’s no evidence that this is true. What’s so special about the company? It’s a natural gas company that was being investigated that counted Biden’s son Hunter among its board of directors.

Upon further investigation, Biden did in fact threaten to withhold loans until Shokin was dismissed, but this was due to his perceived poor performance among world leaders at facing Ukrainian corruption and sabotaging cases. 

Biden’s suggestion was heard loud and clear and echoed by agreements from anti-corruption activists, the European Union, and other officials. In fact, part of the reason Biden was calling for Shokin’s dismissal was due to his slow approach to investigate cases such as Burisma, as RadioFreeEurope reported. Shokin was finally dismissed and the U.S. government released the loans. 

Shokin, however, believed the reason he was fired was because Biden, in an effort to protect his son, wanted to cull the Burisma investigation, Vox reported. But, ABC News reported that according to multiple sources and backed by many allies, Shokin was removed because of worries that he was an impediment to Ukraine’s efforts to fight corruption. Not to mention many reports cite that the Burisma investigations, Hunter Biden’s involvement and Biden’s withholding of funds happened at slightly different times. 

In May 2019, Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, ended her assignment. Yovanovitch, an Obama appointee, asked about her sudden removal from her position and was told that she “had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause,” according to an article from NPR. 

Fast forward to July 25, 2019, when Trump called Zelenskiy to again congratulate him. After pleasantries and a general consensus of their respective countries needing to “drain the swamp,” Zelenskiy commented that he wished to purchase more anti-tank missiles from the United States.

“I would like you to do us a favor though,” Trump responded, and then brought up the 2016 election scandal allegedly involving Russia and a Biden-Ukraine connection. Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens so that the United States could get to the bottom of what allegedly happened during the Obama administration. 

At the point of the call, Trump had blocked nearly $400 million of aid to Ukraine, which had been previously approved by Congress, according to reporting from the Washington Post. The timing and the inconsistent messaging for blocking the aid made the stunt look, to some, like a leveraging tool for Trump to get Zelenskiy to agree to investigate Biden.

In the unclassified memorandum, Zelenskiy responded to Trump’s request with; “…we are open for any future cooperation. We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine.” They ended the call with both looking at their calendars to set a tentative date for Zelenskiy to visit Washington D.C.

Zelenskiy seemed to covet an official Oval Office meeting and U.S. aid. An Oval Office meeting would show the world, and specifically Russia, that U.S.-Ukraine ties are strong. Aid and political meetings are a way for the United States to challenge Russia, according to the Associated Press. Ukraine equally benefited from this meeting and aid, because Ukraine needs western support to stand up to Russia and their general hostility. As Serhiy Leshchenko, an anti-corruption advocate, told ABC News, “Ukrainian officials were asking for a meeting with Trump for a long time. As I remember, it was a clear fact that Trump wants to meet only if Biden case will be included.” 

 

The Unfolding

On August 12, Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, received what is now the cornerstone of the impeachment inquiry — the whistleblower complaint, which alleged that Trump was using his power in office to “solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

According to the whistleblower report, the readout of the call that took place on July 25 was immediately restricted and removed from the routine electronic system. Instead, the word-for-word transcript and relating documents were placed on a locked down electronic system used for classified information. 

The report outlined what was seemingly an unsaid agreement between Zelenskiy and Trump: If Zelenskiy wasn’t willing to investigate Biden, there would not be any meeting of the two presidents in Washington. Whether or not that was actually Trump’s intention is unclear. 

The Senate approved a resolution instructing the director of national intelligence to give the whistleblower complaint to Congress. From there, the complaint continued to unfold and Nancy Pelosi announced an official impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24

The day after Pelosi announced the official inquiry, the White House released a partial transcript of the phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy. It has been referred to as a transcript, but the document itself said, “A memorandum of a telephone conversation (Telcon) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion,” and according to investigators, seems to omit some information.

After a whirlwind of events, including the whistleblower complaint finally being released, Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine resigning, and potentially incriminating Whatsapp messages from American diplomats being released, a second whistleblower has come forward

 

Where Are We Now?

The impeachment inquiry is in full swing, with Congress calling on many seemingly major players to testify, including Yovanovitch. With so many twists and turns in an already tumultuous presidency, only time will tell what the outcome of an impeachment inquiry may be.