Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani have mounted a sustained public campaign for Ukraine to investigate a convoluted story in which Biden, as vice president, supposedly pressed for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating a company on whose board Biden’s son sat. But the story is nonsense in every which way.
It now looks as if Trump’s pressure on Zelensky is at the center of the whistleblower complaint that top Trump officials have refused to transmit to Congress, in violation of the law, though this has not been publicly confirmed.
The emerging spin from Trump’s propagandists is that Trump didn’t “pressure” Zelensky to dig dirt on Biden and that there was no explicit quid pro quo involving the military aid.
But this spin is a joke. The already known facts are damning enough. To simplify this story, I created this timeline of it:
September 2018: Congress approves military aid to Ukraine, per House Democratic sources.
Feb. 28, 2019: Congressional officials are notified that the administration is set to release large amounts of that aid. It doesn’t happen.
May 19: Trump goes on Fox News and rails about Biden and Ukraine, falsely claiming that Biden improperly pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was supposedly “after” his son.
July 18th or thereabouts: Trump orders Mulvaney to freeze the aid to Ukraine. Trump’s decision is communicated to officials at the State and Defense departments. Importantly, as The Post reports, officials are instructed to tell lawmakers that the delay stemmed from some kind of “interagency process,” but not to share any more details.
July 24: The special counsel testifies to Congress, and Trump hails the proceedings as a “very good day.” While the special counsel detailed extraordinary corruption and wrongdoing, Trump plainly takes from it that he can conduct himself with total impunity.
July 25: Trump holds a call with Zelensky. Trump himself will later admit he brought up Biden and “corruption” in Ukraine. It is also subsequently reported that Trump directly urged Zelensky to discuss this with Giuliani.
Late July: A few days after that call, Giuliani meets with an aide to Zelensky, and demands an investigation into Biden. Giuliani later admits he would not be doing this without discussing it with Trump.
Aug. 12: The inspector general of the intelligence community receives a complaint from a whistleblower.
Aug. 26: The inspector general forwards the whistleblower complaint to the DNI, saying he deemed it of “urgent concern” and “credible.”
Aug. 30: CNN reports that Trump is seriously looking at blocking the aid entirely, and that the Pentagon privately advised for the aid to be released.
Early September: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) speaks to Zelensky. Murphy has since characterized their conversation by saying that Zelensky was concerned about the cutoff of aid, and that he heard from Ukrainian officials who worried about whether it was a “consequence” of failing to probe Biden.
Sept. 9: The inspector general alerts the congressional intelligence committees to the whistleblower complaint, and says the DNI hasn’t forwarded it to them, in potential violation of the law.
Sept. 10: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, demands that the DNI transmit the whistleblower complaint to Congress.
Sept. 12: The aid to Ukraine is released.
Sept. 13: Schiff subpoenas the DNI for the whistleblower complaint.
Sept. 17: The DNI again formally refuses to turn over the whistleblower complaint, arguing that the law doesn’t apply, because the activity in question relates to “someone” outside the intelligence community. Reporting indicates that the DNI did this after getting advised to do so by the Justice Department.
Sept. 17: The inspector general pushes back hard on the DNI’s decision, flatly stating that the complaint “relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”
Sept. 18-19: It turns out the “someone” in question may be Trump himself. The Post scoops that the whistleblower complaint involved a “promise” Trump made to a foreign leader. We then learn that it also involves Ukraine.
Sept. 22: Trump confirms he brought up Biden and corruption in the call with Zelensky, but top administration officials deny Trump “pressured” him to investigate Biden.
So here’s what we know: As the timeline shows, Trump was thinking hard about Biden and Ukraine well in advance of ordering the aid frozen. At the same time, many officials in Trump’s own administration were deliberately kept in the dark about Trump’s rationale for freezing the aid.
Does that prove a connection? No, and we still don’t know whether Trump explicitly threatened to withhold the aid while making his demand of Zelensky, but this sequence makes a connection seem very plausible.
Regardless, the timeline shows that this constitutes extraordinarily serious misconduct even if Trump didn’t offer any explicit quid pro quo. Ukraine badly wanted the aid, and Ukrainian officials told Murphy that they feared there might be a connection.
Both Trump and Giuliani have openly flaunted their own efforts to get Ukraine to dig dirt on Biden. Trump did this literally the day after the special counsel’s testimony persuaded him he can operate with impunity.
Trump’s top officials then corruptly concealed the “urgent” and “credible” whistleblower complaint from Congress — and we then only learned that Trump’s pressure on Zelensky appeared to be at the center of that complaint through dogged reporting.
No matter how you cut this, Trump used the power of the presidency to try to leverage a foreign power into interfering in a U.S. election on his behalf. And his top officials appear to be breaking the law to prevent Congress from getting to the bottom of it.