That effort, led by Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, theorizes that Biden acted inappropriately in 2016 when he called for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor at the risk of Ukraine losing substantial foreign aid. The prosecutor may have been investigating a company that had Biden’s son Hunter as a board member, but the prosecutor was also a target of widespread criticism for failing to adequately crack down on public corruption. The Bidens have repeatedly insisted that the then-vice president’s demand of Ukraine wasn’t linked to Hunter Biden’s work.
Over the course of this week, there has been an effort to construct a timeline that could help identify the nature of the whistleblower complaint. We know, for example, that Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke at the end of July. According to Zelensky’s office, that call included Trump’s expressing confidence that “the new Ukrainian government” — Zelensky was sworn in in late May — “will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.”
“Corruption” is precisely how Giuliani referred to his Biden investigation on CNN on Thursday night.
“He had every right to say to the Ukrainian president, ‘We have two outstanding allegations of massive corruption, and you should investigate it,’ ” Giuliani said when asked by host Chris Cuomo whether Trump had mentioned Biden to Zelensky.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Friday that during Trump’s call with Zelensky, Trump had been more specific than Giuliani suggests, pressuring the Ukrainian president to target Hunter Biden specifically. The Post has confirmed that report.
Giuliani has been focused on this alleged Ukrainian issue for months. In early May, shortly before Zelensky was inaugurated, Giuliani was reportedly planning to travel to Ukraine to ask Zelensky to dig into the issues. That trip was canceled after criticism that Giuliani was essentially doing overtly what Trump had privately been accused of in regard to Russia: soliciting political information from a foreign power. Giuliani’s trip came to light only weeks after the public release of the report of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III detailing Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and points to overlap with Trump’s campaign.
It’s worth highlighting one side story to Mueller’s probe. In May of last year, the New York Times reported that Ukrainian officials had stopped providing assistance to Mueller’s investigation out of concern for how it would affect the country’s relationship with the United States and a pending agreement on military assistance.
“Look at Joe Biden,” he said. “He calls them and says, ‘Don’t you dare persecute, if you don’t fire this prosecutor’ — The prosecutor was after his son. Then he said, ‘If you fire the prosecutor, you’ll be okay. And if you don’t fire the prosecutor, we’re not giving you $2 billion in loan guarantees,’ or whatever he was supposed to give. Can you imagine if I did that?”
As The Post has reported, this is an inaccurate representation of what Biden did.
But the timing is important. That was May 19, the day before Zelensky’s inauguration and about a week after Giuliani canceled his trip.
A few weeks later, Trump was asked by ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos whether he would accept assistance from a foreign power for his 2020 campaign or whether he would turn the material over to the FBI. Trump speculated that he might “do both.”
“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump said then. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘we have information on your opponent’? Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
That comment prompted a public rebuke from the chair of the Federal Election Commission, who said that what Trump suggested was illegal, and “not a novel concept.” Trump later revised his comment to say that while “of course, you have to look at it,” he would then “give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.”
The conversation with Zelensky was July 25, well after Trump expressed concern about Biden’s actions and after he acknowledged that he was receptive to looking at material provided by foreign countries. A few days after the call, Trump announced the resignation of then-director of national intelligence Daniel Coats. (He and Coats had been at odds since at least early July.) On Aug. 12, the whistleblower’s complaint was filed. At some point around this time, Giuliani met with a representative of Zelensky’s in Madrid.
In late August, Politico reported that the Trump administration was delaying military aid meant to go to Ukraine “in order to ensure the money is being used in the best interest of the United States.” Two weeks later, the aid was reinstated. That reinstatement came one day before Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, subpoenaed the acting director of national intelligence to obtain a copy of the whistleblower complaint.
Unusually, The Post’s editorial board wrote Sept. 5 that it had been “reliably told” that the withholding of aid was meant “to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.”
There are a lot of moving parts here, and it’s not confirmed that the whistleblower complaint specifically deals with Trump having discussed the Biden allegations with Ukraine’s president. But the following order of events is correct:
- Giuliani’s intent to go to Ukraine to talk to Zelensky about Biden is reported.
- Trump talks to Fox News about those allegations, indicating his familiarity with them.
- Trump indicates an openness to accepting aid from a foreign country to help his election.
- Trump talks to Zelensky, pressuring him to investigate Hunter Biden.
- The Trump administration delays military aid to Ukraine.
- It then reverses that decision immediately before the complaint comes to public attention.
There are gaps of various lengths between those events, and there isn’t yet a demonstrated, public throughline between them. If such a throughline emerges, however, the ramifications are significant.
The whistleblower complaint may be that throughline.