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4 intriguing moments from the Trump-Ukraine timeline

The Fact Checker unravels what happened when Trump tried to force an investigation into the false rumor about then-Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine. (Video: The Washington Post)
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While we await word on former White House official Fiona Hill’s deposition Monday, I spent much of the day updating Philip Bump’s and my big timeline of the Trump-Ukraine situation. It now features well over 100 key events, from 2014 to Monday, and I encourage people to bookmark it and check back regularly.

The full Trump-Ukraine timeline

The value of timelines, of course, is putting a bunch of non-chronological disclosures in chronological order. And as I was doing so, it occurred to me that there are several convergences of events that were particularly interesting.

Below are some undersold moments in this saga.

1. The May 2018 offensive by Giuliani’s now-indicted associates

Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani’s two business associates, Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, and Igor Fruman, a Belarus-born U.S. citizen, were indicted Thursday. And the timeline laid out by their indictment suggests lots of action in May 2018, including a $325,000 donation to a pro-Trump super PAC that was bookended by meetings with President Trump and Donald Trump Jr.:

May 1, 2018: Parnas and Fruman meet Trump at the White House, according to later-deleted Facebook photos.
May 9, 2018: Parnas posts a photo of him and his business partner David Correia meeting with Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) in Sessions’s Capitol Hill office.
That same day, Sessions writes to the State Department seeking the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Sessions says he has “notice of concrete evidence” that she had “spoken privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current Administration.”
The two men commit to raise $20,000 for Sessions, according to their later indictments.
May 17, 2018: Parnas and Fruman contribute $325,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action through a newly formed business named Global Energy Producers LLC, which is supposedly a liquefied natural gas company. In their later indictments, prosecutors will say the funds actually came from a $1.26 million private lending transaction that occurred two days earlier.
May 21, 2018: Parnas posts a picture on Facebook showing him and Fruman at breakfast with Donald Trump Jr. in Beverly Hills, Calif.

There’s much we don’t know about precisely what Parnas and Fruman are accused of, but their proximity to the Trumps around this time — and their meeting with Trump Jr. so shortly after their big donation — raises questions about what was discussed in those meetings. The president has said he doesn’t know who the men are, which is a little tough to believe given they got meetings with both Donald Trumps in a space of three weeks.

Also intriguing: Sessions writing the letter on the same day he met with the men. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but we know the indictment mentions that the two men agreed to raise $20,000 for Sessions around this time.

Expect there to be more key events around this period of time, which seemed to be rather busy when it came to these men’s alleged attempts to corruptly influence U.S.-Ukraine policy.

2. Gordon Sondland’s quid pro quo allusion

We found out this weekend that Trump’s European Union ambassador, Gordon Sondland, isn’t exactly going to go to bat for his boss. As The Post’s Aaron C. Davis and John Hudson report, Sondland will say that his Sept. 9 text message claiming there was no quid pro quo between Trump and Ukraine was just him relaying what Trump had told him — not that he was actually vouching for its accuracy.

What’s about as telling, though, is what Sondland was saying before that Sept. 9 text message. Specifically, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has said Sondland suggested, as of late August, that there was some kind of quid pro quo:

Late August: Sondland tells Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that Trump was withholding the Ukraine military aid to “get to the bottom of what happened in 2016 — if President Trump has that confidence, then he’ll release the military spending," according to Johnson’s later recollection to the Wall Street Journal.
Sept. 1: Taylor texts Sondland, asking, “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland responds, “Call me.”
Sept. 9: Taylor texts Sondland again about the idea that the military aid is being withheld in some kind of quid pro quo. “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor says.
Sondland speaks with Trump via phone and responds to Taylor: “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 If you still have concerns I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly. Thanks.”

Exactly what Sondland told Johnson isn’t clear, but we’ll learn more from his deposition Thursday. And the timing suggests Sondland was quite worried, at least at some point, that there was a quid pro quo.

3. The U.S. comments on Ukrainian corruption before Biden does

The Trump team continues to push the idea that Joe Biden did something corrupt when, as vice president, he threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees from Ukraine if it didn’t tackle corruption. They suggest he was trying to take the heat off Burisma Holdings, an energy company in Ukraine that employed his son Hunter Biden.

We already know, based on U.S. and Ukrainian officials, that the investigation of Burisma had been dormant at the time. But the timeline also shows Biden was hardly the only U.S. official making that demand. Within months of Viktor Shokin’s appointment as prosecutor general in early 2015, U.S. officials were calling him soft on corruption in no uncertain terms. And two major statements came well before Biden’s

3 ultimatum:

Sept. 24, 2015: The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, blasts Shokin in a speech in Odessa, Ukraine. He points to a “glaring problem” that threatens the good work regional leaders are doing: “the failure of the institution of the prosecutor general of Ukraine to successfully fight internal corruption.”
“The United States stands behind those who challenge these bad actors,” Pyatt adds.
Oct. 8, 2015: Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Victoria Nuland adds in testimony that the Ukraine “prosecutor general’s office has to be reinvented as an institution that serves the citizens of Ukraine, rather than ripping them off.”
Dec. 8, 2015: In Kiev, Biden tells Ukrainian leaders to fire Shokin or lose more than $1 billion in loan guarantees. Biden joins many Western leaders in urging Shokin’s ouster.

It’s been known that Biden was hardly the only American or Western official to demand Shokin’s ouster. But this pretty well spells out how this was a government-wide initiative. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible Biden had other motives, but there is no evidence he did anything corrupt, and the timeline bolsters the idea that this was simply the administration’s stance on Ukraine.

4. Ukraine’s prosecutor was a busy bee on U.S. matters around the Ukrainian election

Ukraine held the first round of its election this year on March 31 and the second round on April 21. And around this time, then-Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko was a very busy man when it came to matters involving the United States.

He met with Giuliani a number of times and began lodging questionable allegations involving both the Bidens and then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Let’s recap:

Jan. 2019: Giuliani and Lutsenko meet in New York, as Bloomberg later reports.
Mid-February: Giuliani again meets with Lutsenko, this time in Warsaw, according to the whistleblower.
March: With Ukraine’s March 31 election looming, Lutsenko begins making allegations about the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine. The whistleblower notes that Lutsenko works for the incumbent, Poroshenko, who had been trailing Zelensky. Zelensky had pledged to replace Lutsenko.
March 20: In an interview with pro-Trump columnist John Solomon, Lutsenko alleges that Yovanovitch gave him “a list of people whom we should not prosecute.” The State Department calls the claim an “outright fabrication,” but Trump promotes the story in a tweet.
March 31: The first round of Ukraine’s presidential election is held. Poroshenko and Zelensky head to a runoff.
April 1: After speaking with Lutsenko, Solomon reports that a probe into Joe Biden’s push to fire Lutsenko’s predecessor is underway. Lutsenko tells Solomon that he wants to present his evidence to Attorney General William P. Barr.
April 18: Lutsenko retracts his claim that Yovanovitch gave him a list of people not to prosecute.
April 21: Zelensky, a former TV comedian, is elected president of Ukraine with 73 percent of the vote. Trump calls him to offer his congratulations.

The whistleblower appeared to suggest there might be some kind of connection between Lutsenko doing things that Giuliani wanted and the Ukrainian election, though it’s not clear what.

One logical theory would be that he wanted to win fans in the Trump administration so that it would apply pressure on Zelensky to keep him as prosecutor general. And indeed, Trump suggested exactly that to Zelensky on their July 25 phone call.

“Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good, and he was shut down and that’s really unfair,” Trump said, according to the rough transcript produced by the White House. “A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.”

Trump added later: “I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly, and he was a very fair prosecutor, so good luck with everything.”

There are many important gaps in this timeline and questions about how events do or do not relate to one another. But as they’re filled in, we’ll keep updating it.