The impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump in the US House of Representatives moves to public hearings on Wednesday.
Trump is threatened with removal from office over allegations that he abused his powers and broke the law by pressuring Ukraine to supply damaging information on rival Democrats and possible 2020 presidential election challenger Joe Biden.
The evidence covers a series of events from April 2019 when Zelensky was elected, and both sides sought to reboot Washington-Kiev relations. Zelensky sought aid and a meeting with the US leader; Trump sought “investigations.”
Trump gave the Ukraine leader a congratulatory phone call on April 19. Days later, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said online and in public that the US wanted Ukraine to investigate Burisma, the energy company on whose board Biden’s son Hunter served for five years until April 2019.
Giuliani also called for an investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine helped the Democrats against Trump in the 2016 election.
“Explain to me why Biden shouldn’t be investigated if his son got millions from a Russian loving crooked Ukrainian oligarch while He was VP and point man for Ukraine,” Giuliani tweeted on May 10.
Giuliani’s immediate impact was in getting Trump to remove US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who had resisted Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine policy.
Another result: Trump told Vice President Mike Pence not to attend Zelensky’s May 14 inauguration, sending Energy Secretary Rick Perry instead. According to a whistleblower complaint in August, that downgrade was meant to signal to the new government that Trump wanted the investigations.
July 10 meeting
In a July 10 meeting in the office of White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, told Ukrainian officials that a high profile meeting they sought between Zelensky and Trump was contingent on “investigations in the energy sector” and later referenced “Burisma”.
Sondland told the Ukrainians the alleged quid pro quo was authorized by Trump’s right-hand man, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
“We have an agreement with the chief of staff for a meeting if these investigations in the energy sector start,” Sondland told the Ukrainians, according to witnesses.
Bolton, who objected to the linkage, immediately cut the meeting short, but Sondland continued to make the point in a subsequent meeting, witnesses said.
On July 19 Mulvaney, who also heads the White House budget office, froze a military aid package for Ukraine worth $391 million dollars. He told budget officials it was at the order of Trump, but did not explain the reason. But in October Mulvaney told reporters it was linked to investigations, and said there was nothing wrong with the quid pro quo.
July 25 phone call
On July 25 Trump spoke again by phone with Zelensky. According to a rough summary of the call released by the White House, he made clear he wanted Ukraine to open the investigations, and hinted at the linkage with assistance and a face-to-face meeting.
“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it,” Trump said.
Trump made direct reference to the story that Ukraine interferred in the 2016 election helping rival Democrats.
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation,” Trump said. “It’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
Trump added that “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son… A lot of people want to find out about that,” he said, proposing Kiev cooperate with US Attorney General Bill Barr.
“The United States has been very, very good to Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.”
After the July 25 call, Sondland pressed on Kiev the need for investigations. Text messages between Sondland and other US diplomats show he was focused on Trump’s insistence on “the deliverable” — the investigations as a quid pro quo for the military aid.
“I think potus (Trump) really wants the deliverable,” he wrote on August 9.
In August he helped arrange a prepared statement for Zelensky to deliver that would satisfy Trump.
The statement, according to a August 13 text, was to read: “We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 US elections, which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future.”
Seeing that, Sondland wrote: “Perfect.”
That statement was never delivered. On September 1 Sondland told Zelensky advisor Andriy Yermak that military aid would not be released until Kiev signalled the investigations into Biden and 2016.