Countable Timeline: Ukraine Whistleblower Saga
How do you feel about the White House's interaction with Ukraine?
by Countable | 9.29.19
Lots of people, places, and pieces involved in the now-infamous phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Vladomyr Zelensky.
Here’s the dates you need to know to make sense of it all…
November 2013 – The Maidan Revolution
- Ukrainians take to the streets of their capital, Kiev, protesting in Independence Square (the “Maidan”) against then-President Viktor Yanukovych and his government. They were set off by Yanukovych’s decision to abandon a planned “association agreement” with the European Union in favor of assistance from Russia.
- The movement, which becomes known as the “Maidan Revolution,” continues to grow until…
February 2014 – Pro-Russian government falls
- Yanukovych’s security forces kill more than 70 civilians during a crackdown on protests. This spurs a political backlash and forces Yanukovych to flee to Russia.
March 2014 – Russian Invasion
- Russian forces invade Crimea and annex the peninsula.
- The United Nations General Assembly votes to condemn Moscow’s actions.
April 2014 – War in Eastern Ukraine
- Russian and pro-Russian forces invade eastern Ukraine, taking control of the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The war continues to this day. It has killed more than 13,000 people.
April-May 2014 – Hunter Biden Joins Ukrainian Firm Burisma
- Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, joins the board of Burisma, a natural gas firm based in Kiev, Ukraine.
- Burisma is controlled by Mykola Zlochevskiy, who had served in Yanukovych’s Cabinet as Ukraine’s ecology minister.
- The company issues a news release at the time, saying Hunter would be "in charge of the Holdings' legal unit and will provide support for the Company among international organizations."
- Ethics watchdogs criticized Hunter’s position as a conflict of interest for his father—at the time, the VP was pressuring Ukraine to clean up corruption in its government.
- Hunter will work for Burisma through May 2019, receiving compensation of up to $50,000 a month.
- Also worth bookmarking here: Hunter has never been accused of wrongdoing regarding his work with the company.
- Chocolate magnate/oligarch Petro Poroshenko wins the presidency in Ukraine.
- The Ukrainian Parliament approves Vitaly Yarema as prosecutor general.
- Prosecutor General Yarema opens an investigation of Zlochevskiy – Burisma’s owner - on suspicion of “unlawful enrichment.”
- Ukraine’s Parliament establishes the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). It’s led by anti-corruption campaigners, former revolutionaries, and the U.S. government (overseen by Joe Biden).
- The U.S. and EU required the Ukrainian government to fund NABU in exchange for financial aid.
- Viktor Shokin replaces Yarema as Ukraine’s prosecutor general, inheriting the investigation of Zlochevskiy and Burisma.
- The U.S. and Europe blast Shokin for stymying anti-corruption investigations—including those involving Burisma.
- Joe Biden threatens to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees from Ukraine if Shokin wasn’t fired. The vice president urges Ukraine’s Parliament to move quicker in its “historic battle against corruption” and to “make real the Revolution of Dignity.”
- Daria Kaleniuk, co-founder of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Center told The Washington Post:
"Shokin was not investigating. He didn't want to investigate Burisma. Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but quite to the contrary, because he failed that investigation."
February 16, 2016
- Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin resigns. Then returns to office.
- Hundreds of Ukrainians demonstrate in front of the president's office calling for Shokin’s ouster. He’s finally booted.
- Yuriy Lutsenko becomes the new Prosecutor General.
- The Burisma case had been dormant during all this time.
September 2016 - Burisma Case Closed
- Zlochevskiy’s American lawyer, John Buretta, says in a 2017 Q&A on Burisma’s website that “the Pechersk District Court of the City of Kiev concluded that no criminal procedures should be taken against Mr. Zlochevskiy” and Burisma because no evidence of wrongdoing had been presented.
August 14, 2016 – Evidence of Payments to Paul Manafort
- The New York Times reports that the political party of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had earmarked $12.7 million dollars for consulting work by Paul Manafort, who, at this time, is Trump’s campaign chairman.
- Manafort denies receiving payments from Russia and Ukraine.
- Manafort never registered with the Justice Department as a foreign lobbyist, which is required by law.
- A flash-forward to October 30, 2017: Manafort and his aide Rick Gates surrender to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller after being indicted. A federal grand jury charges the pair with 12 counts, including conspiracy, money laundering, tax evasion, making false statements, and failing to register as foreign agents—all involving the tens of millions they received secretly lobbying for Viktor Yanukovych. This all occurred before they worked with the Trump campaign.
- Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, would later cite the above as evidence that certain Ukrainians were colluding with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to release information that would damage Manafort, and, thus, Trump.
June 8, 2017
- Giuliani meets with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko.
- Giuliani will remain in intermittent contact with Ukrainian law enforcement officials throughout 2017 and 2018.
- Giuliani and Lutsenko meet in New York to discuss “the Ukrainian political situation and the fight against corruption,” Bloomberg News reports, paraphrasing Lutsenko.
“Giuliani asked him about investigations into the owner of Burisma, Mykola Zlochevsky, as well as whether the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was `not loyal to President Trump.’”
- Yovanovitch is eventually recalled to Washington.
- Conservative opinion writer John Solomon publishes a series of articles The Hill featuring assertions from Lutsenko that are favorable to Trump.
- “Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch ] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko said in an interview. “My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime.”
- The State Department called Lutsenko's claim of receiving a ‘do not prosecute list,’ "an outright fabrication."
April 21, 2019
- Volodymyr Zelensky is elected president of Ukraine. He ran on a “zero tolerance” anti-corruption agenda.
- The New York Times reported on Sept. 25, 2019, that when Trump called to congratulate the new president, he “urged Mr. Zelensky to coordinate with Mr. Giuliani and to pursue investigations of ‘corruption.’”
April 25, 2019
- Joe Biden formally announces he’s running for president in 2020.
- Later that night, Trump tells Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Attorney General William Barr is weighing an investigation into whether Ukraine attempted to help Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign by releasing damaging information about Paul Manafort.
“I would imagine [Barr] would want to see this. … I would certainly defer to the attorney general, and we’ll see what he says about it,” Trump said. “He calls ’em straight” (transcript).
April 29, 2019
- “U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the situation” told the whistleblower that U.S. Ambassador Yovanovitch was being “suddenly recalled” to Washington for “consultations” and “would most likely be removed from her position.”
- The whistleblower writes that, about the same time, they “learned from a U.S. official that `associates’ of Mr. Giuliani were trying to make contact with the incoming Zelensky team.”
May 9, 2019
- Giuliani tells the New York Times he plans to travel to Kiev and meet with President-elect Zelensky to urge him to pursue probes into the Bidens and Ukrainian officials who tried to help Hillary Clinton by revealing damaging information about Manafort.
“We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Giuliani said. “There’s nothing illegal about it. Somebody could say it’s improper.”
May 14, 2019
- Lutsenko tells Bloomberg News he has “no evidence of wrongdoing” by either of the Bidens. He adds that neither Hunter Biden nor Burisma are the focus of any current investigation.
- Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood sends a letter to four congressional committees, informing lawmakers that he "certified that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption [and] increasing accountability."
- This certification, required by law, allows the release of $250 million in security assistance for Ukraine.
Mid May to early July
- Per the whistleblower’s complaint, during this period “multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the president and President Zelensky would depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues that had been publicly aired by Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Giuliani.”
- Also in June: Zelensky asks Parliament to dismiss Lutsenko.
June 21, 2019
- Giuliani tweets:
“New Pres of Ukraine still silent on investigation of Ukrainian interference in 2016 election and alleged Biden bribery of Pres Poroshenko. Time for leadership and investigate both if you want to purge how Ukraine was abused by Hillary and Obama people.”
- Trump tells Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to withhold almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine.
July 23-26, 2019
- Whistleblower: “During interagency meetings on 23 July and 26 July, [Office of Management and Budget] officials again stated explicitly that the instruction to suspend this assistance had come directly from the president, but they still were unaware of a policy rationale.”
July 25, 2019 — The Now-Infamous Phone Call Between Trump and Zelensky
Some key moments from the unredacted text of the conversation:
- It begins with Trump congratulating Zelensky on his electoral victory and the pair of presidents discussing their countries’ strong relationship. Trump tells Zelensky that the U.S. gives more aid to Ukraine than the European Union and that the EU should give more, but doesn’t make any reference to providing Ukraine an additional aid package.
- After Zelensky explains that the EU is preparing to give Ukraine more aid and that they’re collaborating on sanctions against Russia, Zelensky says “we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.”
- Trump then asks Zelensky to do the U.S. a favor by looking into a cybersecurity firm called Crowdstrike, which was contracted by the Democratic National Committee after its servers were hacked by Russia during the 2016 election:
“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. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
- After Zelensky guaranteed Trump that, while he is president of Ukraine, “all the investigations will be done openly and candidly”, Trump goes on to say:
“The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
Partially for the above conversation, the whistleblower complaint alleges Trump has used "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election." The whistleblower was concerned as this would be a violation of campaign finance laws. (The DOJ would later issue a legal opinion that it was not.)
August 12th – The Complaint
- A whistleblower files a complaint to Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) Michael Atkinson related to an alleged “urgent concern.”
- Federal whistleblower laws governing the intelligence community (IC) require that credible whistleblower complaints classified as an “urgent concern” and received by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) be forwarded to congressional intelligence committees within seven days after review.
- The ICIG forwards the complaint to the DNI. After DNI receives the complaint, before forwarding it to congressional committees, it requests that the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) review the complaint because of the alleged campaign finance violation.
- The DOJ sends the overall whistleblower complaint to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and refers the potential campaign finance violation to the criminal division for review.
- The DOJ finds that there wasn’t a criminal campaign finance violation to prosecute because no “thing of value” was explicitly promised or exchanged as a result of the call.
- Later, the OLC would explain why it withheld the report in an 11-page legal opinion.
- The Wall Street Journal reports: “Ukrainian officials earlier this month expressed concern to U.S. senators that the aid had been held up as a penalty for resisting that pressure.”
- Inspector General for the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson informs House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) of the whistleblower complaint’s existence.
September 13 – Whistleblower Complaint Revealed
- Schiff announces that he has issued a subpoena to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to obtain a complaint from a whistleblower filed under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA).
- Trump acknowledges discussing Joe Biden with Zelensky during their July 25 phone call.
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announces Democrats will launch a formal impeachment probe of President Trump because of his request that the Ukrainian government investigate corruption allegations involving Joe Biden and his family.
"The actions of the Trump presidency reveal the dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections. Therefore, today, I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry. I'm directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella."
September 25 - White House Releases Memo of Trump's Call with Zelensky
- The White House releases the five-page memorandum of the 30-minute phone call between Trump and Zelensky.
- Trump cites concerns about corruption as his rationale for withholding security assistance to Ukraine.
"We want to make sure that country is honest. It's very important to talk about corruption. If you don't talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?"
- Trump's claim is undercut by the Pentagon’s May 2019 letter certifying “that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption [and] increasing accountability."
September 26 – Whistleblower Complaint Released
- The whistleblower complaint is declassified.
- That same day, Acting Director of National Intelligence testifies on Capitol Hill.
Some of the key claims in the whistleblower complaint:
- Senior White House officials intervened to “lock down” all records of the phone call, including the official word-for-word transcript that’s customarily produced, by placing it in a system used to store and handle classified information of a sensitive nature. One official told the whistleblower that this was an abuse of the system, because it didn’t contain anything remotely sensitive.
- Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, privately reached out to Ukrainian officials regarding the Biden and CrowdStrike cases, although the whistleblower didn’t know if those occurred.
- Giuliani was encouraging Ukrainian officials to launch investigations into the Bidens, CrowdStrike, and Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections that would aid Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
- That a change in U.S. aid policy to Ukraine seemed to coincide with those meetings.
- U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker resigns.
This is an ongoing story and will be updated when my eyes stop bleeding.
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