When The Washington Post reported Wednesday that an intelligence community whistleblower was so alarmed about a "promise" President Trump made to a foreign leader that they filed a formal complaint, suspicion immediately fell on Russia or North Korea. But on Thursday, the Post and The New York Times reported that at least part of the allegations deal with Ukraine.
Here's one prominent theory:
If it’s Ukraine, then this looks very much like a promise of US arms or other aid in return for dirt on a political opponent’s family (Biden’s son Hunter) — both a violation of federal campaign law and bribery, an explicitly impeachable offense. Smoking howitzer, anyone? https://t.co/sx4IHrBJaB
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) September 20, 2019
Seems like what a lot of us have been saying. Rudy and Trump tried to blackmail the Ukrainians into going after Joe Biden. It sounds like they got caught. Now all hell is breaking loose.
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) September 20, 2019
The theory — that Trump was withholding $250 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine until Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, produced dirt to harm former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner to challenge Trump in next year's election — isn't new. It was the thrust of a Sept. 5 Washington Post editorial, for example, and Congress launched an investigation four days later. But Trump's direct involvement would be a big deal. Here's a timeline of how things seem to have played out:
May 10: Rudy Giuliani, Trump's lawyer, calls off a trip to Ukraine one day after saying he would be "meddling in an investigation" and giving Ukraine's new government "reasons why they shouldn't stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client." He lobbies Ukraine via back-channels over the summer.
July 25: Trump and Zelensky talk on the phone, and Trump, according to Ukraine's readout of the call, signaled Ukraine should "complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA."
Sept. 1: Vice President Mike Pence meets with Zelensky in Poland. He's asked about Biden and the frozen funds the next day.
A day later, VP Pence took questions at a news conference. Pay attention to this response to a question from AP's @colvinj. Full remarks at the link. https://t.co/Ir7qAazsBx pic.twitter.com/XrXgTgagQU
— Robert Costa (@costareports) September 20, 2019
Sept. 9: The House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight committees announce an investigation into whether Trump and Giuliani "have increased pressure on the Ukrainian government and its justice system in service of President Trump's re-election campaign." They ask for a transcript of Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky and relevant documents.
Sept. 10: Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) writes Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to ask about the whistleblower complaint.
Sept. 19: Ukraine is reported to be a focus of the whistleblower's complaint. Giuliani goes on CNN and says he pressed Ukraine's government to investigate Biden. Then he suggests on Twitter that Trump should push Ukraine to investigate Biden.
It sure looks like Giuliani admits that Trump pushed Ukraine to investigate Biden's son. https://t.co/WKgSKD58jU
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) September 20, 2019
On the one hand you have a whistleblower saying Trump pressured Ukraine to interfere in the US election but on the other hand you have Trump’s lawyer saying Trump pressured Ukraine to interfere in the US election and I don’t know who to believe.
— Seth Masket (@smotus) September 20, 2019
As of Friday, the Trump administration was refusing to turn over the details of the whistleblower complaint, and Schiff was threatening to sue, telling reporters that "someone is trying to manipulate the system."
Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.