“As these events unfold, the aim of the chronology below is to provide a useful reference for the context and timeline on Ukraine, the roles of Joe Biden and his son Hunter there, and Trump and Giuliani’s efforts to persuade Ukraine to pursue investigations against them. Our assessments and views of the available public information are reflected in two pieces: Viola Gienger’s “Trump and Giuliani’s Quest for Fake Ukraine ‘Dirt’ on Biden: An Explainer” and our forthcoming, “The Swiftboating of Joe Biden.”
“This chronology will be updated as new information becomes available.”
June 8, 2017 – “Giuliani meets with Ukrainian leaders”
“Giuliani, who has had business of his own in Ukraine in the past, meets with President Petro Poroshenko and Prosecutor General Lutsenko, among other officials, during a visit to Kyiv, hosted by the foundation of billionaire Ukrainian metals magnate Victor Pinchuk, for a lecture on democracy and the rule of law. The meetings are cited in the joint U.S. House committee investigation launched later in September 2019 (see below) into Trump and Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukraine.”
July 25, 2017 – President Trump issues a public call for an investigation of the 2016 Manafort revelations in Ukraine
“Trump tweets a reference to what he calls “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign — `quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G.,” he writes, referencing then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and tagging Fox News host Sean Hannity. The tweet was referenced in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on possible obstruction of justice by the U.S. president to block the investigation into Trump campaign collusion with Russia’s 2016 election interference. It also is cited in the September 2019 joint U.S. House committee letter (see below) on the investigation into Trump and Giuliani’s pressure campaign against Ukraine.”
Fast forward to 2019
March 20, 2019 – “The Hill’s conservative opinion writer John Solomon publishes an interview with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Lutsenko, who by this point has been widely criticized as ineffective and likely corrupt.”
Note: “Solomon and Fox News’s Sean Hannity are among a constellation of conservative media figures who regularly help spread Trump and Giuliani’s Biden and Manafort theories as well as other right-wing conspiracy theories, such as Uranium One, which have been debunked and shown to exclude vital information. Solomon was moved to the opinion section at The Hill, and announced Sept. 18, 2019, that he was leaving the publication.”
“The full video wasn’t available at this publication, but the text accompanying it says Lutsenko alleged that U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who took office in August 2016, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting. The State Department says the claim was “an outright fabrication.” The article says Lutsenko was examining Ukrainian civil society activists who he suspected were misusing U.S. aid funding they had received, but he says Yovanovitch told him the U.S. Embassy is confident the funding was secure.”
“Lutsenko also reportedly says he would investigate the head of NABU for the 2016 Manafort disclosure. Ukraine expert Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council says Lutsenko is “woefully unqualified (he doesn’t have a law degree), has dragged his feet on every serious anti-corruption case since being installed, and protected his friends, including Poroshenko.” She continues, “Sean Hannity made Solomon the star of his prime-time show that evening. Trump watches Hannity, reportedly speaks with him multiple times daily, and tweeted the title of Solomon’s story. More than 25,000 retweets later, the Ukrainian collusion narrative went viral.”
March 24, 2019 – “Donald Trump Jr. tweets criticism of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Yovanovitch, calling her a “joker” and linking to a conservative media outlet’s article about calls for her ouster. The two incidents are part of a pattern of conservative attacks against the ambassador. Within less than two months, Yovanovitch is recalled to Washington.”
April 1, 2019 – “The Hill newspaper publishes another article online by the same conservative investigative columnist John Solomon that advances the Trump-Giuliani story about Biden. (See entry on March 20 about Solomon and conspiracy theories.) The article reports that Shokin had said in written answers to questions that he had planned an investigation of Burisma before he was fired, including questioning all executive board members. The article says Lutsenko, Shokin’s successor, and “a case file” indicate that the Prosecutor General’s Office had handled three cases related to Burisma, and that the “most prominent” case was transferred to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which Solomon describes suggestively as “closely aligned with the U.S. Embassy in Kiev,” even though it had long been public knowledge that Western supporters of Ukraine and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists strongly backed the bureau. The article says NABU closed that case.”
April 2019 – “Hunter Biden leaves the board of Burisma Holdings, as his father announces his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.”
April 21, 2019 – New Ukrainian President elected on anti-corruption agenda
“Volodymyr Zelenskyy is elected president of Ukraine, to succeed Petro Poroshenko. He ran on a “zero tolerance” anti-corruption agenda.”
April 25, 2019 – “Joe Biden formally announces campaign for President.”
April 25, 2019 – President Trump tells Fox News’s Sean Hannity that Attorney General Bill Barr is considering allegations that Ukrainians sought to help Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign by revealing 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). Fox News reports that “Trump echoed his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who wrote on Twitter on Wednesday [April 24]: `Keep your eye on Ukraine.’”
May 2, 2019 – Giuliani plans trip to Kyiv as part of pressure campaign
Giuliani tells the New York Times he plans to travel to Kyiv and meet with President-elect Zelenskyy to urge him to investigate the Bidens as well as Ukrainians who might have worked with Hillary Clinton’s campaign to reveal the Manafort information. “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Giuliani tells the newspaper. “There’s nothing illegal about it,” he said. “Somebody could say it’s improper.”
“The newspaper notes the trip is “part of a months-long effort by the former New York mayor and a small group of Trump allies working to build interest in the Ukrainian inquiries. Their motivation is to try to discredit the special counsel’s investigation; undermine the case against Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s imprisoned former campaign chairman; and potentially to damage Mr. Biden, the early front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.” The news ignites a firestorm of bipartisan condemnation that Giuliani is improperly seeking the help of a foreign government to benefit Trump’s re-election campaign.”
In a later editorial for the Washington Post (on Sept. 21, 2019), former Ukrainian anti-corruption activist and member of Parliament Serhiy Leshchenko writes:
“Giuliani attempted to visit Ukraine in May 2019 with the express purpose of involving Zelensky [cq] in this process. His aim was quite clear: He was planning to ask Zelensky to intervene in an American election on the side of Trump.
I had been helping Zelenksy’s team since January
As a person who has had direct experience of many of these events, I express my readiness to testify to the U.S. Congress about what has been happening for the past six months.”
May 9, 2019 – Giuliani, in an interview with Fox News, raises his theory of Ukrainian collusion with Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 to smear Trump with Manafort payments allegations. Giuliani says he received such information “about three or four months ago.” Giuliani also discusses his theory about the Bidens in Ukraine, and he tries to implicate the U.S. Embassy in both.
May 10, 2019 – President Trump says in an interview with Politico, “Certainly it would be an appropriate thing” for him to ask Attorney General Barr to open an investigation on Biden. “I have not spoken to him about it. Would I speak to him about it? I haven’t thought of that,” he adds.”
May 11, 2019 – Giuliani cancels trip to Ukraine
“Giuliani tells Fox News he called off his trip to Ukraine because he believes he would be “walking into a group of people that are enemies of the president, and in some cases, enemies of the United States,” a particularly harsh reference that sounds like it is meant for Ukrainian anti-corruption reformers who are rejecting his and Trump’s conspiracy theories. The decision follows bipartisan backlash in the United States over Giuliani’s seeking foreign support for Trump’s re-election (see May 2 above).
Former Ukrainian member of Parliament Serhiy Leshchenko and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst say Zelenskyy actually had declined Giuliani’s request for a meeting, which could explain Giuliani’s tone of rejection. Herbst commented, “My understanding is that the president-elect’s party and his group said that the President-elect [Zelenskyy] sees no reason to have a meeting about an issue which is so transparently an American domestic political issue.”
May 14, 2019 – Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Lutsenko tells Bloomberg News that he has “no evidence of wrongdoing” by either of the Bidens and that neither Hunter Biden nor Burisma were the focus of any current investigation. He said he planned to give U.S. authorities information about Burisma board payments, so that the U.S. could check whether Hunter Biden had paid taxes on his income, though there were no restrictions in Ukraine on how much a company could pay to its board members.
May 20, 2019 – Zelenskyy is inaugurated as president, taking over from Poroshenko.
June 11, 2019 – Zelenskyy sends a motion to Parliament asking that it dismiss sitting Prosecutor General Lutsenko.
About July 11, 2019 — “Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelenskyy, reportedly with assistance from the State Department’s special representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, speaks with Giuliani for the first time by phone. They discuss the Trump-Giuliani demands for investigations and the new Ukrainian leader’s desire for a White House meeting to affirm continued U.S. support for Ukraine.”
Early to mid-July – Trump orders suspension and review of U.S. aid to Ukraine
President Trump tells his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine at least a week before his phone call with Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy, the Washington Post reports. The decision was communicated to State and Defense department officials on July 18. The Post includes details of internal processes, including that “besides Bolton [the president’s national security adviser], several other administration officials said they did not know why the aid was being canceled or why a meeting was not being scheduled.”
July 25, 2019 — Trump and Zelenskyy speak by phone for the first time.
The two presidents have their first conversation since Zelenskyy’s election in April. An English-language press release issued by Zelenskyy’s office about the call says:
“Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve [the] image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA. He also confirmed continued support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine by the United States and the readiness of the American side to fully contribute to the implementation of a Large-Scale Reform Program in our country.”
“The two presidents “agreed to substantively discuss practical issues of Ukrainian-American cooperation during the visit of the Ukrainian head of state to the United States,” the release continued.”
“Zelenskyy had been hoping for a warm reception from the U.S. president and a White House meeting as an important signal to affirm continued American support for Ukraine’s war against Russian forces controlling the country’s east and for comprehensive reform and economic development efforts. Ukraine advocates in the U.S. also had thought a White House invitation would be forthcoming any day, but it was never scheduled.”
An intelligence community whistleblower complaint revealed in September that reportedly involves the Trump-Zelenskyy July 25 call prompts a flurry of revelations about the conversation. The Washington Post reports on Sept. 18 that the whistleblower complaint involves Trump’s communication with a foreign leader and a ‘promise’ that the complainant viewed as so troubling that it merited a red flag. The Wall Street Journal reports on Sept. 21 that Trump pressed Zelenskyy “about eight times” during the call to work with Giuliani for an investigation of Biden. The New York Times reports that the whistleblower complaint concerns a “series of events,” including the phone call (see also CNN report).
Was there an explicit or implicit quid pro quo raised on the call, or in other communications?
The Washington Post reports, “One source familiar with the contents of the phone call said that Trump did not raise the issue of American military and intelligence aid that the administration was at the time withholding from Ukraine — indicating that there may not have been an explicit quid pro quo expressed in that conversation.” In an update to its report, the Post adds, “Other former U.S. officials familiar with the substance of the whistleblower complaint said it alleges that Trump at some point came closer to conveying a proposed quid pro quo. They said the complaint described a “promise” the president made or an offer of some benefit.” 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.”
Trump later admits he discussed Biden on the call (see Sept. 22 below) and says U.S. funding for Ukraine is at stake (see Sept. 22-23 below).
July 28, 2019 – Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats submits his resignation, effective Aug. 15. One of President Trump’s longest-serving Cabinet members, Coats also stirred his boss’s ire at times with his policy disagreements and lukewarm endorsements of the President’s positions.
Late July-early August 2019 – Giuliani meets in Madrid with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelenskyy.
Having been rebuffed in June for a meeting in Kyiv with Zelenskyy personally, Giuliani flies to Madrid to press the new Ukrainian president’s aide, Yermak, for an investigation of the Bidens as well as a probe of the allegation that Ukrainians conspired with Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 to release damaging information about Paul Manafort. The Madrid meeting reportedly occurred “days” after the July 25 Trump-Zelenskyy phone call. From Madrid, Giuliani resurfaces his allegations against the Bidens in a tweet on Aug. 3.
Giuliani has said Yermak seemed open to considering the investigations, but also pressed for a Trump-Zelenskyy meeting as a sign of continued U.S. support to Ukraine in its war against Russia and its economic development and internal reform efforts. “I talked to him about the whole package,” Giuliani told the Washington Post. The Post reported that “U.S. officials and members of the Trump administration wanted the meeting [between the two Presidents] to go ahead, but Trump personally rejected efforts to set it up, according to three people familiar with the discussions.”
July 31, 2019 – Giuliani meets in New York with Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who is in a power struggle with Zelenskyy over a second title he holds as head of the city’s administration. Giuliani and Klitschko have known each other for years – the former Ukrainian boxing champion hired the former New York mayor as a consultant on his Kyiv mayoral campaign in 2008. On Sept. 4, Zelenskyy stripped Klitschko of the head of administration post, apparently in a move to restore checks-and-balances in the capital.
Aug. 12, 2019 – A whistleblower files a complaint to Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) Michael Atkinson related to an alleged “urgent concern” that news reports later reveal likely centers on activities involving President Trump and Ukraine. The ICIG determines the complaint meets the definition of an “urgent concern” and is credible, and forwards it on Aug. 26 to Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire, who under the law was required to transmit the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees within seven days. The Justice Department, however, takes the position that the statute does not apply on the ground that the complaint does not involve “an intelligence activity within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence.” The complaint remains under wraps until House Intelligence Committee Chairman reveals its existence on Sept. 13 (see below).
Aug. 15, 2019 – DNI Coats leaves office. Principal Deputy Director Sue Gordon resigns too, after it became clear that Trump would not select her to succeed Coats.
Aug. 26, 2019 – The Inspector General forwards the intelligence community whistleblower complaint to Acting DNI Maguire.
Aug. 28, 2019 – Then-U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton becomes the first high-level Trump administration official to visit Kyiv since President Zelenskyy’s inauguration. Bolton says the two discussed a possible meeting between the two presidents during a trip Trump planned at the time to Poland.
Aug. 28, 2019 – Politico breaks the news that President Trump was delaying the distribution of $250 million of fiscal 2019 security assistance that Ukraine needs to fight its war with Russia on its eastern flank, by asking his administration to review how it was being spent. The hold on the aid package at the same time as Trump and Giuliani were agitating publicly for Ukraine to investigate Biden raises the specter that the U.S. president was using congressionally appropriated taxpayer dollars as leverage to coerce a foreign government to investigate his potential rival in the 2020 election. The hold also constitutes a reversal of the Trump administration’s stance toward Ukraine, after having approved lethal defensive weapons sales in 2017, a move the Obama administration had resisted. It is unclear exactly when the review was ordered, but the suspension pending review was in place during the July 25 call. The Department of Defense determined that the support should continue and informed the White House of its recommendation, according to Politico and CNN. National Security Adviser John Bolton also wanted to release the funds to help Ukraine curtail Russian aggression, the Washington Post reports.
Aug. 29, 2019 – Zelenskyy appoints lawyer and former Deputy Minister of Justice Ruslan Riaboshapka as the new prosecutor general, replacing Yuriy Lutsenko, who steps down the same day.
Sept. 2, 2019 – Vice President Mike Pence, a day after meeting with the new Ukrainian president, doesn’t directly answer a reporter’s question about whether he can assure Ukrainians that the delay in $250 million of U.S. security assistance for Ukraine is unrelated to President Trump’s and Rudy Giuliani’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Sept. 5, 2019 — New Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka brings Vitaliy Kasko back to the office as First Deputy Prosecutor General, a move that promises to help restore integrity to the office. Kasko is the former deputy of Shokin’s who had quit out of frustration.
Sept. 9, 2019 Inspector General for the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson informs House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes of the whistleblower complaint’s existence (full text of the Inspector General’s letter)
Sept. 9, 2019 – Three U.S. House committees launch probe into Trump and Giuliani pressure campaign
The House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight and Reform committees announce a joint investigation of Trump and Giuliani’s alleged efforts to strongarm Ukraine into pursuing two investigations for the president’s political gain, including by threatening to withhold $250 million in security assistance. The joint press release says public records show the efforts have continued “for nearly two years” and were conducted “under the guise of anti-corruption activity.”
Sept. 11, 2019 – Trump releases the hold on U.S. security assistance to Ukraine
State Department notifies Congress that it will provide Ukraine with $141.5 million of military equipment and other assistance under its “Foreign Military Financing” program that is available for a number of countries. The news emerges the next day, Sept. 12, at the same time that U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham says the administration has released its hold on the separate $250 million of military assistance for Ukraine from the Defense Department under a program known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. President Trump gave permission to the OMB’s acting director, Russell Vought, to release the funds. The timing of the news on both aid packages leads to speculation that the Trump administration was topping up its bribe/extortion of Ukraine, but the Foreign Military Financing likely had been in the works for months, possibly a year.
Sept. 13, 2019 – Intelligence community whistleblower complaint revealed
House Intelligence Committee Chair Schiff announces that he has issued a subpoena to Acting DNI Maguire to obtain a complaint from a whistleblower filed under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) that, under the law, should have been provided to the congressional intelligence committees. Schiff says he is concerned the complaint is being withheld “to cover up serious misconduct” and “to protect the President or other Administration officials.”
Sept. 17, 2019 – The Inspector General for the Intelligence Community sends letter to House Intelligence Chairman Schiff and Ranking Member Nunes outlining his disagreement with the administration’s decision to withhold the whistleblower’s complaint from the congressional intelligence committees. The Inspector General’s letter states, “the subject matter involved in the complainant’s disclosure not only falls within the DNI’s jurisdiction, but relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”
Sept. 18, 2019 – Vice President Pence speaks with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy by phone, discussing a scheduled meeting between the two presidents during the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York the following week. Pence “commended President Zelenskyy’s administration for its bold action to tackle corruption through legislative reforms, and offered full U.S. support for those efforts,” according to a U.S. Embassy statement.
Sept. 20, 2019 – A senior advisor to Ukraine’s Interior Minister challenges Trump to make official U.S. government request if he wants an investigation of Biden. The adviser, Anton Geraschenko, told The Daily Beast that “currently there is no open investigation.” He adds, “Clearly, Trump is now looking for kompromat to discredit his opponent Biden, to take revenge for his friend Paul Manafort, who is serving seven years in prison.”
Sept. 22, 2019 – After days of insisting there was nothing inappropriate about his telephone call with Zelenskyy, President Trump acknowledges discussing Joe Biden with the Ukrainian leader 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,” Mr. Trump told reporters.
Sept. 22 and 23, 2019 – Trump himself connects phone call on Biden to US aid to Ukraine
President Trump, in two sets of remarks to reporters asking about his July 25 phone call with Zelenskyy, appears to confirm a connection between U.S. financial assistance for Ukraine and his pressure for the country’s leaders to pursue the investigations he wants.
On Sept. 22 Trump says, “Certainly I’d have every right to [raise Biden with the Ukrainian President] if there’s corruption and we are paying lots of money to a country.”
Trump has repeatedly referred to what he falsely claims the Bidens to have done as “corruption.” “It’s very important to talk about corruption,” Trump tells the reporters on Sept. 23. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?…It’s very important that on occasion you speak to somebody about corruption.”
Sept. 23, 2019 – “The chairmen of the three House committees conducting the joint investigation into Trump and Giuliani’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government write Secretary of State Pompeo demanding he turn over the documents the committees had requested on Sept. 9. The letter characterizes Trump’s actions as “seeking to enlist a foreign actor to interfere with an American election,” and says, “if press reports are accurate, such corrupt use of presidential power for the President’s personal political interest – and not for the national interest – is a betrayal of the President’s oath of office and cannot go unchecked.” The chairmen note the earlier deadline of Sept. 16 to produce the material had passed and give a new deadline of Sept. 26 to notify the committees whether the State Department intends to comply.”
Sept. 25, 2019 – Trump and Zelenskyy are scheduled to meet for the first time
“The two presidents are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the opening sessions of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The meeting between the presidents has been delayed since the Ukrainians began requesting it in early summer, and still doesn’t equate to an invitation for a formal meeting at the White House that Zelenskyy has sought as an important signal of continued U.S. support for Ukraine’s war against Russia and its battle against corruption”