The impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump have kept America riveted to a cascade of revelations about a scandal that threatens to swamp the administration.
The president has been accused of twisting the arm of President Zelensky of Ukraine, withholding a significant tranche of military aid, as well as White House visits, in the expectation that Zelensky would help incriminate Trump’s potential rival for the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden.
He and a cabal of “informal” associates are alleged to have sidelined conventional channels of diplomacy, leaving some officials concerned that their president was willing to work against what was, in their view, the national interest, in the name of his personal partisan political gain.
Testimonies so far have shone a light on a severe rift in the whole apparatus of US foreign policy. Inside the White House, John Bolton, Trump’s then-national security adviser who was abruptly ousted for clashing with the president weeks before the scandal broke, is said to have likened the bargaining with Ukraine’s government to an “illicit drug deal”.
Yesterday evening, impeachment investigators asked Bolton, a firebrand, hawkish Republican, to testify next Thursday 7 November. It is unclear whether he will accept the request, but some expect that if he does, he may vent his frustrations with his former boss.
Trump’s Republican defenders come up short
The statements of various witnesses, who have spoken to the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives, have been heard in secret as Democrats decide whether to officially impeach the president. Behind-closed-doors hearings are customary for the Intelligence Committee, which often handles classified or sensitive information. That, however, has not stopped details emerging with a regularity that has kept the news cycle churning.
Nor has it stopped Republicans complaining vehemently about the process – although many have been more reluctant to defend Trump on the substance of the accusation.
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A timeline of some of the key moments so far
10 July – Ukranian officials arrive at the White House hoping to solidify ties with the US administration. Instead, they witness their hosts embroiled in a ferocious internal disagreement. In what The Washington Post calls “two volatile meetings”, the Ukrainians allegedly learn that their government’s relationship with the US, and nearly $400m in military aid, is contingent on their president publicly announcing and undertaking an investigation into Joe Biden. The news apparently comes as a surprise to a contingent of US officials attending – chief among them John Bolton – who, the Post reports, react with “fierce opposition”.
25 July – Trump holds his now-infamous phone call with Zelensky. According to details published on the Ukraine president’s official website that day, Trump encouraged Zelensky to “improve image of Ukraine” and “complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA”. Trump later denies putting pressure on Ukraine, saying an “absolutely perfect phone call”.
12 August – A whistleblower files a complaint with the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson.
9 September – Atkinson notifies the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, of an “urgent concern” regarding a whistleblower, but the Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire prevents the full report being communicated. There is enough information that on the same day, three House committees launch an investigation of alleged efforts by the president, his lawyer Rudy Guiliani and others, to pressure Ukraine to help Trump get re-elected. The committees request information on Trump’s 25 July phone call with Zelensky.
24 September – The formal impeachment inquiry is announced by Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The following day, Trump releases a copy of the rough transcript of the 25 July call.
8 October – The White House announces it will not cooperate with the congressional investigation, and orders US Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who was allegedly central to the Trump administration’s “unofficial” efforts to pressure Ukraine, not to testify.
22 October – Bill Taylor, the acting US ambassador to Ukraine, tells investigators how conventional channels of diplomacy were sidelined by an “irregular” group of politically appointed officials. He says he was told on more than one occasion by Sondland and others that US military aid to Ukraine was contingent on a public declaration of an investigation into Trump’s political rival, Biden.
29 October – Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the US National Security Council, tells investigators that the transcript of the call that the White House made public had some crucial omissions. He also states “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen,” adding that he believed Trump’s actions would “undermine US national security”.
31 October – Today promises to be a “consequential day”, says CNN, as new testimony is expected from a key White House insider. The full House will also be asked to “pass a resolution setting out the rules and terms of the impeachment inquiry”, says the broadcaster, with measures providing for open hearings, a written report on the case and a counsel to represent Trump.