The impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump have led to a flood of revelations about a scandal that threatens to swamp the administration.
The president has been accused of twisting the arm of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky – threatening to withhold a significant tranche of military aid and to block White House visits – in an alleged bid to get the European country to dig up dirt on Democrat rival Joe Biden.
Trump and a cabal of “informal” associates are alleged to have sidelined conventional channels of diplomacy, triggering allegations that the president was putting his personal political interests ahead of national interests.
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”.
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.
17 October – US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies, saying that Poor youhe took Trump at his word that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine. However, Sondland also told lawmakers that efforts by Giuliani to persuade Ukraine to open an investigation into Trump’s political rivals “kept getting more insidious”.
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 – The House conducts its first vote on the impeachment inquiry, formalising the process for the public hearings. “With a vote of 232-196, it’s a mostly partisan affair,” CNN reports. “Two Democrats oppose the measure, one former Republican supports it. But otherwise, Democrats voted yes and Republicans voted no.”
4 November – Sondland returns to Capitol Hill to testify for a second time and revises his testimony to say that he now does recall a quid pro quo with Zelensky.
Sondland says he does not recall other key details from that period, including how many times he talked to Trump on the phone.
6 November – The testimony by the acting US ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, is published. Taylor cites two White House officials as saying Trump would not “sign a check” for almost $400m in military aid until Ukraine made good on its end of the deal, The Guardian reports. Trump wanted the Ukrainian president to “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference”, Taylor claimed.
13 November – House Democrats stage the first day of public hearings as part of the impeachment inquiry, where acting ambassador to Ukraine Taylor and deputy assistant secretary of state George Kent testify.
Taylor describes two channels of American policy towards Ukraine: a “regular” channel, in which he interacted with officials at the National Security Council, and an “irregular” channel, which included Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s lawyer, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, The New Yorker reports.
15 November – The committee hears from former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who claims that Giuliani worked with Ukrainians who were angered by her behaviour. “What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them,” she says. “And working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a US ambassador.”
20 November – Sondland is called to testify and delivers a damning account of the events. He states that the highest-level officials working on US-Ukraine policy at the White House and US State Department “knew what we were doing and why” by encouraging Ukraine to launch investigations.
“Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland asks in his opening statement. “The answer is yes.”
21 November – Next up to testify is Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council (NSC), and David Holmes, an official at the US embassy in Kiev. Hill previously told House investigators that the then national security adviser, John Bolton, instructed her to report her concerns about Giuliani and Trump’s dealings with Ukraine to NSC lawyers, Politico reports.