A Guide to the Trump-Ukraine Scandal for Anyone Who's Only Been Paying Half Attention

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty)

With impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump a virtual certainty, and given the president’s pathetic attempts to deflect what is now a full-blown scandal over pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter, let’s take a trip down memory lane to remind ourselves how the hell we got here.

C’mon, it’ll be fun!

It all started back in the halcyon days of mid-September, when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff subpoenaed Acting National Intelligence Director Joseph Maguire to hand over an whistleblower report filed last month pertaining to an issue Schiff described as being of “urgent concern.” While the contents of the report were still secret at the time, the fact that Maguire failed to comply with the law requiring him to produce the document raised eyebrows.

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Then, on September 18, The Washington Post upped the ante, reporting the complaint had something to do with an unspecified “promise” Trump had made to a foreign head of state, although what that promise was, and to whom it was made, remained a tantalizing mystery. Trump, meanwhile, claimed the whole thing was “no problem!

A few days later, however, the Wall Street Journal reported that actually, this was indeed a problem—specifically one involving Trump pressuring Ukrainian President Zelensky “about eight times” to work with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to dig up dirt on the former vice president’s son Hunter, who had sat on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company while his dad was still in office. Some reports even suggested Trump had dangled U.S. military aid to Ukraine as a negotiation tactic.

So let’s rewind a bit. This past spring, Giuliani conspicuously canceled a trip to meet with Zelensky about Biden’s son after news of his plans raised the extremely plausible prospect that he was dangling foreign aid as a means to interfere with the 2020 election. Still, Giuliani’s been pretty forthcoming (which for Giuliani means screaming about it on TV) about his attempts to hamstring the Bidens ahead of the election.

That dirt Rudy’s been looking for, by the way? At this point, it seems pretty non-existent.

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That hasn’t stopped Trump digging himself deeper into an already-sizable hole. During a brief gaggle with the White House press pool this weekend, Trump admitted that he had, in fact, discussed the Bidens with Zelensky, telling reporters:

The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was 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, and Ukraine’s got a lot of problems.

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Hours later, Schiff appeared on CNN to say that if the reports on the content of the whistleblower’s complaint were accurate, impeachment would be the “only remedy,” while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cautioned that not turning over the complaint would mean the administrationentering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.

Trump, being Trump, immediately went on the dictatorial offensive, wondering aloud if the still-anonymous whistleblower was even “on our side.Giuliani admitted on Fox News that he couldn’t be “100 percent” sure Trump hadn’t actually used military aid as a carrot during his conversation with Zelensky—something Trump partially admitted to a few days later, telling reporters, “Those funds were paid, were fully paid,” but adding, “I’d withhold again.”

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By Tuesday afternoon the dam had broken. With more and more congressional Democrats jumping on the impeachment train as details of Trump’s Ukraine call continued to leak, Pelosi called a press conference to announce the House would be “moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry” and describing the president’s actions as a “betrayal of his oath of office.”

Then this morning, the White House released a memo containing some of the president’s conversation with Zelensky—the same conversation Trump had earlier insisted was “perfect.” But rather than demonstrate Trump’s innocence, the memo clearly showed multiple instances of Trump pressuring Zelensky to work with both Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to pursue an investigation into the Bidens.

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The White House bungled things even further while attempting to gain control of the memo narrative by accidentally sending out their list of Ukraine-related talking points to congressional Democrats.

Meanwhile, Trump is reportedly flummoxed by this whole thing, and can’t understand why his brilliant plan to avoid impeachment by repeatedly admitting to crimes hasn’t paid off, and the Ukrainian president wants out of this mess, fast.

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What a year this week has been!

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About the author

Rafi Schwartz

Senior writer. When in doubt he'll have the soup.