Updated Oct. 9, 2019.
The past few weeks have been a firestorm of new details concerning the intelligence community whistleblower and the subject of his complaint: An attempt by President Donald Trump to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, son of Trump’s leading Democratic rival Joe Biden.
To truly understand the story, we need to go back a few years. Here’s how we got to where we are today.
February 2014: The Maidan Revolution ends with the ouster of pro-Putin Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, whose administration was widely seen as corrupt. U.S. President Barack Obama later named then-Vice President Joe Biden his point man to handle the resulting Ukraine crisis.
May 13, 2014: Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, joins the board of Burisma, then Ukraine’s largest private natural gas producer. The company is in the midst of a damage-control effort. Its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, was a member of Yanukovych’s cabinet. Zlochevsky had served as minister of natural resources, and in that role awarded his natural gas company, Burisma, lucrative drilling licenses, leading to allegations of corruption and an investigation into those allegations by Ukrainian prosecutors.
Feb. 10, 2015: Viktor Shokin is appointed to a 13-month term as Ukraine’s prosecutor general, a role similar to the attorney general in the U.S.
Sometime in 2015: Corruption cases against Zlochevsky are “shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015,” according to Vitalily Kasko, a former deputy prosecutor general under Shokin who resigned in protest in February 2016.
September 2015: Western allies of Ukraine have grown frustrated with the sluggish pace of corruption investigations in the country. In a speech, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine slams the prosecutor general’s office for not releasing documents to British investigators on Burisma owner Zlochevsky. Instead of sending documents to the Brits, ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt says, “they sent letters to Zlochevsky’s attorneys attesting that there was no case against him.”
Dec. 8, 2015: In a speech to the Ukrainian parliament, Joe Biden says “corruption eats Ukraine like cancer.”
Early 2016: According to comments he would later make about this time, Biden threatens that the U.S. will withhold a billion-dollar loan guarantee from Ukraine unless Shokin resigns. Several outlets later report that the U.S. had been putting pressure on Ukraine to oust Shokin for months.
Feb. 10, 2016: International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde warns Ukraine that a $17.5 billion bailout fund overseen by her organization is in jeopardy. “Without a substantial new effort to invigorate governance reforms and fight corruption, it’s hard to see how the IMF-supported program can continue and be successful,” Lagarde says.
Feb. 16, 2016: Shokin tenders his resignation to Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko upon Poroshenko’s request.
March 28, 2016: Protesters in Ukraine demand Shokin’s ouster.
March 29, 2016: Shokin’s resignation is approved by the Ukrainian parliament. The European Union hails Shokin’s resignation, with the union’s envoy to Ukraine saying it “creates an opportunity to make a fresh start in the prosecutor general’s office.”
Aug. 19, 2016: Paul Manafort resigns as Trump campaign chairman after news of the secret, off-the-books ledger catches the attention of U.S. media. Led by Rudy Giuliani, Trump allies will later assert that the ledger was an anti-Trump conspiracy by Ukrainian authorities to help Hillary Clinton.
Jan. 11, 2017: In an article headlined “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire,” Ken Vogel and David Stern report for Politico on early allegations that Ukrainian officials in the country’s Washington, D.C., embassy sought to damage Trump during the 2016 election. The officials deny involvement in the campaign, though unnamed sources confirm that the DNC was looking for information on Manafort. The article explored potential political motivations in Ukraine for the release of the ledger. Manafort told Politico that the publication of the document was “a politically motivated false attack on me.”
Jan. 23, 2018: During an event at the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden described his role in Shokin’s resignation, emphasizing that he was representing the U.S. and its position that Ukraine had not sufficiently fought corruption. Referencing $1 billion in loan guarantees, Biden recalled, “I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.” This comment would become a cornerstone of later attacks against Biden.
March 1, 2019: Conservative journalist John Solomon highlights Biden’s comments in a piece in The Hill. Instead of tying them the Obama administration’s push for a tougher stance against corruption in Ukraine, he quotes Shokin, who in written answers to Solomon’s questions asserted that before his ouster, he’d had “specific plans” for the investigation that “included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”
March 20, 2019: Lutsenko tells The Hill’s Solomon that his office has opened an investigation into the release of the so-called “black ledger” that led to Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign.
April 1, 2019: Referring to Attorney General Bill Barr, Lutsenko tells Solomon that he “would be happy to have a conversation with him about this issue” — namely, about Biden’s involvement in Shokin’s firing.
April 21, 2019: Volodymyr Zelensky is elected President of Ukraine on an anti-corruption platform.
April 25, 2019: In a Fox News appearance, Trump celebrates Lutsenko’s investigation of the release of the “black ledger.”
May 6, 2019: News breaks that U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is suddenly being recalled and is expected to permanently leave that post. A State Department spokesperson says she is “concluding her 3-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv in 2019 as planned,” though the recall occurs ahead of her scheduled departure from Kyiv. The whistleblower’s complaint places Yovanovitch’s recall even earlier, on or about April 29. Yovanovitch had been painted by allies of the President as disloyal to Trump.
May 9, 2019: The Times reports on Giuliani’s attempts to dig up political dirt for Trump in Ukraine. “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Giuliani tells the Times, adding: “I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop [the investigation] because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”
May 10, 2019: After criticism for seeking political dirt, Giuliani cancels a planned trip to Ukraine. The same day, Trump says “it would be appropriate” for him to speak to Barr about investigating Joe Biden or Hunter Biden. “Certainly it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet,” Trump tells Politico.
May 14, 2019: In an interview with a Ukrainian journalist later cited in the whistleblower’s complaint, Giuliani claims Yovanovitch was “removed” because “she was part of the efforts against the President.”
Also, according to the whistleblower’s complaint, Trump instructs Pence to cancel a planned trip to Zelensky’s inauguration on May 20. Energy Secretary Rick Perry goes on the inauguration trip instead. During that trip, according to the Wall Street Journal, Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, informs the U.S. delegation of the press reports about the Ukraine-linked conspiracy theories regarding the Bidens and 2016 that Giuliani has been pushing.
May 23, 2019: Having grown concerned about the “negative” Ukraine narrative that is being peddled to the President, Volker tries to push back on it in a group meeting with Trump. Trump remains skeptical and says Ukraine is filed with “terrible people” who “tried to take me down,” according to Volker’s congressional testimony. Trump also brings up Giuliani in the conversation.
Late May 2019: Giuliani acknowledges meeting with a former Ukrainian diplomat and political consultant, Andrii Telizhenko, who’d made allegations that could be useful to Trump, including that a DNC contractor worked with the Ukrainian embassy in Washington, D.C. in 2016 to dig up dirt on the Trump campaign. The DNC and embassy staffers have denied the former diplomat’s claims. “We spoke on U.S.-Ukraine relations and politics in D.C. and Ukraine,” Giuliani told the Washington Post.
Mid-July 2019: Per the Washington Post, Trump tells acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to hold back from releasing nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine at least a week before a scheduled call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.
July 17, 2019: In a text message to U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland (a Trump appointee who donated $1 million to the President’s inaugural committee) and acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor (a career diplomat and former Ukraine ambassador who filled the vacancy left by Yovanovitch’s firing), Volker lays out what the administration wants from Ukraine. It is one of a string of text messages that Volker will later turn over to Congress.
July 18, 2019: According to the whistleblower’s complaint, a White House budget official informs departments and agencies that “earlier that month,” Trump issued instructions to suspend all security assistance to Ukraine.
Volker learns of the freeze that day. In meetings on July 23 and 26, OMB officials explicitly say the instruction comes directly from the President.
July 19, 2019: Volker has breakfast with Giuliani and Lev Parnas, who is serving as a middleman in Giuliani’s Ukraine efforts. Volker pushes back on the conspiracy theories about Biden and 2016 that Giuliani has been floating, according to Volker’s testimony.
July 21, 2019: In the text thread with Volker and Sondland, Taylor raises Zelensky’s concern “about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.” Sondland responds: “Absolutely, but we need to get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext. I am worried about the alternative.”
July 25, 2019: The day of Trump’s call with Zelensky.
Hours before, Volker texts Zelensky foreign policy aide Andrey Yermak. He proposes that if Zelensky can convince Trump he will “investigate” to “get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016, then Zelensky will get a meeting with Trump.
Trump has his call with Zelensky, in which he repeatedly pressures the Ukrainian president on the investigations.
After the call between Trump and Zelensky, Yermak texts Volker: “Phone call went well.” He pushes to confirm a date for Zelensky and Trump’s meeting.
July 26: The whistleblower pens a memo based on a conversation with an unidentified official about Trump’s Zelensky call and the White House’s initial reaction to it.
“In the days following the phone call”: According to the whistleblower, senior White House officials intervened to “lock down” records of the call.
“The week after the call”: According to a subsequent New York Times report, the whistleblower delivered an anonymous complaint to the CIA’s general counsel, who then learned that “multiple people,” in the Times’ words, had raised concerns about Trump’s call. Per the Times, the general counsel, Courtney Simmons Elwood, subsequently contacted a deputy White House counsel, John Eisenberg, and others, per standing procedure.
July 26, 2019: Volker goes to Kyiv for a meeting with President Zelensky. Per the whistleblower’s complaint, readouts of the meeting indicated that Volker and Sondland, “provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelesnky.”
July 28, 2019: Trump announces Dan Coats’ ouster as director of national intelligence.
Aug. 2, 2019: Giuliani meets with Yermak in Madrid, Spain.
Around Aug. 7, 2019: While giving Volker and Sondland a readout of his meeting with Yermak, Giuliani says that Zelensky needs to issue a statement on investigating corruption and that he discussed this with Yermak, according to Volker’s testimony.
Aug. 9, 2019: After a call between Giuliani and Yermak, Volker tells Giuliani that he’d heard Yermak was “pleased with your phone call” and that Yermak “mentioned [Zelensky] making a statement.” Volker asks for, and Giuliani agrees to, a phone call “to make sure I advise Z correctly as to what he should be saying?”
In separate texts later in the day, Sondland informs Volker that “Morrison” — presumably Tim Morrison, senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council — is ready to get dates for a Zelensky-Trump meeting “as soon as Yermak confirms.” Asked how he “sway[ed] him, Sondland replies that he thinks Trump “really wants the deliverable.”
Later, Sondland proposes that “To avoid misunderstandings, might be helpful to ask Andrey for a draft statement (embargoed) so that we can see exactly what they propose to cover.” Volker agrees.
Aug. 10, 2019: Yermak tells Volker that Zelensky is willing to make a statement — “I think it’s possible to make this declaration and mention all these things,” he writes — but first, they want “a confirmation of date” for Zelensky’s meeting with Trump. Volker agrees, and proposes to “iron out statement and use that to get a date and then PreZ can go forward with it?” Yermak agrees.
Then, Yermak spells out explicitly what Ukraine will provide: a public announcement of investigations into Trump’s priorities — “Burisma and election meddling.
Aug. 12, 2019: A whistleblower connected to the intelligence community sends a “disclosure intended for Congress” to the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG), according to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA). The IG, Michael Atkinson, has a two-week period to determine if the complaint is of “urgent concern.” Sometime before making this complaint, the whistleblower had reached out to an aide on the House Intelligence Committee with details of his complaint, the New York Times later reported. The aide advised the whistleblower to get a lawyer and make a formal complaint with the ICIG.
Aug. 13, 2019: Volker drafts, and Sondland approves, a draft statement for Ukraine to announce that it is investigating Burisma, as well as the 2016 U.S. elections.
Aug. 14, 2019: Per The New York Times’ reporting, CIA General Counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood and deputy White House counsel John Eisenberg take the whistleblower’s initial anonymous complaint (the one he made to Elwood) to the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, John Demers. Eventually, per the Times, deputy attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and Justice Department criminal division head Brian Benczkowski get “looped in.” Attorney General William Barr “learn[s] of the allegations around that time,” the Times reported.
Aug. 16, 2019: Joseph Maguire is named acting director of national intelligence. Yermak shares with Volker the draft “statement” that Giuliani asked be released about investigating corruption. The draft does not mention the 2016 U.S. election or Burisma specifically, according to Volker’s testimony.
Aug. 17, 2019: In texts, Sondland and Volker confirm the state of play: The Trump administration wants a commitment from Ukraine to investigate 2016 election meddling and “Boresma” [sic].
Ukraine ultimately refuses to add specific mention of 2016 or Burisma to the draft statement and the idea is dropped, according to Volker’s testimony. Volker claims that he was in touch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several White House officials about these conversations.
Aug. 26, 2019: Atkinson deems the complaint of “urgent concern.” In accordance with procedure, he then sends the complaint to acting DNI Joseph Maguire. Maguire gets a one-week period to pass the information on to the congressional intelligence committees.
“Upon reviewing the complaint,” Maguire later tells the House Intelligence Committee, his office sees that the allegations were based in part on the conversation between Trump and Zelensky and reaches out to the White House Counsel’s Office. “We were advised that much of the information in the complaint was in fact subject to executive privilege,” he tells the committee. Subsequently, Maguire’s office and the ICIG go to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel for an opinion on whether the complaint is considered an “urgent concern” that must be shared with Congress. OLC says it does not meet that criteria.
Aug. 29, 2019: In texts, Yermak raises concerns with Volker after reading a Politico article about how “the Trump administration is slow-walking $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine,” in the report’s words. “Need to talk with you,” he tells Volker.
Aug. 30, 2019: Taylor informs Volker via text that Trump has canceled his trip to Warsaw, Poland — and thus, his planned meeting with Zelensky. “Hope VPOTUS keeps the bilat — and tees up WH visit…” Volker responds.
Sept. 1, 2019: Taylor texts Sondland raising concerns that the Trump administration is making security assistance funds conditioned upon politicized investigations. Rather than respond via text, Sondland tells Taylor to “call me.”‘
Meanwhile, Pence and Zelensky meet in Warsaw. The next day, asked by a reporter if America’s hold-up on sending aid to Ukraine had do with efforts “to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family,” Pence says no, then adds: “we discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail.”
As President Trump “had me make clear,” Pence adds, “we have great concerns about issues of corruption.” Later, Pence says he told Zelensky that “I would carry back to President Trump the progress that he and his administration in Ukraine are making on dealing with corruption in their country.”
Sept. 2, 2019: The deadline for Maguire to hand over the document to the committees comes and goes. He does not hand over the complaint.
Sept. 8, 2019: Taylor makes his concerns more explicit in a text: “The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance,” he says. “The Russians love it. (And I quit.)”
Sept. 9, 2019: A few hours later, Taylor keeps up his argument: “With the hold [on military assistance], we have already shaken their faith in us. Thus my nightmare scenario.” He adds a few minutes later: “Counting on you to be right about this interview, Gordon.” Sondland responds “I never said I was ‘right’. I saw we are where we are and I believe we have identified the best pathway forward.”
Taylor, responding to Sondland, makes his concern yet more explicit: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland objects, asserting that Trump “has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” Then, he takes the conversation off of the written record: “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.” According to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Sondland called President Trump before rejecting Taylor’s claim of a quid pro quo.
The same day, Atkinson sends a letter to the House Intelligence Committee alerting its members to the existence of the whistleblower complaint. Per Schiff, this is the first they ever heard of the document. Three House committees announce an investigation into whether Giuliani is strong-arming Ukraine into helping Trump’s reelection campaign. Schiff questions whether Maguire has bucked the law and withheld the complaint.
Sept. 10, 2019: Schiff writes to Maguire demanding a copy of the complaint and related documents.
Sept. 12, 2019: The White House releases the nearly $400 million in military aid and another for Ukraine that it had come under bipartisan pressure for withholding.
Sept. 13, 2019: Maguire rejects Schiff’s request after consulting with the Department of Justice, so Schiff goes public with the whole situation, sending a letter and subpoena to the Maguire’s office. Schiff says that if Maguire does not comply with the subpoena by Sept. 17, he will have to come before the committee himself on Sept. 19.
Sept. 17, 2019: Maguire misses the deadline to comply with the Intelligence Committee’s subpoena. His general counsel, Jason Klitenic, says that Atkinson was wrong and that the whistleblower’s complaint did not meet the “urgent concern” threshold. He also says that it is “premature” and too short notice for Maguire to appear before the committee on Sept. 19. In a letter later released by the Intelligence Committee, Atkinson tells Congress on this day that he is having a “disagreement” with Maguire about the whistleblower complaint, and that the acting DNI will not “authorize” him to convey even general information about it.
Sept. 18, 2019: Schiff says that Maguire agreed to testify in an open session before the committee on Thursday, Sept. 26.
Sept. 19, 2019: Atkinson has a closed-door meeting with the Intelligence Committee. He declines to give details on the complaint. The Washington Post and New York Times both report later this night that the whistleblower complaint involves Ukraine. Giuliani goes on CNN for a frantic interview with host Chris Cuomo, during which he admits that he asked the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden.
Sept. 21, 2019: Giuliani calls Volker. Volker doesn’t return the call.
Sept. 21, 2019: Biden calls for the release of the call transcript and whistleblower testimony.
Sept. 22, 2019: Trump admits that Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and “corruption” came up during his call with Zelensky. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin say that it would be “inappropriate” to release a transcript of the call, though Trump says he’d “love” to release it but that he has to be a “little bit shy” about it. Schiff says that impeachment may be the “only remedy” if the allegations about the conversation are true; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) threatens a “whole new stage of investigation” if the administration continues to muzzle the whistleblower. According to Volker, Pompeo tells Volker that Giuliani — who has also texted Volker — wants the State Department to confirm that State set up his meeting with Yermak. Volker informs Pompeo the Department issued that confirmation back in August and Pompeo asks Volker to send the statement to Giuliani, which he does.
Sept. 23, 2019: Three House committees threaten to subpoena the State Department for withholding information on Giuliani’s role in strong-arming Ukraine.
Sept. 24, 2019: Trump confirms reports in the Washington Post that he told acting OMB director Mick Mulvaney to withhold hundreds of millions in aid from Ukraine just days before the call with Zelensky, but says that it was unrelated to Biden. House Democrats signal a growing inclination for impeachment proceedings, Pelosi working the phones and holding meetings with committee chairs and the general caucus. Democrats contemplate creating a special committee to probe the situation. At 5 p.m. that day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announces her support of an impeachment inquiry, galvanizing House Democrats.
Sept. 27, 2019: Volker resigns from the State Department and is privately interviewed by House investigators a few days later — an interview for which he also provides his texts related to the scandal.