Politics

Joe Biden, Donald Trump, And Ukraine: An Explainer

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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The whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump has created two dueling narratives, one about Trump and his allies’ efforts to investigate Joe Biden; the other about the former vice president and his son’s business dealings in Ukraine.

The story begins in early 2014, when Biden was tapped as the top U.S. liaison to Ukraine following the overthrow of its corrupt, pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Over the next five years, Biden’s youngest son, Hunter, would join the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company whose owner has been investigated for money laundering and fraud. Several prosecutors would come and go in Ukraine, often amid allegations that they failed to do enough to fight corruption in Ukraine.

By 2019, as Joe Biden geared up his presidential bid, Trump allies (namely Rudy Giuliani) would embark on a sort of opposition research campaign that focused on Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine and China. Questions that had been raised five years earlier, when Hunter first joined Burisma Holdings, would also resurface as Joe Biden jumped to the head of the Democratic primary field.

The core allegation against Joe Biden is that he pressured Ukraine’s president in 2016 to fire a prosecutor who was set to launch an investigation into Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company that paid Hunter Biden $50,000 a month as a board member. (RELATED: Read The Trump Whistleblower Complaint)

As for Trump, he is in hot water over a July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s newly-elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he brought up the Bidens and the as-yet unproven allegation that father helped son avoid investigation. A CIA analyst who heard about details of the call second-hand from White House officials filed a whistleblower complaint on Aug. 12, alleging that Trump abused his office and jeopardized national security by allegedly pressuring Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Both sides of the ordeal — Trump and Biden — have denied wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Biden has slipped in the polls in recent months, while the whistleblower saga has pushed a majority of the House in favor of impeaching Trump.

The key questions that remain unanswered: Did Trump commit a “high crime” or “misdemeanor” (the threshold required for impeachment) by asking Zelensky to investigate his political rival? Did Joe Biden intervene in Ukrainian affairs to help his son’s company?

Timeline of Events

Early 2014: Biden is tapped as point man on Ukraine issues after a new government takes over in the wake of Yanukovych’s ouster. One of Biden’s goals was to help Ukraine fight its longstanding struggles with corruption.

April 2014: Investigators in the U.K. open a money laundering and fraud investigation of Mykola Zlochevsky, the owner of Burisma Holdings.

May 2014: Hunter Biden joins Burisma. The move attracted some attention in the U.S. press, with allegations that his work for an oligarch-tied firm undercut his father’s efforts to root out corruption in Ukraine.

August 2014: Ukraine’s general prosecutor, Vitaly Yarema, opens an investigation of Zlochevsky. A lawyer for Burisma claims that an investigation was closed in September 2016.

Feb. 10, 2015: Viktor Shokin takes over as prosecutor general of Ukraine.

March 2016: Joe Biden pressures Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire Shokin.

January 2018: During an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden tells the story of pressuring Poroshenko to fire Shokin in order to secure $1 billion in loan assistance from the U.S.

Trump allies have seized on Biden’s remarks as circumstantial evidence that he forced Shokin’s removal because of the prosecutor’s interest in investigating Burisma. (RELATED: MSNBC Anchor Said There Is ‘No Evidence’ Biden Pressured Ukraine, But Ex-VP Admitted Doing So In 2018)

But the story is complicated because it is not clear whether Biden had his son’s business dealings in mind when he pushed for Shokin’s removal.

Biden was not the only person critical of Shokin. Others in the Obama administration, European leaders and the International Monetary Fund were also frustrated with the prosecutor, alleging that he had not done enough to investigate corruption.

In September 2015, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, criticized Shokin for slow-walking an investigation into Zlochevsky.

The Hill reported on Thursday that Shokin claimed he was fired because Biden wanted to block him from investigating Burisma. Shokin offered that assessment in an interview on Sept. 4, 2019 with lawyers for Dmitryo Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch facing extradition to the U.S. for bribery. Shokin defended Firtash during the interview.

April 2019: Joe Biden announces presidential run. Hunter Biden leaves the Burisma board.

May 2019: Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky is elected president of Ukraine on an anti-corruption platform. Giuliani moves quickly to establish connections to the new administration, and begins pushing allegations about the Bidens’ Ukraine efforts.

July 2019: Trump reportedly instructs Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff, to withhold $391 million in military aid from Ukraine. In the fallout from the whistleblower complaint, Trump would deny withholding the aid in exchange for Zelensky’s help investigating Biden.

July 25: Trump and Zelensky speak by phone. Trump kicks off the conversation by congratulating Zelensky on his election win. They then discuss U.S.’s support for Ukraine, and Trump notes that European countries like Germany and France have not done enough to support the former Soviet republic. Trump does not threaten to withdraw aid.

Zelensky brings up Giuliani during the call. Trump then asks Zelensky for a “favor” in looking into allegations that Ukraine has DNC computer servers.

Trump later mentions the Bidens, asking Zelensky to “look into” whether Joe Biden “stopped the prosecution” of his son’s company.

Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and current lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks to members of the media during a White House Sports and Fitness Day at the South Lawn of the White House May 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rudy Giuliani speaks to members of the media during a White House Sports and Fitness Day at the South Lawn of the White House May 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Aug. 3 Giuliani continues his efforts to work with the Zelensky administration, meeting in Spain with a top Zelensky adviser.

Aug. 12 A CIA analyst detailed to the White House files a complaint with the Intelligence Community Inspector General accusing Trump of pressuring Zelensky to investigate Biden for personal gain.

The whistleblower said that he received the information second-hand from multiple White House officials he said were concerned about what Trump said on the call.

Sept. 13: The whistleblower complaint begins trickling into public view after Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff accuses the Trump administration of improperly withholding the document from Congress.

Sept. 25: The White House declassifies and releases a transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call. Trump says the transcript shows he did nothing wrong in the call. Democrats increase calls for impeachment.

Sept. 26: The House Intelligence Committee releases the whistleblower complaint, which is nine pages in length.

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