How did we get here? A timeline of the Ukraine impeachment saga


JUDY WOODRUFF: As we have been discussing,
tomorrow will be the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry, raising the question,
how did we get here? To look back and bring it all into focus,
our Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: More than a dozen witnesses,
thousands of pages of testimony, and a whistle-blower complaint that we learned about only in September. LISA DESJARDINS: It all led to Democratic
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doing this: REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I’m announcing the House
of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry. LISA DESJARDINS: This has all happened quickly,
almost too quickly to process. So we want to want to step back and look at
how we got here. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Let’s start where this investigation
began, that letter from an anonymous whistle-blower. The whistle-blower writes that multiple U.S.
officials told them that President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine for his own political
gain. He wanted Ukraine to open an investigation
into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. The younger Biden served on the board of a
Ukrainian energy company. The whistle-blower says that the president
was soliciting interference from a foreign country and sought to pressure the Ukrainian
leader to help the president’s 2020 reelection bid. LISA DESJARDINS: This is the core charge by
Democrats, led by House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff. REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The president of the United
States has betrayed his oath of office and sacrificed our national security in doing
so. LISA DESJARDINS: President Trump and his allies,
however, insist this is a political attack. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
This is a witch-hunt at the highest level, and it’s so bad for our country. LISA DESJARDINS: There’s plenty of rhetoric
from all sides, but what do we actually know? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Let’s drill down on some
key dates. In May, President Trump has the ambassador
to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, abruptly removed from that job. This happens just two weeks before massive
change in Ukraine. On May 20, Volodymyr Zelensky, an actor and
comedian, is inaugurated as president of Ukraine. He pledges to fight corruption in his country. But Zelensky has another problem: a continued
costly war with Russia over large swathes of land. Zelensky needs U.S. military aid and also
clear back from the U.S. LISA DESJARDINS: On July 10, a key event. At a White House meeting with the Ukrainians,
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, states that Ukrainians need
to reopen some investigations, according to multiple witnesses. Sondland, here on the right in a picture after
that meeting, testifies he doesn’t remember saying that. But then National Security Adviser John Bolton
erupts, according to other witnesses, calling the idea a drug deal and flagging it for White
House lawyers. Right around that time, in mid-July, the United
States freezes $391 million in aid to Ukraine. Several witnesses testify they were told this
was by order of the president, directed through acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney has not commented on that idea, but
has ardently defended the president. MICK MULVANEY, Acting White House Chief of
Staff: And I have news for everybody. Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in
foreign policy. LISA DESJARDINS: This brings us to the event
at the heart of all of this YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The July 25 phone call between
President Trump and President Zelensky. President Trump tells Zelensky that the United
States has been very good to Ukraine. He then says — quote — “I would like you
to do us a favor, though.” He goes on to say that he would like Zelensky
to look into two things, the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden and his
son Hunter’s dealings in Ukraine. LISA DESJARDINS: Among the officials on that
call, An Army lieutenant colonel named Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National
Security Council. He’s usually behind the scenes. Now he is central. Vindman testifies that what he heard on the
call wasn’t proper, the president demanding that a foreign government investigate a U.S.
citizen and political opponent. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: President Trump has said
the call was about getting to the bottom on corruption in Ukraine. DONALD TRUMP: We are looking at corruption. We’re not looking at politics. We’re looking at corruption. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: But Democrats say it is
in that now famous call that President Trump personally tried to extort Ukraine. LISA DESJARDINS: About a month later, on August
29, a news report reveals to the public and to some members of Congress that the aid money
was on hold. On September 1, Vice President Pence meets
in Warsaw with Zelensky. During that meeting, Pence brings up corruption. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: That same day, a key exchange
between Gordon Sondland, the E.U. ambassador, and a top adviser to President Zelensky. Sondland tells the Ukrainian official that
U.S. aid would likely not be provided until Ukraine made a public pledge to investigate
the Bidens. LISA DESJARDINS: One more date. By September 11, following heavy congressional
pressure, the military aid to Ukraine is taken off hold and sent. We do not know how long public hearings or
any impeachment debate will last. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: We do know this is the fourth
presidential impeachment investigation in history. And we’re sure to learn more from all sides
as it unfolds.

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