Several individuals linked to the Trump team, including Paul Manafort and longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, have various links to Ukrainian government officials. However, in 2019, the Trump administration appeared to solicit—and potentially extort—the government of Ukraine to attack a major political opponent in advance of the 2020 election.
On July 25, Trump had a phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the recently-elected president of Ukraine. According to notes on the conversation released by the White House, Trump and Zelensky first discussed Ukraine’s reliance on U.S. military aid to combat Russia’s efforts to annex Crimea. Trump then asked Zelensky to do him a “favor” by investigating two conspiracy theories against his political opponents.
The call was part of an effort going back more than a year to pressure Ukraine into acting in Trump’s political interests. According to The New York Times, under Zelensky’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine stopped cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in part to avoid angering Trump and to ensure they would continue receiving military aid.
These efforts appear to have intensified in early 2019, roughly corresponding with Zelensky’s election in April.
Texts between Giuliani, Volker, and other State Department officials suggest their initial goal was to pressure Ukraine to open the investigations in exchange for a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Zelensky. In July, however, Trump introduced another variable: military aid to Ukraine. On July 18, one week before his call with Zelensky, Trump instructed administration officials to withhold military aid Ukraine desperately needed in its constant struggle against Russian aggression.
The full extent of Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine has become increasingly clear thanks in part to an anonymous whistleblower. On August 12, a member of the intelligence community filed a complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky based on information about the call from conversations with several administration officials. The Trump administration released notes from the call on September 25 and the whistleblower complaint the next day.
On September 24, 2019, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced an official impeachment inquiry into the president. Though the impeachment is expected to focus on Trump’s conduct, several other top administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Office of Management and Budget Director and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, appear to be implicated in the scandal.