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A Timeline Of Trump's Interactions And Focus On Ukraine


We're getting a first look at the whistleblower complaint that set off an impeachment inquiry. The complaint accuses President Trump of abusing power and jeopardizing national security by trying to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. At the center of it is a call on July 25 between President Trump and the new president of Ukraine. But as NPR's Tamara Keith reports, Trump's interest in Ukraine goes back much farther.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Trump has long voiced suspicion about Ukraine, suggesting the U.S. ally somehow played a nefarious role in the 2016 election and the Russia probe that cast a cloud over Trump's presidency. And in the conservative media ecosystem, where the president is both a consumer and contributor, talk about Ukraine heated up in March of this year.


SEAN HANNITY: We know tonight that a high-ranking government official in Ukraine actively tried to benefit the Clinton campaign in 2016.

KEITH: Sean Hannity led his Fox News show with this on March 20, and a few minutes later, President Trump tweeted the headline. Then in mid-April, the Mueller report came out. It outlined instances of possible obstruction of justice by Trump, but Trump considered it a total exoneration. No collusion, no obstruction, he boomed. Three days later, Ukraine elected a new president.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Having played the role of president in a TV show, Volodymyr Zelenskiy is now on course to make that role a reality.

KEITH: And Trump said on Fox he called Zelenskiy right away.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Congratulated him on a incredible race, incredible run, a big surprise victory.

KEITH: According to a White House readout of the call, the two leaders talked about implementing reforms to, quote, "root out corruption." It appears Trump may have invited Zelenskiy to the White House, something that would be important to Ukraine, asserting its ties to the U.S. as it deals with Russian aggression. It's not clear whether they talked about investigating Joe Biden and his son Hunter. But within days...


RUDY GIULIANI: And I ask you to keep your eye on Ukraine because in Ukraine, a lot of the dirty work was done in digging up the information.

KEITH: Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal attorney, appeared on "Fox & Friends" on April 25. What had started as a mission to undermine the Russia probe by revealing the alleged true origins of the investigation morphed into an effort to sully Biden.


GIULIANI: I think it gives some interesting information about Joe Biden, from Ukraine, about his son Hunter Biden.

KEITH: That was also the day former Vice President Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign.


JOE BIDEN: But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.

KEITH: Biden was widely seen as the strongest candidate to go head-to-head with Trump. And it turns out Giuliani was actively trying to hurt Biden's campaign with the help of officials in Ukraine. He even planned a trip there in May, but it was canceled at the last minute due to the impropriety of the president's personal attorney seeking dirt on a political opponent from a foreign country. But Giuliani didn't stop and made no secret of his interest in an interview on Fox.


GIULIANI: It's a case that is crying out to be investigated. If it doesn't get investigated, we just don't have equal justice in this country.

KEITH: Soon Trump, too, was talking about a Biden-Ukraine connection in his own interview with Fox News May 19. And we should say that what Trump is describing here is not accurate, garbles the timetable and leaves out key context. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden.


TRUMP: Look at Joe Biden. He calls them and says, don't you dare prosecute. If you don't fire this prosecutor - the prosecutor was after his son. And he said, if you fire the prosecutor, you'll be OK. And if you don't fire the prosecutor, we're not giving you $2 billion in loan guarantees or whatever he was supposed to give. Can you imagine if I did that?

KEITH: The whistleblower complaint alleges that Ukrainian leaders believed that a meeting or a second phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy depended on, quote, "whether Zelenskiy showed a willingness to play ball." Trump himself, in an interview with ABC News in June, put down a marker. He didn't see anything wrong with getting foreign help in his 2020 reelection.


TRUMP: If somebody called from a country - Norway - we have information on your opponent, oh, I think I'd want to hear it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it.

KEITH: When Trump and Zelenskiy finally talked again on July 25, Zelenskiy was the first one to bring up Giuliani. But then Trump asked three times for Zelenskiy to talk to Giuliani, to look into Biden, and again, Trump teased the idea of a White House meeting. Yesterday, Zelenskiy and Trump met at the United Nations in New York. And again, Zelenskiy asked about that meeting.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKIY: And I want to thank you for invitation to Washington.

TRUMP: Right.

ZELENSKIY: You invited me. But I think - I'm sorry - but I think you forgot to tell me the date.


ZELENSKIY: But I think in the near future.

TRUMP: They'll tell you the date.

KEITH: No date has been set.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. In that time, she has chronicled the final years of the Obama administration, covered Hillary Clinton's failed bid for president from start to finish and thrown herself into documenting the Trump administration, from policy made by tweet to the president's COVID diagnosis and the insurrection. In the final year of the Trump administration and the first year of the Biden administration, she focused her reporting on the White House response to the COVID-19 pandemic.