WASHINGTON — When all the partisan posturing, parliamentary wrangling and legalistic arguing are stripped away, the impeachment process that dominated Washington for months produced a set of facts that is largely beyond dispute: The president of the United States pressured a foreign government to take actions aimed at his political opponents.
As the Senate moved toward acquitting President Trump on Wednesday, even some Republicans stopped trying to defend his actions or dispute the evidence, focusing instead on the idea that his conduct did not deserve removal from office, especially in an election year.
Mr. Trump’s “behavior was shameful and wrong,” and “his personal interests do not take precedence over those of this great nation,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said on Monday. She went on to declare that she would nonetheless vote to acquit.
Mr. Trump’s public statements, plus testimony and documents introduced during the impeachment process and revelations independent from the congressional inquiry, establish a narrative of the president’s involvement in the effort led by Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, to persuade Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating two topics.
One centered on purported efforts by Ukrainians to undercut Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The other was the overlap between former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine and his son Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company widely associated with accusations of corruption.
There are still unanswered questions about the details of Mr. Trump’s involvement, and additional information could emerge later.
But a review of thousands of documents and dozens of interviews reveals how Mr. Trump developed a bitter grudge against Ukraine and then became personally involved in pressuring its leaders. Evidence of Mr. Trump’s role comes from a variety of sources.
In His Own Words
Some of the clearest evidence comes from Mr. Trump’s own statements, both in his phone conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on July 25 and in public remarks he later made.
A reconstructed transcript of the call, made public by the White House in October, makes clear that Mr. Trump asked the Ukrainian president to pursue investigations into the Bidens and into one element of his belief that Ukraine worked against his election in 2016: a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine rather than Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and that Ukraine had possession of a server that would shed light on the theory.
“I would like you to do us a favor though,” Mr. Trump said, asking Mr. Zelensky’s government to work with Attorney General William P. Barr and Mr. Giuliani to pursue the investigations.
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike,” Mr. Trump said, referring to an American cybersecurity firm and the debunked theory about Ukraine’s involvement in the hack of the Democratic Party. “The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
He went on to bring up the Bidens.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great,” Mr. Trump said, according to the reconstructed transcript. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it.”
What Mr. Trump first said in private to Mr. Zelensky, he later said in public. In early October, answering questions from reporters outside the White House, Mr. Trump repeated and expanded on his calls for foreign help in investigating the Bidens.
“I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens,” Mr. Trump said. “Because nobody has any doubt that they weren’t crooked.”
He also suggested that Ukraine was not the only country that should dig into Hunter Biden’s international business dealings.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump has defended himself by saying that there was nothing wrong with asking another government for help in fighting corruption.
Putting Government Power to Work
Mr. Trump removed a United States diplomat from her post after Mr. Giuliani and his associates accused her of opposing him politically and impeding their push for the investigations. And the president directed other government officials to work with Mr. Giuliani as he sought a public commitment from Mr. Zelensky to pursue those investigations.
In conversations with Mr. Trump in early 2019, Mr. Giuliani claimed that the United States ambassador to Kyiv, Marie L. Yovanovitch, a widely respected 33-year career diplomat, was hindering efforts to gather evidence from Ukrainians to defend the president and to target his rivals.
Mr. Trump connected Mr. Giuliani with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in late March to discuss the allegations, according to an interview with Mr. Giuliani and emails showing at least two telephone calls between the men, including one arranged with guidance from Mr. Trump’s personal assistant.
Mr. Trump ordered the recall of Ms. Yovanovitch in late April. Later, during the July phone call with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Trump called her “bad news” and said, “she’s going to go through some things.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo “relied on” Mr. Giuliani’s claims in their decision to oust Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Giuliani said.
In early May, Mr. Trump asked John R. Bolton, his national security adviser at the time, to call Mr. Zelensky to ensure he would meet with Mr. Giuliani, according to Mr. Bolton’s unpublished book manuscript. Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani denied Mr. Bolton’s account.
When Mr. Giuliani failed in his efforts to meet with Mr. Zelensky to press for the investigations, Mr. Trump enlisted an ad hoc team to work with Mr. Giuliani. The team included Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union; Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy for Ukraine; and Rick Perry, then the energy secretary.
When the three government officials sought to convince Mr. Trump that Mr. Zelensky deserved the full support of the United States, the president responded with anger toward the Ukrainians during a late May meeting. “They’re terrible people,” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Volker’s testimony. “They’re all corrupt, and they tried to take me down.”
If they wanted to engage further with Ukraine, Mr. Trump told them, they would need to coordinate with Mr. Giuliani. “He just kept saying: ‘Talk to Rudy, talk to Rudy,’” Mr. Sondland later testified.
Over the next few months, according to extensive evidence introduced in the House impeachment inquiry, Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker would work to convince the Ukrainians that in order for Mr. Zelensky to be granted a key request — a high-profile Oval Office meeting signaling United States support for his government in its conflict with Russia — he would have to commit to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump.
The Aid Freeze
The White House meeting was not the only leverage used by Mr. Trump’s team in pressuring the Ukrainians.
In late June, Mr. Trump told top aides to look into the military assistance the United States provides to Ukraine, setting in motion a process that led him to order the withholding of $391 million in congressionally approved aid that Ukraine needed for its grinding war against Russian-backed separatists.
Mr. Trump’s order distressed officials in the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, and eventually Kyiv, where at least some officials were aware of the aid freeze as early as July 25, according to officials in Ukraine and the United States. The freeze was not made public until the end of August.
The senior members of Mr. Trump’s national security team tried in August to persuade him to release the aid, but he refused.
Mr. Sondland eventually told Ukrainian officials that the release of the assistance would be dependent on Mr. Zelensky publicly committing to an investigation of Burisma, according to testimony in impeachment proceedings from Mr. Sondland and William B. Taylor Jr., who served as the top American diplomat in Kyiv after Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall.
The aid was released in September, after the freeze was made public and congressional Republicans lobbied Mr. Trump to release the money — and after Mr. Trump became aware of a whistle-blower complaint detailing key elements of the pressure campaign. Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, later told a news briefing that the aid had been withheld as part of the pressure campaign — and then tried to walk back his comments.
Mr. Trump’s defense has been that he wanted to make sure the aid would not be squandered by corruption in Ukraine, and that the money was released without Mr. Zelensky agreeing to the investigations.
The Lawyer and His Client
Mr. Trump’s grievances with Ukraine date from his 2016 campaign but were channeled into action by Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who in April 2018 became part of the legal team defending the president against the special counsel’s investigation. Mr. Giuliani has repeatedly cited attorney-client privilege in refusing to divulge details of their conversations about Ukraine.
But in interviews, public statements and material gathered by House impeachment investigators, Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged that his Ukraine-related efforts were initiated and pursued with Mr. Trump’s knowledge and consent.
That was something he made explicit in a letter that he sent Mr. Zelensky in May 2019. In the letter, Mr. Giuliani sought a meeting with Mr. Zelensky during a planned trip to Kyiv, where, he told The New York Times at the time, he intended to press the Ukrainians to carry out the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. Mr. Giuliani canceled the trip, and the meeting with Mr. Zelensky never happened.
Mr. Giuliani’s initial interest was in undermining the special counsel’s investigation by raising questions about some of the events on its periphery. He sought to cast doubt on the authenticity of a ledger showing off-the-books payments from a Russia-aligned Ukrainian party earmarked for Paul Manafort, who served as Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016. Mr. Giuliani also questioned the motivations of the Ukrainians who disseminated it and their relationships with officials at the United States Embassy in Kyiv, who, he argued, were aligned with Hillary Clinton and out to get Mr. Trump.
Mr. Giuliani enlisted two Soviet-born American businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to help him connect early last year with Ukrainian prosecutors who could be of assistance. Those prosecutors made unsubstantiated claims about the Bidens’ work in Ukraine that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani would embrace in subsequent months, as the president ramped up his re-election campaign and the former vice president made clear he would seek the Democratic nomination to challenge him.
Even after Democrats began impeachment proceedings, Mr. Giuliani continued trying to collect information from Ukrainians who he argued would prove that Mr. Trump was justified in calling for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and the ledger.
In December, Mr. Giuliani told an associate that he briefed Mr. Trump before traveling to Budapest and Kyiv to film interviews with former Ukrainian officials. As soon as Mr. Giuliani returned from the trip, Mr. Trump reportedly asked him what he had collected. “More than you can imagine,” he replied.
Mr. Giuliani has told his associates that he played the videos of his interviews for an appreciative Mr. Trump.
Ben Protess contributed reporting from New York.
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