In late 2019 my students and I had the unique opportunity to witness in real time a fourth chapter in the history of U.S. presidential impeachments unfold. The first being the impeachment of Andrew Johnson (1868) followed by the almost impeachment of Richard Nixon (1974) and the salacious Bill Clinton affair (1998). Unlike the first three, which are pretty “cut and dry,” the first Trump impeachment had more to it. To help my students understand it better, I put together a timeline of events leading up to that historical event which, interestingly, centered on a phone call with the current president of Ukraine. At the time, I predicted to my students that if Joe Biden were to be elected President of the United States in the future, that he would likely face scrutiny over his actions in Ukraine as well. Trump impeachment 1.0 did not begin with a random phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky, it began with the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea and the subsequent U.S. policy in Ukraine led by then Vice President Joe Biden. The timeline of events leading up to the Trump impeachment are inexorably linked with the earlier Biden family dealings in Ukraine – and they could lead to a Biden impeachment inquiry.
Timeline of Trump Impeachment 1.0
July 18, 2019 – Pentagon announced that $400,000,000 in military aid had been put on hold, meaning that the President told the Department of Defense not to send Ukraine this money. This is money that was allocated by Congress to help the Ukrainian military.
July 25, 2019 – President Trump had a phone conversation with the newly elected president of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. During the call President Trump stated (among other things) that he was aware that the previous “very good” Ukrainian chief prosecutor had been fired by Zelensky’s predecessor, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, at the request of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Trump stated that he thought this was unfair and told Zelensky that he would like him to talk with one of Trump’s personal attorneys, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and the U.S. Attorney General, William “Bill” Barr. Trump then explained that he would like Zelensky to “look into” the previous Ukrainian prosecutor’s investigations involving the former Vice President’s Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Sometime Between July 25, 2019 and August 12, 2019 – An anonymous whistleblower (many people believe it was U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman) in the Trump White House that heard about President Trump’s phone call with Zelensky from colleagues reached out to House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Democrat Congressman Adam Schiff, and informed him of his concerns about the call. Congressman Schiff advised the whistleblower to file an official report to the committee.
Congressman Schiff initially denied having had contact with the anonymous whistleblower prior to receiving the official report. He later said he was sorry for not being truthful regarding the fact that his staff indeed had contact with the whistleblower prior to the official report being filed. This opened the door to widespread controversy and conspiracy theories that Congressman Schiff or members of his staff helped the whistleblower write the official report that was submitted to the House Intelligence Committee. Republicans demanded that Schiff turn over his phone records and testify under oath that he did not assist in writing the whistleblower report or have contact with the whistleblower prior to the filing of the official report. House Republicans also stated that they would specifically ask the whistleblower if he or she had had contact with Congressman Schiff’s office, and whether he or she had had help from the Congressman or his staff in writing the official whistleblower complaint. Chairman Schiff initially planned to have the whistleblower testify in congressional hearings but decided not to do so after Republicans made these statements and demanded that Schiff himself testify. Democrats on the committee decried it as partisan tactics.
August 12, 2019 – The whistleblower, with the help of an attorney, submitted an official anonymous whistleblower complaint to the House Intelligence Committee on August 12, 2019 alleging that President Trump attempted to use the Office of the President to seek the assistance of a foreign power to obtain information that was potentially damaging to a political rival (former Vice President Joe Biden).
September 24, 2019 – Based on the whistleblower complaint, the House Intelligence Committee began a whirlwind three-month impeachment investigation that eventually led to the first impeachment of Donald Trump. The process and findings of the investigation were decried by President Trump and many Republicans as being hasty and partisan. The president refused to cooperate by not testifying before Congress, refusing to provide access to documents, and blocking White House officials from testifying in the proceedings. This resulted in the charge of Obstruction of Congress.
In previous impeachment investigations when presidents refused to comply with congressional subpoenas, Congress went to court to force the executive branch to comply. In the Trump case, the House of Representatives opted to impeach Trump for Obstruction of Congress rather than go through the lengthy court process necessary to force the president to comply. Had they done so, and had the president continued to refuse, Congress could have then impeached him for the more serious charge of Obstruction of Justice.
December 18, 2019 – President Donald Trump became the third President in U.S. history to be impeached. The president was impeached on two charges: Obstruction of Congress and Abuse of Power. The House vote to impeach was split along party lines with all but four Democrats voting to impeach the president on the first charge and all but five Democrats voting to impeach on the second charge. No Republicans voted in favor of either charge. Of the three impeachments of U.S. presidents in U.S. history (up to that point), the Trump case was the only impeachment in which no opposition party members voted in favor of impeachment charges.
The charge of Obstruction of Congress originated with President Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry. Various legal analysts on both the left and right viewed this charge as rather weak. Congress impeached the President for not cooperating with them, something that every previous president has done to one degree or another.
The Abuse of Power allegation was serious and resulted in sufficient evidence to convince one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, to vote in favor of convicting the President on that charge. The charge stemmed from the President’s request that the Ukrainian president investigate alleged wrongdoing by former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in their Ukraine dealings. The allegation was also predicated on the fact that the President ordered the Department of Defense to withhold approximately $400 million in aid to Ukraine early in July 2019 – only days prior to his phone call with Zelensky – even though the U.S. Department of Defense told the White House that it was satisfied that the funds would not be used for corrupt purposes. Democrats alleged in their findings that this constituted a form of extortion intended to coerce the Ukrainians into providing Trump with possibly damaging information on a political rival.
The Trump administration stated repeatedly that the funding was delayed due to the president’s ongoing concerns regarding Ukrainian corruption. Zelensky’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko, a Ukrainian oligarch, led an allegedly corrupt regime. (Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been plagued with government corruption at all levels.) President Zelensky, a former movie actor and comedian, who ran a campaign that promised an end to corruption in Ukraine, had just taken office in May 2019 – less than two months before the call. According to Trump, he withheld the funds because he wanted to know for sure if Zelensky’s new administration would really fight corruption or if it would be “business as usual” in Ukraine before he gave them $400,000,000 in military aid.
The White House eventually released the funds to the Ukrainian government on September 11, 2019. Ukrainian President Zelensky stated on multiple occasions that there was no blackmail or quid pro quo understanding in any of his conversations with Trump. According to President Trump, he had an “absolute right” to ask foreign governments to investigate cases of potential corruption. The Trump White House also claimed that under the 1999 treaty with the Ukraine on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, the president had every right to request assistance with a legal investigation into questionable Biden family activities in the Ukraine.
While there was no implicit “smoking gun” evidence discovered in the impeachment investigation that revealed a coordinated attempt to coerce Ukraine into investigating the Bidens, the timeline of events and testimony of various American State Department employees provided what House Democrats felt was sufficient circumstantial evidence to impeach the President for Abuse of Power.
In his phone call with Zelensky, President Trump stated that former Vice President Biden “stopped the prosecution” of his (Joe Biden’s) son (Hunter) and later “went around bragging” about it. President Trump then asked the newly elected Ukrainian president to “look into” the Bidens and the firing of the previous Ukrainian anti-corruption prosecutor. These statements by Trump open the door to several interesting questions.
- Is there any truth to these statements by President Trump?
- Why did Trump make this request?
- What was the “prosecution” that Trump mentioned regarding Hunter Biden?
- Who was the Ukrainian prosecutor that was fired, and did Joe Biden really brag about it?
- What was the former Ukrainian prosecutor investigating and was he actually fired?
- What dealings, if any, did the Bidens have in Ukraine?
The timeline of events in the next section of this article help clarify what President Trump referred to in the call with Zelensky and provides answers to these questions.
Biden Ukraine Timeline 2014-2016
February 2014 – Russia invaded Ukraine, resulting in the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. This Russian aggression caused great concern in Europe. The U.S. policy at the time was to assist Ukraine resist Russian aggression, build up their economy, and help them become energy independent as Ukraine and much of Europe depend on imports of natural gas from Russia.
March 2014 – President Barack Obama appointed then Vice President Joe Biden to be the administration’s “point man” in dealing with Ukraine. Biden’s assignment was to work to implement U.S. policy in Ukraine.
March 26, 2014 – Congress approved a $1Billion aid package for Ukraine.
April 15, 2014 – Hunter Biden and his business partner Devon Archer receive two deposits in the amount of $83,333.33 and $29,424.82 from Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. Burisma is the largest energy firm in Ukraine and was founded by Mikola Zlochevsky, an allegedly corrupt Ukrainian oligarch. The money was deposited electronically in the Morgan Stanley business account of Rosemont Seneca Bohai LLC. Rosemont Seneca is an investment company founded by Hunter Biden, Devon Archer, and Chris Heinz, the stepson of former Secretary of State John Kerry.
April 16, 2014 – According to a joint report resulting from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, Hunter Biden’s business partner Devon Archer (now convicted of multiple frauds in federal court) met with Vice President Biden at the White House. This was one day after receiving wire transfers of funds from Burisma.
April 21-22, 2014 – Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine and met with Ukrainian officials regarding a recently approved $1Billion American assistance package to Ukraine that was to be done through the U.S. International Development Program. This money was allocated to help Ukraine economy through business loans and investments. A significant portion of the funds were intended to be used for investments in Ukrainian natural gas and other energy developments with the goal of helping Ukraine become energy independent. As Ukraine’s largest private energy firm, Burisma naturally stood to gain from these investments.
May 12, 2014 – Burisma, a company that stood to gain significantly from the $1 Billion American aid package, hired Hunter Biden and Devon Archer to serve on their board of directors. The firm hired Hunter Biden, an attorney, to provide legal guidance and “support for the company among international organizations.” Hunter Biden (and Devon Archer) were each paid between $50,000 and $83,333.33 per month to sit on the board. Funds were deposited monthly to the Rosemont Seneca business account with Morgan Stanley. As a consultant, Hunter Biden was not required to live in Ukraine and did not have to show up to work every day to receive pay. In a 2019 interview with ABC News Hunter Biden stated that he probably would not have been hired by Burisma if his last name was not Biden.
January-February 2015 – A U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee investigation revealed that in early 2015 former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, George Kent raised concerns to officials in Vice President Joe Biden’s office about the perception of a conflict of interest with respect to Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board.
October 2015 – Senior State Department official Amos Hochstein expressed concerns with Vice President Biden, as well as with Hunter Biden, that Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board enabled Russian disinformation efforts and risked undermining U.S. policy in Ukraine.
Late 2015-Early 2016 – Ukrainian Prosecutor General, the Ukrainian version of U.S. Attorney General, Viktor Shokin, was in the process of investigating possible fraudulent dealings of Burisma. When Shokin became the Ukrainian chief prosecutor in February 2015, he inherited the Burisma investigation which had already been going on for some time. According to Shokin, he planned to interview Hunter Biden regarding the $3,000,000 in fees paid by an American firm to Burisma and alleged money laundering activities. The prosecutor’s office had at the time seized some Burisma assets in relation to the investigation.
Burisma was the subject of several investigations related to money laundering and corruption while Hunter Biden was on the board. Keep in mind that Hunter Biden was employed as a legal advisor, based on this one can assume he was paid to help in these types of situations.
December 3, 2015 – Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Biden have the first in a series of phone calls with Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko. Someone in the Ukraine government leaked the audio of these phone calls which are available on YouTube. In a Dec. 3, 2015, phone call then Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Poroshenko and made a case to fire Shokin who he claimed, “blocked the cleanup of the Prosecutor Generals’ Office,” and says that Biden “is very concerned about it” and that it “would be good to have some resolution of that before the Vice President comes.” To which Poroshenko replied that the prosecutor general’s office itself will not be able to pursue corruption charges because parliament had just created a new anti-corruption investigations unit to take over those cases, and that it may be difficult to fire Shokin without cause since the Ukrainian parliament confirmed his appointment to that job.
December 7-8, 2015 – Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine. While there, in a private conversation with then Ukraine president Poroshenko, he threatened to cancel another $1 Billion in U.S. guaranteed loans to Ukraine if Poroshenko did not fire Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor that was investigating Burisma for corruption. Speaking about this event later in a forum hosted by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, Biden discussed this incident and stated: “I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a bitch! He got fired.” Biden’s tone in the video sounds like he was bragging; this is the video that President Trump referred to in his phone call with Ukraine President Zelensky.
February 2016 – As a direct result of Vice President Biden’s threat to cancel $1Billion in aid, Poroshenko relieved Shokin of his duties. Poroshenko broke this news to Biden in a February 18, 2016 phone call which was recorded and leaked. The following is a transcription of that portion of the Biden-Poroshenko phone call:
Poroshenko (05:53): Joe, I have a second positive news for you. Yesterday, I met with General Prosecutor Shokin.
Poroshenko: And despite of the fact that we did not have any corruption charges, we don’t have any information about him doing something wrong. I specially asked him, no, it was day before yesterday – I specially asked him to resign. In uh, as his, uh, position as a state person [employee of the state]. And despite the fact that he has a support in the power [in their parliament]. And as a finish of my meeting with him, he promised to give me the statement on his resignation. And one hour ago he bring me the written statement of his resignation. And one hour ago he bring me the written statement of his resignation.
Poroshenko: And this is my second step for keeping my promises [December 2015 promise to fire Shokin as a condition to receive $1 Billion in loans].
Biden: I agree.
March 2016 – the Ukrainian parliament officially voted to remove Shokin, allegedly for corruption, and voted to replace him with Yuriy Lutsenko – an allegedly corrupt Ukrainian politician from Poroshenko’s party who served four years in jail for embezzlement and abuse of office. The Ukrainian parliament also voted on the same occasion to change their laws so that a person without a law degree or legal experience could serve as their chief prosecutor. Lutsenko has no law degree and had no legal experience at the time he took over for Shokin. There is no evidence that Lutsenko, or any other Ukrainian investigation unit, ever continued the investigations of Burisma after Shokin’s firing.
Poroshenko advised Vice President Biden of this development in a March 22, 2016 phone call. Below is a transcription of that portion of the call:
Biden (13:15): Hey Mr. President. Joe Biden. How are you?
Poroshenko: Very well indeed. All the time when I hear your voice, it’s a great pleasure for me.
Biden: Well, I’m on Air Force 2 and I think we are going to stay connected. We just took off and I’m hoping that this connection will stay open. Tell me that there is, um… uh, a new government and, uh, a new Prosecutor General. Uh, I am prepared to do a public signing of the commitment for the billion dollars. Again, I’m not suggesting that that’s what you want or don’t want. I’m just suggesting that that’s what we’re prepared to do. And again, it wouldn’t be finalized, you know, until the IMF pieces are written.
Poroshenko: Extremely strong motivation. One of the possible candidates was leader of my faction – Lutsenko, who is the public figure, if you think that the political motivated figure would be not very good from your point of view, I recall this proposal. I do not propose because nobody knows that I want to propose Lutsenko. In this situation I take all of the political motivated figures out of the process. [Note – Poroshenko is offering to appoint a cabinet level position in his government based on the advice and consent of the Vice President of the United States.]
Biden: All right, well look, let me, let me, when you and I finish speaking, let me huddle with my team, talk over what you and I just talked about. I agree with you, there is a sense of urgency here.
According to Vice President Biden, the U.S. felt that Shokin was acting too slowly in prosecuting corruption cases in Ukraine. People at the International Monetary Fund were also unhappy with the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office and frustrated with Ukrainian corruption in general. There is also evidence that some of the U.S. envoys to Ukraine wanted Shokin fired. Shokin himself has also been accused of corruption.
Shokin rejected the accusations of corruption and fought to keep his position in the government. According to Shokin, the allegedly corrupt Ukrainian president Poroshenko told him that he wanted Shokin to resign only because Vice President Biden insisted on it to receive the $1 Billion in U.S. backed loan guarantees. Shokin further stated that Poroshenko told him that if he was a good patriot he would resign because the country really needed the money.
In a sworn affidavit filed in an Austrian court, Shokin claimed that: “On several occasions President Poroshenko asked me to have a look at the criminal case against Burisma and consider the possibility of winding down the investigative actions in respect of this company, but I refused to close this investigation.” Shokin has repeatedly stated that he was actively working to continue the Burisma investigation, however Shokin’s former assistant Vitaly Kasko has stated that this is not true; that Shokin was not actively pursuing the Burisma investigation.
Two weeks after the United States Congress approved $1 Billion in foreign aid to Ukraine, and two weeks after President Obama named Vice President Joe Biden “point man” to deal with Ukraine, Hunter Biden and his partner Devon Archer received large deposits that amounted to over $120,000 from Burisma.
One day after receiving this money, Devon Archer met with then Vice President Joe Biden in the White House, what they discussed is unknown. Five days after this meeting, Biden traveled to Ukraine and announced the Obama administration’s plans for the money, including the fact that substantial amounts would go toward energy development – an act that would benefit the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. Two weeks later, Burisma officially hired Hunter Biden and paid him over $83,000 monthly for his services as a legal consultant.
Twice during 2015 different State Department officials advised V.P. Biden and his son that Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma was a potential conflict of interest – and that it provided an opportunity for Russian disinformation. Despite these warnings, the Vice President did nothing and Hunter Biden continued in Burisma’s employment. He and his partner Archer received millions of dollars in payment. As a side note, two months after Joe Biden left office, Burisma reduced Hunter Biden’s pay to $41,000 monthly. The firm gave no reason for the pay reduction; the only change in Hunter’s situation with the company appears to be the fact that his father was no longer in office. Hunter resigned from his position at Burisma in April 2019 as his father’s campaign for the U.S. presidency geared up and pressure mounted on Joe Biden over his son’s controversial overseas business dealings.
During 2015 it became known that Burisma was the subject of ongoing corruption and money laundering investigations. In December 2015, Vice President Biden was planning another visit to Ukraine to unveil another $1 Billion in U.S. backed loan guarantees. Four days prior to his arrival, Secretary of State John Kerry (whose son is also a partner in Rosemont Seneca) told Ukraine president Poroshenko that Biden was “very concerned” about Prosecutor General Shokin and wanted him fired. The Ukrainian president expressed unwillingness to do this because of possible political repercussions.
Four days later, during his December 2015 visit to Ukraine, Vice President Biden demanded that the Ukrainian president fire the prosecutor who was investigating Burisma and threatened to withhold $1 Billion in aid if he did not do this. Biden gave the Ukrainian president an ultimatum and said that he must do this before his plane left six hours later. Consequently, Ukrainian President Poroshenko temporarily relieved Shokin of his duties and later asked the Ukraine parliament to replace him with a person who served jail time for corruption – and who had no legal experience as the new chief prosecutor. The Prosecutor General’s office then dropped the investigation against Burisma.
A detailed examination of the facts regarding Vice President Biden’s dealings in Ukraine, as well as those of his son Hunter Biden do not reveal any “smoking gun” evidence that they were directly involved in corrupt activities. However, the timeline of events and statements by both Hunter and Joe Biden could provide sufficient circumstantial evidence that Republicans might use in a future impeachment of President Joe Biden.
The U.S. House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump in a vote that cut along party lines, for allegedly using his position of power to extort Ukraine for his own personal benefit. Based on the available information, a Republican controlled House of Representatives could level similar allegations against Joe Biden if they gain a majority in the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections.