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Servant of the People in a House of Cards: The Ukrainian Side of Trump’s Impeachment
20 January, 2020
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U.S. President Donald Trump answers journalists’ questions in front of the White House in Washington DC, US on October 4. EPA-EFE/SHAWN THEW

On New Year’s night in 2019, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that he would run for president of Ukraine. Two weeks before 2020, the U.S. Congress impeached American president Donald Trump – with the reason being improper pressure put on the newly elected president Zelenskyy. Between these two events is a unique story, which has some parallels with the Ukrainian series “Servant of the People”, starring Zelenskyy, and some analogies to the U.S. political drama House of Cards, about the intrigues of American politics. In the heart of it all is a single phone call: when, on July 25, 2019, Zelenskyy called Trump to ask for a favor.

In order to reconstruct these events, we read through thousands of pages of transcripts of events and official documents and listened to dozens of hours of witness testimony by American diplomats, who testified before Congress during the impeachment investigation of the American president. Zelenskyy’s role in this story – further in our report.

Meeting

In the evening of April 21, 2019, Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked many people. From the stage of his press center at his campaign headquarters, in the Parkovy exhibition hall in Kyiv, the freshly elected sixth president of Ukraine thanked his parents, his wife, his children, his cleaners, his studio, Kvartal 95, law enforcement, soldiers, and volunteers. A little later, off camera, Zelenskyy thanked U.S. president Donald Trump. Trump had called Zelenskyy to congratulate him on his victory. The new Ukrainian president wanted Trump to visit Kyiv for his inauguration, while Trump invited Zelenskyy to the White House.

“When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people. Ukraine was always very well represented. When you’re settled in and ready, I’d like to invite you to the White House. We’ll have a lot of things to talk about, but we’re with you all the way,” said Trump.

“Well, thank you for the invitation. We accept the invitation and look forward to the visit. Thank you again. The whole team and I are looking forward to that visit,” replied Zelenskyy.

READ MORE: What the White House Memo Reveals About the Zelenskyy/Trump Phone Call

Zelenskyy wanted to drag Trump to Kyiv at all costs. That would solidify American support for Ukraine. Zelenskyy promised to do whatever was necessary to end the war in the Donbas during his electoral campaign, and planned a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Support from Trump would definitely not hurt the upcoming talks. 

“We see America as one of our strategic partners, because if you were you go outside and ask random people – what country is Ukraine’s best friend, then the majority would say – the U.S.,” explained Andriy Yermak later, a lawyer and film producer that Zelenskyy had chosen to be his advisor in international affairs. U.S. support didn’t just promise peace – it promised money. According to Yermak, Zelenskyy’s team counted on attracting American investment into the energy, infrastructure, and IT sectors.

Welcome to the House of Cards

Trump had his own plans for Ukraine. While the presidential campaign wrapped up in Ukraine, the American campaign had just started. The U.S. presidential elections are planned for November 3, 2020. On April 25, a few days after the conversation between Trump and Zelenskyy, Joe Biden, the former vice-president under Barack Obama declared his candidacy. Biden was widely seen as a frontrunner for the job among the other Democratic candidates, and thus was considered to be Trump’s main opponent. The U.S. president’s team immediately started attacking Biden.

READ MORE: How Ukrainian Prosecutors Helped Trump Make Biden “Corrupt”

Rudy Giuliani – Trump’s personal lawyer and former mayor of New York City – stated that he’s investigating Biden’s actions during his time as vice-president, which he had served from as from 2009 to 2017. Giuliani believed that Biden could have had a conflict of interests during his work in the White House. One of the topics Biden had covered during his post was Ukraine – overlapping with the time that Biden’s son, Hunter, was a member of the board at a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma: 2014-2019.

READ MORE: Drugs, Lobbying and Family Tragedies: What Is Known About Joe Biden's Son

During Obama’s presidency, the U.S. financed reform projects in Ukraine. One of the priorities was the fight against corruption. Biden himself demanded an investigation into the owner of Burisma – Mykola Zlochevsky, who was suspected of financial fraud. However, Viktor Shokin’s staffers, who in 2014 served as the head of Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General’s Office, did not send a single anti-corruption investigation to court, despite working as the Prosecutor-General for over a year. This included investigations into Burisma. Shokin claimed that he believes that investigating the company that employed the son of the U.S. vice-president was a risky affair. But U.S. patience ran out when Shokin began to hinder the work of the anti-corruption unit of the Prosecutor-General’s Office, created on American initiative.

READ MORE: Biden, Shokin, and Zlochevsky: How the Burisma Case Unfolded

In December 2015, Biden set an ultimatum to then-Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, saying that he would not sign a $1 billion aid package from international financial organizations being offered to Ukraine, as long as Poroshenko kept Shokin in his post. Biden himself related the story after he had left the White House: “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. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”

Shokin remained quiet for two years after his dismissal, but at the beginning of 2019 said to Giuliani that Biden had demanded Shokin’s resignation because the Prosecutor-General’s Office was looking into the Burisma case. Shokin blamed Biden in lobbying in the interests of Burisma, though he failed to provide any evidence. But for Giuliani, Shokin’s word was enough.

READ MORE: Joe Biden Wants to Make Ukraine a "Foreign Policy Priority"

U.S. law enforcement bodies did not see this as a basis on which to open investigations into Biden, which is why Giuliani wanted the Ukrainians to start this investigation. But Yuriy Lutsenko, Shokin’s successor as Prosecutor-General, despite talking about Biden’s potential conflicts of interest, said to Bloomberg on May 16 that Hunter Biden had not violated any Ukrainian laws. Prior to this, Giuliani had already shifted his attention to the new Ukrainian president. On May 9, Giuliani stated that he was heading to Kyiv to meet with Zelenskyy.

READ MORE: Ukraine’s Lutsenko Deliberately Misinformed Giuliani - MP Leshchenko

From left to right: ex-U.S. president Barack Obama with ex-vice-president Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter, at a basketball game in Washington DC, U.S.A. January 30, 2010.

Practice Run

Two guests from Washington visited Kyiv at the start of May. Businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman – immigrants to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union – presented themselves as “proxies” for Rudy Giuliani. The evidence for their connection to the head of the White House was a photograph of themselves with Trump on Facebook. These “proxies” wanted to meet with Zelenskyy, saying that they had a letter for Zelenskyy from Giuliani.

READ MORE: Two Giuliani Associates Reportedly Arrested in the United States

“I am private counsel to President Donald J. Trump. Just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, not as President of the United States,” wrote Giuliani in the letter, adding that he had “...a more specific request. In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you on this upcoming Monday, May 13th or Tuesday, May 14th.”

In order to probe the situation, two close Zelenskyy aids spoke to the pair – these were Zelenskyy’s childhood friend, Ivan Bakanov, and Zelenskyy’s business partner, Serhiy Shefir.

Parnas passed along Trump’s demands for the Ukrainian: they needed to investigate Biden, or Mike Pence, the current U.S. vice-president, would not fly in to attend Zelenskyy’s inauguration. Pence had tentatively agreed to visit Kyiv for the inauguration instead of Trump. Practically, these “proxies” for the U.S. president was telling the Ukrainians to find compromising material on Trump’s political opponent.

READ MORE: What Ukraine Learned From Declassified Whistleblower Complaint

The next day, Bakanov learned something about Parnas and Fruman from American diplomats in Kyiv. George Kent, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, had just arrived to the Ukrainian capital. 

“And [Bakanov] said, these guys want to meet met, what do you think? ...I had suggested, as I said, someone like you who’s an associate could meet and hear somebody out without making commitments. But at this time it would be my best counsel to you to shield your President-elect from private citizens,” stated Kent later, during his congressional testimony during Trump’s impeachment hearing. 

READ MORE: Buzzfeed’s Kozyreva on Investigation into Giuliani Associates Parnas and Fruman

Kent told the president’s advisor, who now heads Ukraine’s Security Service, that Parnas and Fruman are indeed linked to Giuliani, who he considers to be, like the pair, a private citizen.

READ MORE: What George Kent's Testimony Revealed About Ukrainian Officials' Role in US Scandal

On the evening of May 7, Volodymyr Zelenskyy held a meeting. It consisted of Andriy Bohdan, who would soon be named as Chief-of-Staff of the President’s Office, Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s state-owned energy company Naftogaz Andriy Kobolyev, as well as American citizen Amos Hochstein, who was a member of Naftogaz’ supervisory board. Hochstein worked as an advisor to Joe Biden when Biden was vice-president. Three sources reported to the Associated Press that Zelenskyy first wanted to talk about energy, but the discussion then went to the question of how to react to the demand that they investigate Hunter Biden’s business affairs in Ukraine, and how to avoid getting caught in the U.S electoral campaign.

Businessman Lev Parnas (in center) with his wife Svetlana after a hearing at a U.S. federal court in New York, October 23, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/JUSTIN LANE

Ukraine has enjoyed support, from its independence, of the two parties in the United States – both the Republicans and the Democrats. If Zelenskyy had acted on Trump’s wishes to attack Biden, then the Ukrainian president would be risking losing Democratic support for Ukraine. But if not, then Zelenskyy may have been pitting the U.S. president and the Republican party against Ukraine. 

Parnas flooded Shefir and Bakanov with messages on WhatsApp about a meeting with Zelenskyy. But they didn’t reply. 

Giuliani couldn’t take the fact that he was being ignored by Zelenskyy’s team and started a scandal. On May 11, Trump said that he’s cancelling his trip to Kyiv, because in Ukraine he’d be surrounded by people who he considers to be “enemies of the president," and in some cases, “enemies of the U.S.” On May 19, Zelenskyy became convinced that the topic of Biden was of serious concern to Trump. Trump, during an interview to TV station Fox News, said that “Biden calls them and demands the firing of this prosecutor, who’s investigating a case tied to his son.” He didn’t provide any evidence for this statement. “Then he says, if you fire this prosecutor, you’ll be good, if not – you won’t get the loan guarantee for $2 billion. Can you imagine if I did that?” Further events proved this to be a hint of his actions towards Zelenskyy.

Parnas’ warnings turned out to be true – on May 23, two weeks later, Mike Pence did not attend Zelenskyy’s inauguration. Instead, the American delegation was headed by Rick Perry, who was at the time the U.S. Secretary of Energy. As later events made clear, Trump had convinced Pence not to attend somewhere in mid-May.  

Parnas and Fruman from that moment had not returned to Ukraine. In October 2019, they were arrested by FBI agents and charged with violations of campaign finance law for allegedly attempting to funnel money from foreign governments to U.S. politicians.

Businessman Igor Fruman (right) heads to a hearing at a U.S. federal court in New York, October 23, 2019. EPA-EFE/JUSTIN LANE

Shadow Channel of Communication

On April 25, 2019, Donald Trump recalled the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and did not name a replacement. As a result, Ukrainians no longer knew how to properly communicate with Washington. U.S. diplomats and officials that had worked on Ukraine relations also no longer knew who would coordinate their work.

READ MORE: Former Ambassador Decries ‘Concerted Effort’ Behind Her Removal

In this situation, Rick Perry and other members of the U.S. delegation recently returned from Zelenskyy’s inauguration, turned to Trump. Perry met Trump on May 23. U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker explained that during this conversation, Trump shared his views on Ukraine. "Ukraine is a terrible place, they're all corrupt, they're terrible people, they tried to take me down," cited Volker during his testimony to Congress on Trump’s impeachment investigations. Even before this, Trump had spoken about his beliefs in conspiracy theories regarding Ukraine – such as that in 2016, Ukraine interfered in the U.S. presidential elections. 

READ MORE: What We Learned From the Testimony of the Former Special Envoy to Ukraine

U.S. diplomat Fiona Hill, who for the last two years served as the Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council, called Trump’s views on Ukraine “meta-alternate narratives” – or, simply put, conspiracy theories.

READ MORE: ‘Russia Wanted Ukraine in Exchange for Venezuela’ – Diplomat Fiona Hill in Congress

According to Kent, these views were influenced by a conversation Trump had had with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Hungary in May 2019. “...both leaders, both Putin and Orban, extensively talked Ukraine down, said it was corrupt, said Zelenskyy was in the thrall of oligarchs, specifically mentioning this one oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky…” testified Kent.

READ MORE: Servant of the People Splits Over "Kolomoisky Question"

After listening to Trump, Perry, Volker, and the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, attempted to convince him that Ukraine wasn’t all that bad and advised the president to meet with Zelenskyy. But Trump suggested that Zelenskyy "speak to Rudy" (Giuliani – ed.) instead, because Giuliani was working on the Ukraine question. From then on, the trio of Perry, Volker, and Sondland, known to their diplomatic colleagues as the “three amigos”, began to coordinate with Giuliani.

READ MORE: US Ambassador to EU Admits Military Aid to Ukraine Was Contingent on Investigation Biden and Burisma

U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker (third from the left), Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy (center), ex-Energy Secretary Rick Perry (four from the right), U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland (third from the right), during Zelenskyy’s inauguration. Kyiv, Ukraine, May 20 2019. Photo: Office of the President of Ukraine

The Hook

While the “three amigos” were busy trying to convince Trump to meet Zelenskyy, Alexander Vindman – a decorated U.S. Army officer and the Director for European Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council – was readying a congratulatory text for Zelenskyy from the U.S. president. A veteran of the Afghanistan war, Vindman is also a Ukraine-born American. The Zelenskyy team offered him the position of head of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, but he refused. When Vindman sent the congratulatory letter to the White House, he was surprised – an additional sentence had been added to the letter: “I invite you to meet with me in the White House in Washington, as soon as we can find a convenient time.”

According to Vindman and his colleague from the NSC, Fiona Hill, this quick of an invite was not standard. Typically, officials in Washington first consider the new foreign leader, their team and politics, and only then are they given an invite to the White House. In particular, Hill thought that Trump should meet Zelenskyy only after the parliamentary elections, which was scheduled for October, or even better – once Ukraine had created a new government.

READ MORE: Ukraine Parliamentary Elections: No “Russian Revanche” and Added Idealism

The invite did not contain a concrete date. Vindman later discovered that this sentence was added by Trump’s Chief-of-Staff Mick Mulvaney with the president's approval.

But by sending Zelenskyy an invite without a date, Trump put the Ukrainian president into the position of being the person who asks – after all, it would be necessary to prepare for the meeting in advance. That would require asking the Americans when the meeting would be held, which was the path that unerringly led to Rudy Giuliani.

U.S. National Security Council Director for European Affairs Alexander Vindman (center) plans to testify at the House of Representatives in Congress. Washington DC, U.S.A. November 19, 2019. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Follow the News

Ukrainians were not in a rush to contact Giuliani. Zelenskyy’s team waited while Trump would finally appoint a new head of mission to the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, and prepared for early elections in Ukraine’s parliament, set for July 21. Trump and Giuliani’s patience was wearing thin. In mid-June, Giuliani himself addressed the Ukrainian president on Twitter: 

Zelenskyy did not react.

On June 19, Donald Trump checked the news. One of the items of the day very much interested the U.S. president. The U.S. Department of Defense had allocated $250 million in aid to Ukraine. That same day, Trump addressed the budget committee, telling them to describe the aid program. After two weeks – on July 3 – the U.S. paused the aid program. But at that time, Ukrainians had no idea about Trump’s decision, and neither did the American diplomats.

Around the same time, the U.S. State Department had decided who would coordinate their embassy’s work in Kyiv. William Taylor was appointed as the acting ambassador to Ukraine. He had experience working in Ukraine – from 2006 to 2009, he was the ambassador in Kyiv. On May 28, he, along with Perry, Volker, and Sondland, spoke with Zelenskyy in a video conference. Taylor later recalled this conference: he realized during the call that there wouldn’t be a meeting in the White House without Zelenskyy announcing the investigation into Biden and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

READ MORE: Trump’s Impeachment: Sondland Called US President in Presence of Zelenskyy Aid – William Taylor

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor (right), testifies to Congress. Washington DC, U.S.A. October 22, 2019. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

A Demonstration of Readiness

On the day of July 3, when Trump froze the defense aid to Ukraine, Zelenskyy was in Toronto at a conference on reform. “I invite everyone. Bring money,” smiled Zelenskyy from the stage. The Ukrainian president invited the conference participants to attend an investment forum to be held in Mariupol, in eastern Ukraine. According to American diplomats that were present at the conference, Volker shortly spoke to Zelenskyy about Volker’s meeting with Trump on May 23. Then, he gave Zelenskyy a quick update:

“We’re working on a phone call with President Trump,” said Volker.

“What about the meeting?” cut in Zelenskyy.

“First – the phone call,” replied Volker.

But the Ukrainians had already lost trust in these promises. Andriy Bohdan convinced Zelenskyy to not agree on a phone call. The Ukrainian chief-of-staff feared that a call would replace the Washington visit. Volker, for his part, hinted to Zelenskyy that if he wanted a meeting with Trump, that he should show a willingness to cooperate.

READ MORE: Ex-NSC Official Fiona Hill Denies Ukraine’s Meddling in US Election

What the Ukrainians actually needed to do to display this willingness was directly stated by Gordon Sondland – a member of the “three amigos”, along with Volker. On July 10, a Ukrainian delegation led by Oleksandr Danylyuk, who at the time was the Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, and Andriy Yermak, who became a presidential advisor following Zelenskyy’s inauguration, landed in Washington. They were scheduled to meet John Bolton, a presidential advisor on security issues, at the White House.

READ MORE: Sondland Confirms Quid Pro Quo In Public Congressional Hearing

Danylyuk had planned to obtain Bolton’s support for reforms in the NSDC, while Yermak was interested in setting a date for the promised Zelenskyy White House meeting. When the time came for Sondland to talk, he said that there was an agreement on a meeting between the two presidents. But there was a catch – it would happen only after Ukraine starts an “investigation into the energy sector.” Sondland’s behavior shocked Bolton, who quickly ended the meeting.

Zelenskyy learned about Trump’s freeze on aid in mid-July. This led the Zelenskyy team to agree to Trump's demand to communicate with Giuliani. On July 19, Yermak asked Volker to connect him to Trump’s lawyer. Giuliani finally achieved what he was hoping to in April – contact with Zelenskyy’s team. He agreed to meet Yermak at the beginning of August.

U.S. president Donald Trump (R) with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, at Trump’s golf clubhouse. Bedminster, New Jersey. November 20, 2016. EPA/PETER FOLEY

The Infamous Phone Call

Once contact had been established between Yermak and Giuliani, the unofficial channel between Trump and Zelenskyy began working. The “three amigos” of Perry, Volker, and Sondland became Giuliani’s new proxies in Ukraine. The acting ambassador, Taylor, who represented the official point of contact between Washington and Kyiv was against the unofficial connection through Giuliani. He tried to dissuade American diplomats, those involved in the unofficial channel, and Yermak from talking to Giuliani. But he wasn’t able to make much headway. The diplomats in Washington were likewise ineffective. Kent and Hill tried to understand what role the U.S. ambassador to the EU – Sondland – had to do with Ukraine, which is not a part of the EU, and reminded Volker that his mandate was focused only on the war in the Donbas.

READ MORE: What We Learned From the Testimony of the Former Special Envoy to Ukraine

The first result of the “amigos'” work was the second phone call between Trump and Zelenskyy. It worked in the following way: first, Sondland met Trump. On the evening of that same day, Volker texted Yermak over Whatsapp recommendations for what exactly Zelenskyy should say during his talk with Trump: "Heard from White House – assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate / 'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington."

The mood of the Zelenskyy team before the second phone call wasn’t great. A few days before the call, Danylyuk told Taylor that Zelenskyy doesn’t want to be used as a tool for Trump’s re-election campaign. The official reason for Trump’s phone call was to once again congratulate the Ukrainian president – this time for the victory of his party, Servant of the People. It took first place in the parliamentary elections, winning, for the first time since Ukrainian independence, a complete majority.

READ MORE: The Semi-Secret Story of Servant of the People Party’s Election Victory

This time, Zelenskyy didn’t quite as strongly thank Trump for the victory, but he still agreed with each of Trump’s statements nonetheless – things like agreeing that the U.S. does a lot for Ukraine, that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, does nothing, and that ex-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Yovanovitch was a bad person.

READ MORE: Damage Done: The Trump–Ukraine Controversy in Perspective (OP-ED)

Trump asked Zelenskyy for a favor – to investigate Ukrainian interference in the U.S. elections. Zelenskyy replied that this was an important topic for him, though adding that his aides had already met with Giuliani and he would be glad to see the former New York mayor in Ukraine. Trump reminded Zelenskyy about Biden, who, Trump claimed, to have demanded the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor because of his son, and asked Zelenskyy to pay special attention to this, along with the prosecutor-general.

Zelenskyy answered that the new prosecutor-general (Yuriy Lutsenko was still the Prosecutor-General of Ukraine at that moment – ed.) would be completely “his man” and they would together work on investigating the cases Trump had mentioned.

READ MORE: An Uncertain Future for US-Ukrainian Diplomacy?

Only after this did Zelenskyy start talking about what he wanted – about a meeting with Trump. Zelenskyy offered a meeting on September 1 in Warsaw, where leaders would mark the 80th anniversary of the start of World War Two, and after fly to Kyiv together.

READ MORE: Former Ambassador Decries ‘Concerted Effort’ Behind Her Removal

After the call, Zelenskyy’s team decided to protect itself. Yermak sent a text to Volker, writing that it would be convenient for Zelenskyy to visit Washington on September 20, 21, or 22. The next day, Volker and Sondland met Zelenskyy in Kyiv. After that meeting, Sondland called Trump while eating at a Kyiv restaurant. Trump asked Sondland about his feelings on the talk, to which Sondland replied, “Zelenskyy loves your ass.”

Ex-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (left) testifies in Congress. Washington DC, U.S.A.. November 15, 2019. EPA-EFE/ANDREW HARRER/POOL

Trump’s Trap

Trump did not come to Warsaw. He stayed in the U.S. to track the progress of Hurricane Dorian, which was moving towards the Bahamas. Instead, his vice-president attended the Warsaw commemorations in his stead. Not long prior to that visit, the information about the defense aid freeze to Ukraine went public – on August 28, Politico, relying on its own sources, reported that the U.S. had frozen the aid. And Zelenskyy started seriously worrying. Yermak wrote about the freeze to Volker and Taylor, but the diplomats had no explanation for why Trump had decided to act that way.

READ MORE: Ukraine Received $43 Million in Military Aid From US in Fall 2019

On the eve of Zelenskyy’s visit to Warsaw, there was news from the U.S. Acting Ambassador Taylor stated that Ukraine had only month to receive the aid – on October 1, a new budgetary year starts in the U.S., and that aid would vanish. It would be a major loss for the young Ukrainian president – he would have failed in obtaining security assistance from a strategic partner.

READ MORE: What Yovanovitch’s Testimony Revealed About Ukrainian Politics

While Zelenskyy asked Pence why America had acted the way it did, Yermak obtained an answer to the question from Sondland. “POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelenskyy to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton,” relayed Kent during his Congressional testimony.

READ MORE: What George Kent's Testimony Revealed About Ukrainian Officials' Role in US Scandal

Yermak and Giuliani had already been in talks for a month, with the cooperation of the “three amigos”, about how Zelenskyy should fulfill Trump’s demands. They met on August 2, as agreed, though in Madrid in Spain, instead of Ukraine. It was at that time that Giuliani clarified that the conditions for a meeting between the two presidents included a public statement from Zelenskyy about Burisma, Biden, and "election interference." But Yermak and Giuliani were unable to agree on a text for that announcement.

READ MORE: Prominent Ukrainians State Opinions on Trump-Zelenskyy Talk

On August 12, Yermak presented a finalized version of the text that the Ukrainian president was supposed to say. “Special attention should be paid to the problem of interference in U.S. domestic politics, in particular, the possible involvement of some Ukrainian politicians. I want to talk about the inadmissibility of that practice. We intend to ensure and complete a transparent and impartial investigation into all the facts and events, in order to prevent these kinds of problems in the future.” 

Giuliani did not like Yermak’s proposal. He wanted a public announcement about Burisma and the elections. But the Ukrainians were in no hurry to correct it. They had not agreed on a text by the time of Zelenskyy’s visit to Warsaw.

On September 2, the day following Zelenskyy’s meeting with Pence, Pence voiced the official position of the White House on the frozen aid to Ukraine: “But as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption...the President wants to be assured that those resources are truly making their way to the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine,” stated Pence.

READ MORE: How Do Kyivans View Ukraine's Role in Trump Scandal?

Yermak continued to ask Sondland what exactly the Ukrainians had to do to receive the security assistance. Sondland then called Trump on September 7. Trump’s reply, which Sondland later relayed to Congress, became a meme: “I want nothing. I want nothing. No quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing. This is the final word from the president of the United States: 'I want nothing'."

In the end, Yermak, Giuliani, Sondland, and Volker agreed that Zelenskyy would make the announcement that Trump had wanted in a September 13 interview on CNN. Fareed Zakaria, a CNN host, would interview the Ukrainian president, though as it transpired Zakaria knew nothing about the agreement between the two presidential teams.

U.S. president Donald Trump acted out his phone call with U.S. ambassador to the E.U Gordon Sondland for journalists outside the White House. He tried to prove that he didn’t pressure Ukraine in any way. Washington DC, U.S.A. November 20, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO

Money From the Sky

On September 11, without any explanation – two days before Zelenskyy’s planned CNN interview – the U.S. State Department unfroze aid for Ukraine. Trump subsequently explained that he had in the end increased assistance by $100 million. Taylor suggested to Danylyuk that Zelenskyy cancel his CNN interview, which he did.

It turned out that it wasn’t exactly a miracle that the money was released – instead it was the result of a report by an anonymous whistleblower. One of the American diplomats, who was present at the time of Trump and Zelenskyy’s July 25 conversation, wrote, back on August 12, a letter of disclosure to the Inspector-General of the U.S. Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson. The disclosure alleged that Trump had pressured the Ukrainian president and promised him a ‘quid pro quo’ – a favor for a favor.

READ MORE: “A moment of humiliation for two presidents” – Marie Mendras on Trump-Zelenskyy Scandal

Atkinson decided that this complaint needed to be immediately examined in Congress. However, Joseph Maguire, the U.S. Acting Director of National Intelligence, did not rush to pass along the complaint to Congress, which led Atkinson to publicly announce the complaint on September 9. Two days later, Trump unfroze aid to Ukraine, though it was already too late for Trump. Congress launched an investigation into the matter, and House Democrats blamed Trump using the aid freeze and dangling a White House meeting in order for Zelenskyy to launch an investigation into Trump’s political opponent, Joe Biden, and into Trump’s theories about Ukrainian interference in American elections. 

On December 19, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump, on charges of abuse of official office in his personal interests and obstruction of Congress. If Trump, now impeached, is found guilty in the upcoming Senate trial, he will be removed from the office of the President of the United States.

READ MORE: US President Donald Trump Impeached Following Historic Vote In Congress

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, announces the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump after a vote. Washington DC, U.S.A., December 18, 2019. EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO

Zelenskyy got what he wanted on September 25 – a meeting with Trump. He met him in New York, during a convention of the U.N. General Assembly. That same day the White House released the transcript of their July 25 phone call. At a joint press conference following the meeting, Zelenskyy was asked if he had done what Trump had wanted, if he had opened an investigation into Biden. Zelenskyy replied, “We have an independent country and an independent Prosecutor-General’s office. I can’t influence anyone. That’s your answer. I have not called the new prosecutor-general.”

READ MORE: Ukraine's Zelenskyy Denies Singling Out "Biden Case"

If this wasn’t reality, but a series entitled "Servant of the People in the House of Cards," then Zelenskyy would have said: “No promises, no apologies (in the original Ukrainian, this is a reference to a song by Ukrainian singer Viktor Pavlik.” This was his pre-election motto.

Trump, at the time, thanked the Ukrainian president, saying “I hope that you meet with President Putin and solve your problem. This would be a huge achievement.”

The First Time

Grand politics, for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, opened with an incredibly twisted and complicated challenge – keeping Ukraine out of the U.S.’ presidential campaign, even when you’re being asked to do this by Donald Trump. The Zelenskyy team managed to hold out for four months, but it gave in at the end, flinching at the possibility of not receiving security assistance from the U.S. 

READ MORE: "Conversations Between Country Leaders Should Not Be Published" - Ukraine's Zelenskyy

We still don’t know who to thank for fishing Zelenskyy out of Trump’s trap – the whistleblower remains anonymous. During his Congressional testimony, Alexander Vindman stated that it wasn’t him. But he didn’t say a word about his twin brother Yevgeny, who also works in the U.S. National Security Council. Yevgeny was also present during the conversation between the two presidents. American media writes that the whistleblower demonstrated the conflict between Trump and the foreign policy establishment – the diplomats and advisors that the U.S. president tried to replace with his “shadow communication channels.”

READ MORE: It Was Unfair to Drag Zelenskyy Into US Domestic Politics - Former US Official

Now Trump is forced to defend himself against his opponents in the Democratic Party, who had initiated his impeachment. 

On December 5, Rudy Giuliani finally visited Kyiv. But this time, Yermak did not meet him. Instead, Yermak flew to London and spoke at the Royal Institute of International Relations, also known as Chatham House, about the Zelenskyy team’s preparations for the Normandy format meeting with Putin in Paris.

Zelenskyy and Yermak to this day refuse to talk about the specifics of these events. Hromadske attempted to obtain the details from them, but they strongly refused. “You shouldn’t dig into stranger’s affairs. We wanted to have this weight off our shoulders and got it off,” responded one of them.

/By Maxim Kamenev

/Translated by Romeo Kokriatski