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How did we get here? A timeline of the Ukraine impeachment saga

The impeachment inquiry has moved quickly, with more than a dozen witnesses, nearly 2700 pages of testimony and, now, public hearings. But how did we get here? Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor take a look back at key events in the Ukraine saga and the previously obscure U.S. officials who will play important roles in the upcoming hearings.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have been discussing, tomorrow will be the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry, raising the question, how did we get here?

    To look back and bring it all into focus, our Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    More than a dozen witnesses, thousands of pages of testimony, and a whistle-blower complaint that we learned about only in September.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It all led to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doing this:

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    I'm announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This has all happened quickly, almost too quickly to process. So we want to want to step back and look at how we got here.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Let's start where this investigation began, that letter from an anonymous whistle-blower.

    The whistle-blower writes that multiple U.S. officials told them that President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine for his own political gain. He wanted Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

    The younger Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. The whistle-blower says that the president was soliciting interference from a foreign country and sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to help the president's 2020 reelection bid.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is the core charge by Democrats, led by House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    The president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office and sacrificed our national security in doing so.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President Trump and his allies, however, insist this is a political attack.

  • President Donald Trump:

    This is a witch-hunt at the highest level, and it's so bad for our country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There's plenty of rhetoric from all sides, but what do we actually know?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Let's drill down on some key dates.

    In May, President Trump has the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, abruptly removed from that job. This happens just two weeks before massive change in Ukraine.

    On May 20, Volodymyr Zelensky, an actor and comedian, is inaugurated as president of Ukraine. He pledges to fight corruption in his country. But Zelensky has another problem: a continued costly war with Russia over large swathes of land. Zelensky needs U.S. military aid and also clear back from the U.S.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On July 10, a key event. At a White House meeting with the Ukrainians, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, states that Ukrainians need to reopen some investigations, according to multiple witnesses.

    Sondland, here on the right in a picture after that meeting, testifies he doesn't remember saying that. But then National Security Adviser John Bolton erupts, according to other witnesses, calling the idea a drug deal and flagging it for White House lawyers.

    Right around that time, in mid-July, the United States freezes $391 million in aid to Ukraine. Several witnesses testify they were told this was by order of the president, directed through acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

    Mulvaney has not commented on that idea, but has ardently defended the president.

  • Mick Mulvaney:

    And I have news for everybody. Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This brings us to the event at the heart of all of this

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky. President Trump tells Zelensky that the United States has been very good to Ukraine.

    He then says — quote — "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

    He goes on to say that he would like Zelensky to look into two things, the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter's dealings in Ukraine.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Among the officials on that call, An Army lieutenant colonel named Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.

    He's usually behind the scenes. Now he is central. Vindman testifies that what he heard on the call wasn't proper, the president demanding that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump has said the call was about getting to the bottom on corruption in Ukraine.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We are looking at corruption. We're not looking at politics. We're looking at corruption.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But Democrats say it is in that now famous call that President Trump personally tried to extort Ukraine.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    About a month later, on August 29, a news report reveals to the public and to some members of Congress that the aid money was on hold. On September 1, Vice President Pence meets in Warsaw with Zelensky. During that meeting, Pence brings up corruption.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That same day, a key exchange between Gordon Sondland, the E.U. ambassador, and a top adviser to President Zelensky. Sondland tells the Ukrainian official that U.S. aid would likely not be provided until Ukraine made a public pledge to investigate the Bidens.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One more date. By September 11, following heavy congressional pressure, the military aid to Ukraine is taken off hold and sent.

    We do not know how long public hearings or any impeachment debate will last.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We do know this is the fourth presidential impeachment investigation in history. And we're sure to learn more from all sides as it unfolds.

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