Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/

During the impeachment hearings that have taken place over the last two weeks, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee pointed out over and over again that it was Trump who supplied the Ukrainians with anti-tank missiles known as Javelins. But it is important to remember the context of the decision. Here is what Andrew Cramer reported about that in the New York Times back in May 2018.

In the United States, Paul J. Manafort is facing prosecution on charges of money laundering and financial fraud stemming from his decade of work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

But in Ukraine, where officials are wary of offending President Trump, four meandering cases that involve Mr. Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, have been effectively frozen by Ukraine’s chief prosecutor…

The decision to halt the investigations by an anticorruption prosecutor was handed down at a delicate moment for Ukraine, as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles, called Javelins.

Cramer goes on to point out that, of the 3,000 corruption cases being pursued by the Ukrainian special prosecutor, the only four that were shelved involved Paul Manafort. The timing indicates that as early as May 2018, the Trump administration was involved in a quid pro quo with the former Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko. The terms were: drop your investigations into Manafort in exchange for Javelins.

In addition to being worthy of yet another investigation, that incident tells us that Poroshenko had already signaled that he was willing to do Trump’s bidding. According to reporting by Josh Kovensky, another deal was in the works starting in early 2019.

The crucial piece in understanding the Ukraine scandal is that two months before Zelensky won power – in February 2019 – Trump thought that he had done a deal which would transform Ukraine into a domestic political bludgeon…

Giuliani had already met with a key Poroshenko official, prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, in New York City in January, and then again in Warsaw in February. Giuliani was accompanied on both trips by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were later indicted for an alleged campaign finance scheme.

Giuliani reportedly spoke with Trump about “investigations” after the January meeting, where Lutsenko spun Giuliani a tale about abuse of office by Joe Biden and supposed collusion in 2016 between Ukraine and the DNC.

By late February, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, Poroshenko was open to a deal pushed by Parnas and Fruman in which the Ukrainian leader would get electoral help via a state visit to the U.S., while he would give Trump a lift by announcing investigations into the Bidens and potential Ukrainian interference in the 2016 elections.

The whistleblower complaint notes that in March, John Solomon started publishing a series of articles in The Hill that were based on accusations coming from Lutsenko, whose position as prosecutor general depended on Poroshenko being re-elected. They included accusations that Ukrainians had interfered in the 2016 election, the smear campaign against Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and the attacks on the Bidens.

Kovensky goes on to report the following.

When Poroshenko lost in a landslide to Volodymyr Zelensky on April 21, it set off a mad scramble in Trumpworld to make inroads with the new government. It’s no coincidence that the flurry of activity in early May, which has been the focus of investigators, comes in the weeks after Zelensky’s win and before his May 20 inauguration.

The fact that the April election stymied the deal Trump and Giuliani thought they had arranged with Poroshenko and Lutsenko explains the president’s reaction to the report he received about Zelensky from those who attended the inauguration. Here is how Ambassador Volker described that meeting.

What motivated Trump’s vitriol for Zelensky? The answer is that, not only did his election thwart the deal Trump and Giuliani had with Poroshenko, Zelesky appeared to be the “real deal” when it came to his commitment to ending corruption in Ukraine. The more people like Volker tried to convince Trump that Zelensky would tackle corruption, the more inflamed the president became. That is because he was counting on the corruption of people like Poroshenko and Lutsenko to get his dirt on Biden and Clinton.

All of that takes us back to what might be the most important moment of the impeachment hearings, when Representative Jim Himes questioned George Kent.

Himes captured exactly what happened when he closed by saying, “President Trump wasn’t trying to end corruption in Ukraine, I think he was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine at Vice-President Biden and at the 2020 election.” The corrupt president of the United States wanted to exploit corruption in Ukraine for his own personal gain.

The Washington Monthly is in the midst of its annual fundraising drive. If you think our work is valuable and important, there’s something you can do to help: make a donation today. For a limited time, your contribution will be matched, dollar for dollar, thanks to a generous challenge grant from NewsMatch. Thank you for your support!

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.