United States President Donald Trump is under intense scrutiny over a complaint by a whistleblower involving, in part, his dealings with Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and Trump’s call for Ukraine’s government to investigate former Vice-President Joe Biden.
Biden, among the most senior of Democratic leaders, is the frontrunner for his party’s nomination to contest next year’s presidential election against Trump.
Here’s a summary of what’s been happening, based on reporting by The New York Times and other organisations.
What has Trump done?
On July 25, a little over two months after President Zelenskiy took over in Kyiv, Trump pressed him, over a phone call, to investigate Biden’s younger son, Hunter, who sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings.
Back in 2016, Biden, as Vice-President to President Barack Obama, had threatened to hold back $1 billion of US loan guarantees if Ukraine’s then President Petro Poroshenko did not dismiss his then Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin, who had been accused of having ties to Russia, and of protecting the corrupt in Ukraine.
Earlier this year, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had alleged that Shokin was fired because he had started to investigate Burisma. He had also nudged Kyiv to investigate whether there was impropriety in its 2016 decision to release incriminating information about Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort.
So why has all this come up now?
An intelligence community whistleblower filed a complaint last month about the President, which an Inspector General deemed “credible” and “urgent” and forwarded to the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire.
The matter became public on September 10, when the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, wrote to Maguire demanding that he share the whistleblower’s complaint with his panel.
The details of the whistleblower’s complaint, or the whistleblower’s identity, are not known. Maguire has said that the complaint entails matters potentially covered by legal “privilege”. But reports published by various American media organisations, including The New York Times, have said that the complaint involves Trump’s interactions with Ukraine and a phone call with a foreign leader — possibly Zelenskiy.
Has Trump used his office in a personal political fight?
There are suspicions but no proof, yet. Trump has said he has been unfairly accused, that the whistleblower is “partisan”, and that Democrats and some media organisations are initiating a new “witch hunt” against him. He has said that his conversation with the Ukrainian leader was “totally appropriate”, that “it was actually a beautiful conversation”, and that it was Biden who had improperly pressured Kyiv.
Is Biden clean?
Again, there is no evidence that he had pressed for Shokin’s sacking in order to protect his son. The US has long said it wants to see corruption ended in Ukraine. Until something concrete emerges, either through investigative reporting or through a government statement, this will continue to be seen as a political slugfest ahead of the 2020 elections.