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The Ukraine story has been playing out for a lot longer than you might think

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md., on Sept. 26, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — One misconception about the Ukraine-Trump-whistleblower story is that it came out of nowhere.

In fact, it’s been playing out for months — in plain sight.

Here’s a helpful timeline of the scandal/controversy, per NBC’s Lauren McCulloch and the “Meet the Press” team, which drives home the point that we’re not at the beginning of this story.

We’re smack-dab in the middle.

  • Aug. 2018: Trump signs the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes $250 million to extend the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
  • Late Jan. 2019: Rudy Giuliani meets for the first time with former Ukraine prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko, who succeeded the man that Joe Biden and the Obama administration helped oust.
  • March 20: President Trump tweets, “John Solomon: As Russia Collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges.” @seanhannity @FoxNews.
  • March 24: Donald Trump Jr. tweets, “We need more @RichardGrenell’s and less of these jokers as ambassadors. Calls Grow To Remove Obama's U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine.”
  • April 21: Volodymyr Zelenskiy defeats Poroshenko in run-off.
  • April 23: Rudy Giuliani tweets, “Now Ukraine is investigating Hillary campaign and DNC conspiracy with foreign operatives including Ukrainian and others to affect 2016 election. And there’s no Comey to fix the result.”
  • April 25: Joe Biden announces presidential bid.
  • April 29: Whistleblower learns the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, is being recalled to Washington.
  • May 1: The New York Times publishes its original story on Joe Biden, his son and Ukraine — and it also notes, beginning in its 11th paragraph, how Giuliani has been investigating the matter.
  • May 6: Trump talks on Fox News about Biden and Ukraine: “I’m hearing it’s a major scandal, major problem. Very bad things happened, and we’ll see what that is. They even have him on tape, talking about it. They have Joe Biden on tape talking about the prosecutor. And I’ve seen that tape. A lot of people are talking about that tape, but that’s up to them. They have to solve that problem.”
  • May 7: Ambassador Yovanovitch is recalled, according to news reports.
  • May 9: The New York Times says that Giuliani plans travel to Ukraine to help Trump: “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Giuliani says.
  • May 10: Giuliani cancels travel to Ukraine.
  • May 14: Whistleblower learns that Trump instructs Vice President Pence to cancel planned travel to attend Zelenskiy’s inauguration; Energy Secretary Rick Perry is sent instead.
  • June 21: Giuliani complains about Zelenskiy over Twitter, “New Pres of Ukraine still silent on investigation of Ukrainian interference in 2016 election and alleged Biden bribery of Pres Poroshenko. Time for leadership and investigate both if you want to purge how Ukraine was abused by Hillary and Obama people.”
  • July 18: Trump orders acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to hold back nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.
  • July 24: Robert Mueller testifies before Congress.
  • July 25: Trump has his phone call with Zelenskiy, in which the president of the United States asks a “favor” to look into “Crowdstrike,” as well as Joe Biden and his son.
  • Early Aug.: Giuliani meets with a top Zelenskiy aide, Andriy Yermak, in Madrid.
  • Aug. 12: Whistleblower makes his complaint to Congress.
  • Aug. 28: Politico reports that the Trump administration is holding up the military aid to Ukraine.
  • Sept. 2: Pence, in news conference in Poland, doesn’t deny that Ukraine aid was tied to Giuliani’s Biden investigation: “As President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption. And, fortunately, President Zelenskiy was elected decisively on an anti-corruption message.”
  • Sept. 9: Three House committees begin investigating Giuliani’s involvement with Ukraine.
  • Sept. 11: Withheld funds to Ukraine are released.
  • Sept. 18: The Washington Post reports that the whistleblower complaint involves Trump’s communications with a foreign leader – and a troubling “promise.”

Ring a bell? Allegations of misusing a highly classified database

Here’s the big news from yesterday’s release of the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress, per NBC’s Carol E. Lee.

“Allegations by a whistleblower that White House officials misused a highly-classified database to shield President Donald Trump’s quest for information against a political opponent have raised alarm among national security experts and former government officials familiar with the secret, electronic system,” Lee writes.

More: “Former and current intelligence officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that, if true, such misuse should spark an investigation into the potential mishandling of a classified system.”

And: “‘The only reason to use classification to limit who sees a transcript is if the conversation is classified,’ said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration. ‘We know from the transcript that the conversation wasn’t classified so the only reason to restrict access is to protect the president’s corruption.’”

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Bennet urges caution about the march toward impeachment

Democratic presidential Michael Bennet, who didn’t qualify for the third Dem debate, told Politico that Democrats need to be cautious when it comes to impeachment over this whistleblower story.

“I think that we need to let this investigation take its course before anybody makes that judgment and I've got responsibilities on the Intelligence Committee to do oversight; I've not reached a conclusion. I do think that it would be nice for us to have a president who didn't behave the way this president did on that telephone call,” he said.

Bennet added, “Look, I've said I think that he's committed impeachable offenses. I said that about the Mueller Report. I think it's clear from the Mueller report that he obstructed justice, and I think that's an impeachable offense. [But] what I think and what the American people think are two different things. And you can't remove a president unless there's public sentiment. I suppose you could try, but it seems to me that there would be a debacle in the country.”

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden is in Las Vegas… Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall in New Hampshire… Andrew Yang also stumps in the Granite State… And Pete Buttigieg has a one-on-one interview with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle at the Texas Tribune Festival.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Andrew Yang campaigned yesterday in New Hampshire, where he emphasized the economy and took questions on the climate, the Department of Education Budget and supporting veterans. NBC’s Julia Jester spoke with a few voters after the event who gave Yang mixed reviews. One undecided voter said the primary race is a “moving target”, but when it came to national Democrats and impeachment said, “even if the Democrats legitimately hurt themselves doing this, I believe that they think it's the right thing to do.”

Another voter who supports Julian Castro said he was surprised by Yang’s sole focus on the economy, “I’m finally getting a little tired about it being about the economy” rather than the environment, he told Jester.

And in Biden world, Joe Biden told California donors that President Trump is trying to “hijack an election”, according to the pool report. While at the event, Biden mimicked Trump and said Trump was aiming at him given his lead in many polls.

Data Download: The number of the day is …


That's the number of Democratic House members who have NOT come out in favor of some kind of impeachment proceedings against Trump.

What's more, all but one of those 11 represent districts that voted for Trump in 2016.

The exception? Tulsi Gabbard.

The Lid: Joining in

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the number of Democrats in competitive districts who have come out in support of impeachment over the last week.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

NBC's White House team writes that the president's team is facing "total panic" about what to do next.

Trump says that those who passed information along to the whistleblower are "like spies."

Jane Timm fact-checks the false claim that Democrats threatened Ukraine aid.

Rudy Giuliani spent months cultivating relationships with prosecutors in Ukraine.

Trump Agenda: Returning to the Mueller playbook

The White House is returning to the Mueller playbook.

The Washington Post lays out how the whistleblower worked in stealth to lay out a case against the president.

And the New York Times notes that White House aides were worried about the Ukraine call as soon as Trump put down the phone.

2020: How impeachment affects Biden vs. Warren

Jonathan Allen looks at how impeachment could impact the Warren vs. Biden fight.

Trump will hold a campaign rally in Minneapolis next month.

Kamala Harris says Giuliani should be disbarred.

Tom Price is interested in that Georgia Senate appointment.