The story of President Donald Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has been, thus far, told from the American point of view. Witnesses from the State Department, National Security Agency, and White House have testified to Congress that Trump’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and other aides, held multiple meetings to pressure the young president. They told Zelensky that if he wanted a meeting with Trump and, more importantly, congressionally approved military aid to defend themselves from Russian, he would need to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, and into unproven accusations that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered with our 2016 presidential election.

Those providing the most direct, first-hand evidence of the shakedown are officials inside the Trump administration. These include William Taylor, Trump’s acting ambassador to Ukraine; Gordon Sondland, Trump’s envoy to Ukraine; George Kent, a senior State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy; Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top Russia adviser on the National Security Council; and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Trump’s current Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.


Andrew Kramer of The New York Times interviewed Ukrainian officials to get their perspective. What he found corroborates the stories and timelines of the American officials who have testified. That is, Ukraine officials were being pressured to announce a false narrative about Biden and his son, as well as the 2016 American election, or risk not receiving the military aid approved by Congress.

It is important to remind ourselves at this time that Ukraine is a U.S. ally and a nation barrier between Russia and other important U.S. allies. Helping Ukraine against Russian aggression is not only vital to our security, but to Europe’s and NATO’s security. Trump and a few of his aides were willing to trade all of that to smear Biden and, thus, help his political chances in 2020, and discredit the Mueller Report.

Another important issue from the Ukranian point of view was the timing. If Zelensky did not receive the military aide by the end of September — the end of the fiscal year for the U.S. Government — the money would disappear. Running out of time, Zelensky scheduled an interview for Sept. 13 with Fareed Zakaria, a CNN host of his own weekly news show.

According to Kramer, it was luck that Zelensky avoided having to make the required investigation announcements thanks to a whistleblower’s complaint regarding Trump’s phone with Zelensky.

Alerted by the whistleblower complaint that Trump was holding funds that Congress approved for Ukraine, and a federal judge who stated that withholding the funds was illegal, the Trump administration immediately distributed the funds and Zelensky immediately canceled his CNN interview.

In my opinion, this is why Trump and his supporters are so angry at the whistleblower and are trying to expose his/her identify. Trump was so close to having the smear campaign he wanted against Biden and Mueller, but the whistleblower exposed it all before it was launched.

Everything the whistleblower said in his/her official complaint has been corroborated by the witnesses mentioned above — Trump appointees — and, now, thanks to the work of Kramer, corroborated by Ukrainian officials.

The irony of all of this is that Zelensky ran for president of Ukraine on the promise of ending political corruption in Ukraine. This was the reason he was supported by the United States and by our allies in Europe. Russia, on the other hand, did not want Zelensky elected.

Zelensky’s predecessor was corrupt and in their pocket. Zelensky, on the other hand, ran on ending “political prosecution,” yet, here was the president of the United States asking him to be corrupt and initiate a political investigation on two fronts.

Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s foreign minister said that they were “keenly aware of the stakes — a trade of United States assistance for political favors.” Isn’t it a shame that the United States of America was forcing the president of an ally, elected to end corruption, to act corruptly on behalf of the political needs of the president of the United States? Trump was both corrupting and hurting an ally while helping Russia defeat that ally by delaying military aid.

As Kramer wrote, “It was a fateful decision for a fledgling president elected on an anti-corruption platform that included putting an end to politically motivated investigations” to have to decide between the survival of his nation and more political corruption to “assist Mr. Trump’s re-election bid.”

Are we "great" yet?

Tom Zirpoli is program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. His columns appear on Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.