Washington – If there was a day that crystallized all the forces that resulted in the investigation into a possible political trial against President Donald Trump, it was July 25.
Trump had good reason to feel cheerful. It was the morning after Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress at the conclusion of his special investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 elections, and Trump and his allies were expressing relief.
They believed that the rumblings about a possible political trial would finally fade, even though the special prosecutor did not give the president the total exoneration the president expected.RELATED
However, a reconstruction of what began as a simple summer Thursday reveals that even before dawn, anxiety ran through the White House: a phone call that was not on the president's public agenda.
By nightfall that day, Trump had already launched events that triggered the fourth political trial investigation of American history, endangering his presidency and further heating the divisions of a polarized nation.
At that time, it seemed that no one had a complete picture of what was going on, but with the passing of weeks of investigation and hearings in Congress, a schedule of the day's events has emerged, offering an overview of one of the days toughest of the Trump presidency.
"Some voltage lost"
Trump was scheduled to speak on the phone with the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, at 9 in the morning. Zelenskiy, a former comedian fond of showing off his bulging biceps, was trying to get an invitation to the White House, a valuable coin he hoped would show Russia that he had Trump's support.
Trump and Zelenskiy had got along very well during their first talk in April, which consisted mostly of an exchange of compliments. National security officials worried that this time it was different.
There were "some concerns that, you know, there might be some lost voltage," said Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the chief Ukrainian expert of the White House National Security Council.
He was referring to the growing evidence that Trump was obsessed with unfounded conspiracy theories, that Ukraine opposed the then Trump candidate in the 2016 elections. There was talk that Zelenskiy would only be invited to the White House if he agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump's main Democratic rivals, and the 2016 U.S. elections.
Jokes in broken sack
The half-hour call began with words of courtesy, but quickly took a sh arp detour.
Zelenskiy's teasing attempts fell on a broken sack. They didn't seem to have an effect with the president.
Quickly, Trump insisted on how much the United States had done for Ukraine and complained that Europe had not done more.
And then came Trump's phrase that triggered the political trial investigation: "I would like him to do us a favor."
Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Crowdstrike, part of a discredited theory that Ukraine intervened in the 2016 elections to benefit Hillary Clinton, Trump's then rival. From there, Trump continued to press for another disqualified idea to be investigated: that Biden had expelled a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating the business of his son, Hunter, with Burisma, the energy company in which he was part of the board of directors
"That was not right"
Trump would insist later that the call was "perfect," but some of those who heard it were seriously alarmed. Even as Trump kept talking, there were some worried looks among those taking notes in the White House Emergency Management Room.
The call ended at 9:33, and an hour later, Vindman was in the office of the National Security Council lawyer, John Eisenberg.
The idea of a US president pressuring a foreign president to investigate his political enemies was "worrisome and disturbing," Vindman told congressional investigators. "I thought that was not right," he said.
The bland three-sentence statement issued by the White House at 12:51 gave no clue as to what had really happened.
A six-sentence statement issued by the Ukrainians almost at the same time was not much more enlightening, and seemed to be another very optimistic view of the matter.
Money for Ukraine, waiting
At 6:44 p.m., a member of the Office of Administration and Budget of the White House signed a document that officially put the money on hold for Ukraine. A footnote was enough stating that the money "was not available" while reviewing its use.
The document was signed by Mark Sandy, deputy deputy director of national security for the Office, who told lawmakers that he had been handling aid assignments for years and had never been told to put one on hold. He had repeatedly asked his bosses why it was being done. He did not get an answer.
"Thrown down the drain"
Trump ended his day as he started it, in his comfort zone with the Fox News program.
On Sean Hannity's show, the president said he had gone through hell during Mueller's investigation. Hannity stated that with that investigation completed, the fantasies of political judgment had been "totally thrown down the drain."
Eighteen days later, an informant sent a nine-page complaint to Congress about the July 25 president's call.
On September 27, the president of the House of Representatives, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, announced the beginning of an investigation into a possible political trial.