News·6 min read

People to know in the impeachment inquiry

November 22, 2019

The Story

The House is conducting an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. 

Yes I know. How did this get started again?

In September, a whistleblower filed a complaint, accusing Trump of trying to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. The complaint mentioned a now-infamous July phone call.

July 25 Ukraine call

Bidens plural?

Yes, Joe Biden and his son Hunter. In 2016 when Biden was VP, he pressured the Ukrainian gov to fire its top prosecutor, who was widely seen as failing to fight corruption. That prosecutor had been looking into a Ukrainian gas company whose board Hunter sat on. Cue Trump speculating that something shady was going on and asking Ukraine to look into Biden and his son. (Note: the EU also called for this prosecutor to be removed for being corrupt, and there’s no evidence anything shady was going on with the Bidens.) 

Got it.

The whistleblower complaint led the House to open its impeachment inquiry, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) accusing Trump of betraying his oath of office, national security, and election integrity by trying to get a foreign gov to investigate a political rival in the 2020 race. There are also questions about whether there was a quid pro quo: whether Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine as leverage to get the country to commit to investigations.

Related: A history lesson on US-Ukraine relations

Since October, witnesses have been testifying on Capitol Hill. At first privately, and then publicly. Through testimony, we found out about another phone call:

July 26 Sondland call

Here’s who has testified publicly:

Loading SpinnerLaura Cooper...deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Cooper testified that on the same day as the July 25 call, the Ukrainian Embassy asked her staff about the status of the aid money. The timing of when Ukraine knew about the frozen aid is important. Cooper’s testimony could hurt one of the arguments used to defend Trump: that Ukrainians didn’t know the aid was being held up, so Trump couldn’t have been using it to bribe them.

Loading SpinnerDavid Hale...undersecretary of state for political affairs. Hale is the No. 3 highest-ranking official at the State Dept. He testified in support of Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted US ambassador to Ukraine, saying it was “wrong” that she was pushed out. 

Loading SpinnerFiona Hill...former NSC senior director for Europe and Russia. Hill said it was apparent that the Trump admin wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. That Sondland was running a “domestic political errand.” And she made it clear she was not happy with the way Trump’s team handled Ukraine relations.

Loading SpinnerDavid Holmes...counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine. The one from that July 26 phone call. During his public testimony, Holmes said Trump spoke so loudly that Sondland had to physically hold the phone away from his ear. 

Loading SpinnerGeorge Kent...deputy assistant at the State Dept. Kent accused Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, of carrying out a smear campaign that ousted US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch

Loading SpinnerTim Morrison...former National Security Council official. He testified that he grew uneasy over the withholding of military aid to Ukraine. And discussed his concerns with then-national security adviser John Bolton. 

Loading SpinnerBill Taylor...US ambassador to Ukraine. He's the one who first mentioned the Trump-Sondland phone call that Holmes ended up testifying about. But at the time Taylor only identified Holmes as someone from his staff. Taylor also claimed that Sondland told the staffer (aka Holmes) the president "cares more about the investigations of Biden" than Ukraine itself.

Loading SpinnerGordon Sondland...US ambassador to the EU. He gave a hard “yes” to the question of whether there was a quid pro quo involving Ukraine. He said President Trump never directly told him that he was withholding military aid from Ukraine in exchange for its president announcing investigations. But Sondland believed it was linked. He also said that “everyone was in the loop” about the push for these investigations, including VP Mike Pence. But that when he asked Trump what he wanted to do with Ukraine, the president responded, “I want nothing, I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo.” 

Loading SpinnerJennifer adviser to VP Mike Pence. Williams called the July call "unusual." And refused to answer questions about a September call between Pence and Ukraine's president because her counsel said it's classified. She also said the US withholding military aid to Ukraine could have given Russia the upper hand.

Loading SpinnerLt. Col. Alexander Vindman...the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. He said he couldn't believe what he heard on the call. And that he reported it to an attorney out of duty. He refused to answer questions that may have involved identifying the whistleblower.

Loading SpinnerKurt Volker...the former special envoy to Ukraine. Volker said he didn't know of any link between the US withholding military aid to Ukraine and the investigations Trump wanted. He also characterized these investigations as "conspiracy theories" and called Biden an honorable guy. He said the allegations against Biden are "self-serving and non-credible." 

Loading SpinnerMarie Yovanovitch...former US ambassador to Ukraine. Yovanovitch said some politicians and businesspeople targeted her for her anti-corruption push in Ukraine. That there was a smear campaign to remove her from her post...and that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was part of it. During her public testimony, Trump went after her on Twitter, saying things like “everywhere Marie Yovanovich went turned bad.” Some Dems took that as witness intimidation. 

What does Trump say about all of this?

That the call with Ukraine’s president was “perfect.” There was no quid pro quo. End of story. And that the push for investigations was about fighting corruption. what?

There’s no time limit when it comes to impeachment inquiries. It’s unclear when this one will wrap up. But once the House Intelligence Committee says it's done, it’ll hand proceedings over to the House Judiciary Committee, which will hold its own hearings before voting on articles of impeachment.

Related: The history of impeachment and how the process works


The witnesses in these hearings are a combination of White House aides, experts, and diplomats. Many have shared a similar sentiment: that they were uncomfortable with the president's request for an investigation into his political rival. Dems are hoping that by putting this narrative in front of the public, it makes a clear case for impeachment. Republicans are nowhere near convinced.

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