- What started with an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint has now snowballed into a sprawling impeachment inquiry that poses the greatest threat yet to Donald Trump’s presidency.
- This week, the House of Representatives will hold public hearings as lawmakers weigh whether to initiate a process that could ultimately result in Trump’s removal from office.
- Scroll down to read everything we’ve learned so far from a cascade of testimony from top government officials who defied the White House to speak out against the president.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Since House Democrats launched the investigation in September, a cascade of witnesses, from administration officials to career diplomats, have come forward to paint a damaging portrait of a concerted effort from the highest levels of the White House to leverage US foreign policy in exchange for information that would personally benefit the president.
Here’s what we know so far:
- The match that sparked the impeachment investigation was a whistleblower complaint that a US intelligence official filed against Trump accusing him of abusing his power by soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election.
- The whistleblower pointed to a July 25 phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he repeatedly pressured Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son for corruption. Trump also asked Zelensky to look into bogus allegations that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election and that it did so to help Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
- The intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, deemed the complaint to be urgent and credible after interviewing several officials with firsthand information who corroborated the whistleblower’s allegations.
A White House summary of the phone call confirmed the allegations as well.
- According to the summary, Trump reminded Zelensky that “we do a lot for Ukraine,” which the Ukrainian president acknowledged before telling Trump Ukraine wanted to purchase more lethal weapons from the US. Trump then asked Zelensky to “do us a favour, though,” and investigate the Bidens.
Bill Taylor, the US’s chief envoy in Ukraine, testified that one day after the July 25 call, a member of his staff overheard a conversation between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the US’s ambassador to the EU.
- During that conversation, Taylor said, his staff member heard Trump ask Sondland about the status of “the investigations” after Sondland met with a Ukrainian government official in Kiev.
- Sondland replied that the Ukrainians were “ready to move forward,” according to Taylor. After the call, Taylor’s staff member asked Sondland what Trump thought of Ukraine.
- Sondland replied that Trump “cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, ordered a freeze on a $US391 million military-aid package to Ukraine, at Trump’s directive, days before the July 25 call.
- Ukrainian officials learned of the freeze in early August, shortly after the call. But their concerns about a potential hold-up started as early as May.
- The Daily Beast reported that top officials in Ukraine were so alarmed by Rudy Giuliani’s public comments about investigating the Bidens that they contacted Washington about the status of the US’s political and military support for Ukraine in May.
- And according to The New York Times, Lev Parnas, one of Giuliani’s Ukrainian associates, told Zelensky’s aides that month that the US would withhold aid unless Zelensky publicly announced an investigation into the Bidens.
After the July 25 phone call, top White House officials and lawyers went to extreme lengths to bury records of the conversation, which they believed showed the president violated the law.
- Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council (NSC), directly listened in on the call and immediately raised concerns about it to John Eisenberg, the lawyer for the NSC.
- Vindman testified that Eisenberg told him not to tell anyone about the conversation.
- The transcript of the phone call was ultimately placed on the NSC’s top-secret codeword level server. The decision was highly unusual, given that the server is typically used to store information related to classified matters and US national security.
The shadow policy
- Testimony from witnesses who have spoken to Congress so far revealed that the phone call was just one data point in a months-long, elaborate campaign in Ukraine that essentially consisted of two channels: a public one that involved routine foreign policy and diplomacy, and a private one in which Trump’s allies conditioned vital military aid and a White House meeting on Zelensky delivering Trump the political dirt he wanted.
The private channel was largely spearheaded by the following people: Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer; Gordon Sondland, the US’s ambassador to the EU; Kurt Volker, the US’s former Special Representative to Ukraine; Mulvaney; and Rick Perry, the outgoing energy secretary.
- Perry, Sondland, and Volker referred to themselves as “the three amigos” and positioned themselves early on as being in charge of Ukraine policy despite having very little foreign policy experience.
- Text messages involving Sondland and Volker show they were heavily involved in conveying to Zelensky’s aides that he would have to make a public statement committing himself to investigating the Bidens and Burisma Holdings in order to get security assistance and a meeting at the White House.
- Zelensky was gearing up to cave to Trump’s demands. The New York Times reported that Zelensky had scheduled a September 13 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakharia. But he narrowly got out of it because days before, on September 9, Congress learned of the whistleblower complaint. And on September 11, the US lifted the freeze on military aid.
The smear campaign
A big part of Giuliani’s pressure campaign involved engineering the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the US’s former ambassador to Ukraine who was abruptly recalled from her position in May.
- Giuliani leaned on two of his Ukrainian associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to try to get dirt on Yovanovitch from Ukraine in order to get her removed. Parnas and Fruman were recently arrested and charged with violating campaign finance laws in the US.
- Yovanovitch testified to Congress that Trump and Giuliani had been engaged in a smear campaign against her since the summer of 2018 because she refused to let Giuliani use the US embassy in Ukraine in his efforts to obtain dirt on the Bidens.
- She said she felt “shocked” and “threatened” by the attacks leveled against her.
- Yovanovitch also told Congress a top State Department official confirmed to her that she was being recalled despite having “done nothing wrong.”
- Ultimately, she said, she was removed based on “false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.” Multiple other witnesses, including Bill Taylor, the US’s chief envoy in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official, have corroborated Yovanovitch’s claims.
- Yovanovitch raised concerns about Giuliani before her ouster with senior State Department officials but despite having their own concerns, they didn’t think they could stop him. After Yovanovitch was recalled, the acting Assistant Secretary of State Philip T. Reeker told her Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “was no longer able to” protect her from Trump.
- Michael McKinley, who served as a top deputy to Pompeo, quit a few days before his testimony to Congress because of the State Department’s unwillingness to issue a statement supporting Yovanovitch. He also testified that several department employees had their careers derailed for political reasons.
The quid pro quo
Seven people so far have confirmed the existence of a quid pro quo.
Gordon Sondland initially testified that there was no quid pro quo but went back and reversed his testimony after it was contradicted by other officials. Last week, Sondland acknowledged a September 1 conversation with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelensky, during which he said the “resumption of US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
- Sondland’s mention of the “anti-corruption statement” refers to Trump’s demand that Zelensky publicly say he was investigating Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian natural gas company whose board employed Hunter Biden until this year.
Mick Mulvaney said during a news briefing that the Trump administration froze military aid because Ukraine was not investigating itself for interfering in the 2016 election, and it wasn’t probing a conspiracy theory suggesting it was hiding an incriminating server from the Democratic National Committee.
- “[Did Trump] also mention to me, in the past, that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that,” Mulvaney told reporters last month. “But that’s it. And that’s why we held up the money. … The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate.”
- Mulvaney later walked back his statements, saying, “There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified that Sondland told Ukrainian officials on July 10 that Zelensky had to deliver “specific investigations to secure the meeting with the president, at which time [national security adviser John] Bolton cut the meeting short. Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Amb. Sondland emphasised the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma.”
- Vindman said he told Sondland his comments were inappropriate, as did Fiona Hill, who at the time was the senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs.
- Bolton, meanwhile, was so disturbed by the conversation that he told Hill to alert Eisenberg about it and inform him Bolton was not part of the “drug deal” Sondland and Mulvaney were “cooking up” in Ukraine.
- Bill Taylor testified that he was told Sondland had explicitly told Yermak the military aid and White House meeting were predicated on Zelensky launching the investigations Trump wanted. It was Taylor’s testimony that prompted Sondland to go back and reverse his initial assertion that there was no quid pro quo.
- Tim Morrison, the NSC’s top Russia and Europe adviser who recently resigned from his position, was the one who told Taylor about Sondland’s conversation with Yermak. “I can confirm that the substance of [Taylor’s] statement, as it relates to conversations he and I had, is accurate,” Morrison testified.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsintold the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Trump conveyed the quid pro quo to him in a phone call and that it involved the conspiracy theory about Ukraine meddling in the 2016 election.
- “I didn’t succeed” in convincing Trump to release the military aid, Johnson told the outlet. “But the president was very consistent on why he was considering it. Again, it was corruption, overall, generalized – but yeah, no doubt about it, what happened in 2016 – what happened in 2016, as relates? What was the truth about that?”
Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defence for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, testified to Congress that Volker indicated to her in August that the military aid to Ukraine would be released if Zelensky publicly committed to the investigations Trump wanted.
- During a meeting at the end of August, Cooper said, Volker “did mention something to me that, you know, was the first about somehow an effort that he was engaged in to see if there was a statement that the government of Ukraine would make that would somehow disavow any interference in US elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference.”
- Read more:
- ‘There was no ambiguity’: Here are the biggest takeaways from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s blockbuster testimony against Trump
- Here’s every way Republicans have tried and failed to defend Trump as the impeachment inquiry snowballs
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