Most members of Congress returned on Tuesday from a two-week recess, during which the investigation continued into President Trump’s efforts to secure a Ukrainian investigation into one of his chief political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.
House Democrats will meet on Capitol Hill to discuss the numerous revelations that the impeachment inquiry has turned up so far. While the testimony has taken place behind closed doors, the public has also learned a wealth of information relating to Trump’s July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and much of it does not bode well for Trump.
Here’s a rundown of the key players in the impeachment inquiry and the details that Democrats will likely highlight to make their case against the president.
When he appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on Sept. 26, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire defended his handling of the whistleblower complaint, which was initially withheld from Congress. But Maguire also undercut a key Trump talking point when he asserted that “the whistleblower did the right thing” by coming forward. “I think he followed the law every step of the way,” Maguire added.
The State Department’s former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker resigned his position in late September. When he testified before the Intelligence Committee on Oct. 3, he brought along text exchanges between members of the administration that showed that U.S. officials believed Trump wanted a Ukrainian investigation into Biden as a condition for a White House meeting with the country’s president. Republicans on the committee argued that nothing Volker said implicated Trump directly.
That the whistleblower complaint ever saw the light of day, or that Trump now faces an impeachment inquiry, can be traced to the actions of intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. Bound by law to notify Congress if he is “unable to resolve” a dispute over a whistleblower complaint with the director of national intelligence, Atkinson wrote two letters in September after flagging the report on the Ukraine matter. On Oct. 4, Atkinson detailed his fears that the Justice Department would bury the whistleblower complaint and his belief that Congress was required by law to obtain it.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified on Friday, Oct. 11, that she was recalled from her post by Trump after two Soviet-born U.S. citizens, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, lobbied members of Congress for her removal. Parnas and Fruman also became business partners with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, who introduced the president to Ukrainian officials as part of a plan to dig up dirt on Biden. Portraying Yovanovitch as an impediment to a Ukrainian investigation of Biden, Giuliani also pushed for her to be fired. Yovanovitch told lawmakers that she was unsure why Giuliani had targeted her, but believed that Parnas and Fruman “may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine,” the New York Times reported.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman
On Wednesday, Oct. 9, the evening before they were scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, Parnas and Fruman were arrested at Washington’s Dulles Airport, where they were about to leave on a flight to Germany, and charged with federal campaign finance violations for payments made to as-yet-unnamed U.S. politicians. Parnas and Fruman helped Giuliani pursue a Ukrainian investigation of Biden, and on Monday, Reuters reported that Giuliani’s law firm received $500,000 in payments from Parnas. Investigators in the Southern District of New York continue to investigate Giuliani’s bank records.
An aide to former national security adviser John Bolton, Fiona Hill told House investigators Monday that Bolton told her to warn White House lawyers that Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukraine’s government to launch an investigation of Biden were improper. “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and [acting White House chief of staff Mick] Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton said, according to Hill. She also told lawmakers that she confronted U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland for his involvement. Despite the fact that Ukraine is not a member of the EU, Sondland said he was acting on instructions from Trump, Hill said.
On Tuesday, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Ukraine policy, became the latest State Department official to defy Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and testify before Congress. Kent had raised concerns about Giuliani’s campaign to have Ukraine investigate Biden as far back as March, labeling it a “disinformation” campaign, the New York Times reported.
Originally scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Oct. 8, Sondland backed out of his appearance on orders from the State Department but has since reconsidered and will appear on Thursday. He is expected to tell House investigators that a text message to Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Kiev, in which Sondland assured him that the president was involved in “no quid pro quo’s of any kind,” had actually been dictated by Trump himself. Trump had cited Sondland’s text to Taylor as proof that he was not withholding military aid from Ukraine to pressure the government to smear Biden. Sondland, who received his ambassadorship after donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, is also prepared to testify that Yovanovitch was “great” in her role as ambassador, according to news reports.
For the moment, Trump’s response to the details that have been revealed has been to attempt to discredit the investigation.
Democrats are allowing no transparency at the Witch Hunt hearings. If Republicans ever did this they would be excoriated by the Fake News. Let the facts come out from the charade of people, most of whom I do not know, they are interviewing for 9 hours each, not selective leaks.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2019
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