Impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump

An impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, the 45th and current president of the United States, was initiated on September 24, 2019, by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.[1][2][3] It began after a whistleblower report alleged that President Donald Trump and top administration officials had pressured the leaders of foreign nations, most notably Ukraine, abusing the power of the presidency to advance Trump's personal interests.[4][5][6][7][8] These allegations have been corroborated by testimony so far by Trump-appointed White House administration official Fiona Hill,[4] at least six other White House officials,[9] and other witnesses.[10] Additional allegations of misconduct emerged in the days afterwards.[6] The whistleblower's report was largely based upon information given to them by more than "half a dozen" U.S. officials[11] and has been largely corroborated.[7] The report also implicated Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr as part of a more widespread pressure campaign directed towards the Ukrainian government.[9] The first whistleblower's complaint was given to Congress on September 25, 2019, and released to the public the next day.[12] A second whistleblower came forward on October 5, with "first-hand knowledge of allegations" associated with the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.[13]

From May to August 2019, Trump and Giuliani repeatedly pressed the government of Ukraine to investigate his political opponent Joe Biden, a former U.S. vice president and candidate for the 2020 U.S. Democratic presidential nomination, and Biden's son Hunter.[14][15] On July 18, 2019, through his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Trump instructed his staff to place a hold on congressionally mandated military aid to Ukraine.[16][17] During a phone call a week later, he pressured President Zelensky to launch two investigations, including one into the actions of the Bidens. The whistleblower also accused the White House of attempting to cover up the contents of this phone call.[9] In response, the Trump administration released a memorandum of the call, confirming that Trump had asked Zelensky to "look into" Biden.[18][19]

The whistleblower's report recorded that Trump's violations were "so obviously egregious" that White House officials immediately attempted to cover it up. One such action was intentionally misclassifying the transcript of the call, and other evidence of presidential misconduct and politically damaging material, so as to place it on top secret servers where very few people would have access to it.[12][20][21] Administration officials had begun placing transcripts of conversations with world leaders onto these servers following high-profile leaks in 2017.[22]

The White House officially responded to the impeachment proceedings with a letter from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to House Speaker Pelosi that it would cease all cooperation with the investigation due to a litany of concerns, including there not being a vote of the full House, and that the proceedings were being conducted behind closed doors.[23][24]

Background

Previous efforts for impeachment

Efforts to impeach President Donald Trump have been made by various people and groups.[25][26] Talk of impeachment began even before Trump took office.[27] Formal efforts were initiated by Representatives Al Green and Brad Sherman, both Democrats (D), in 2017, the first year of his presidency.[28][29][30] A December 2017 resolution of impeachment failed in the then Republican-led House by a 58–364 margin.[31]

Democrats gained control of the House following the 2018 elections and launched multiple investigations into Trump's actions and finances.[32][33] On January 17, 2019, new accusations involving Trump surfaced, claiming he instructed his long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie under oath surrounding Trump's involvement with the Russian government to erect a Trump Tower in Moscow.[34] This also sparked calls for an investigation and for the president to "resign or be impeached" should such claims be proven genuine.[35]

The Mueller Report, released on April 18, 2019, reached no conclusion as to whether Trump had committed criminal obstruction of justice.[36] Special Counsel Robert Mueller strongly hinted that it was up to Congress to make such a determination. Congressional support for an impeachment inquiry increased as a result.[37] Speaker Nancy Pelosi initially resisted calls for impeachment.[38] In May 2019, she indicated that Trump's continued actions, which she characterized as obstruction of justice and refusal to honor congressional subpoenas, might make an impeachment inquiry necessary.[39][40] An increasing number of House Democrats and a then-Republican, Justin Amash (who later defected) were requesting such an inquiry.[41]

As of September 2019, the following resolutions had been introduced in the 116th Congress regarding possible impeachment:

Less than 20 Representatives in the House supported impeachment by January 2019, but this number grew after the Mueller Report was released in April and after Mueller testified in July, up to around 140 Representatives before the Trump–Ukraine scandal began.[52]

Trump–Ukraine scandal

The whistleblower complaint regarding a phone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
A memorandum of the call between Trump and Zelensky released by the White House on September 25, 2019

From May to August 2019, Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pressed the Ukrainian government to investigate business activities of Hunter Biden,[53] the son of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden,[54][55][56][57][15] who took a board seat on Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings.[58][59] Despite the allegations, as of September 2019, there has been no evidence produced of any wrongdoing by the Bidens.[60][61][62][63][64]

The whistleblower report centered around one instance of such pressure that occurred in a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump mentioned two investigations he wanted to see Ukraine launch.[9][18] One of these would concern allegations that connected the American cybersecurity technology company CrowdStrike to Ukrainian actors supposedly interfering in the 2016 election.[65][66] Trump had been repeatedly told by aides that Ukraine did not interfere in the 2016 election, but refused to accept these assurances.[67] The theory, which originated on 4chan in 2017, has been spread by blogs, social media, and Fox News.[68] The other requested investigation concerned Joe Biden, former U.S. Vice President and a candidate for the 2020 presidential election, and the Ukrainian business dealings of his son Hunter Biden.[9][2][14] At the time of the inquiry, Joe Biden was the leading candidate in Democratic Party primary polling, according to poll aggregators, making him Trump's most likely 2020 election opponent.[69] On September 25, the White House released part of a transcript of Trump's conversation with Zelensky following a promise to do so the previous day;[70][71] on the same day, the whistleblower complaint was released to Congress.[72]

On July 18, 2019, Trump had placed a hold on military aid to Ukraine[17] while "providing no explanation";[73] he lifted it in September.[73] Trump did not mention the hold in his conversation with Zelensky, but he repeatedly pointed out that the United States has been "very very good" to Ukraine, with which Zelensky agreed. Zelensky then expressed interest in obtaining more U.S. missiles, to which Trump replied "I would like you to do us a favor though" and brought up his request for investigations.[74] Democratic candidate for president Elizabeth Warren described this sentence as a "smoking gun" suggesting a quid pro quo.[74] Prominent Democrats, including Senators Robert Menendez and Chris Murphy, suggested that the hold may have been intended to implicitly or explicitly pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden.[16] Former Ukrainian presidential advisor Serhiy Leshchenko said it was made a "clear fact" that Ukraine's communication with the United States was dependent on discussing a future investigation into the Bidens,[75] while another anonymous Ukrainian lawmaker stated that Trump attempted to "pressure" and "blackmail" them into accepting a "quid-pro-quo" agreement based upon cooperation.[76]

The New York Times reported on October 3, that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker had in August drafted a statement for Velensky to sign that would commit Ukraine to investigate Burisma, the company that Hunter Biden worked for, as well as the conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election to benefit Hillary Clinton.[77]

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on September 13, 2019, that he had issued a subpoena to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, as Maguire had failed to release a whistleblower's complaint filed under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act on August 12, 2019, to the congressional intelligence committees as was arguably required by the relevant statute. Schiff argued that he had concerns that the complaint might have been withheld from Congress "in an unlawful effort to protect the President and conceal from the Committee information related to his possible 'serious or flagrant' misconduct, abuse of power, or violation of law."[78][79]

On September 22, shortly after the whistleblower's allegations became public, Trump acknowledged that he had discussed Joe Biden during a call with Zelensky on July 25. Trump stated that "The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don't want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating [sic] to the corruption already in Ukraine."[80] Trump denied that his hold on military aid for Ukraine was linked to the Ukrainian government's refusal to investigate the Hunter Biden controversy, while also saying that withholding aid for this reason would have been ethically acceptable if he had done it.[81] On September 26, 2019, Trump accused the whistleblower of being a "spy" and guilty of treason, before noting that treason is punishable by death.[82][83][84] As a result of Trump's comments, the whistleblower's lawyers said their client feared for his or her safety.[60]

Two people close to Trump told The New York Times that the behavior in the scandal was "typical" of his "dealings on the phone with world leaders": "Engage in flattery, discuss mutual cooperation, and bring up a [personal] favor that then could be delegated to another person on Mr. Trump's team."[85] In an interview, Giuliani defended Trump, calling the president's request of the Ukrainian president "perfectly appropriate," while also indicating that he himself may have made a similar request to Ukrainian officials.[86] A second whistleblower, who is also an intelligence official, came forward on October 5, 2019, with "first-hand knowledge of allegations" associated with the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, according to the lawyer representing both whistleblowers.[13]

Further revelations

President Trump states "China should start an investigation into the Bidens"; video from the White House.

Details emerged on September 27, 2019, that the White House had used the most highly classified computer system to store memorandums of conversations with the leaders and officials of countries including Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Administration officials had began storing these transcripts into this system after Trump's conversations with Australia's prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mexico's president Enrique Peña Nieto leaked earlier in 2017.[22] This was seen by critics and the media as a deliberate attempt to hide potentially damaging information.[87] Also on September 27, it was reported that Trump had told Russian officials in 2017 that he was unconcerned about Russian interference in U.S. elections.[88][89] On October 4, 2019, Trump held a news conference where he publicly said that Ukraine should investigate the Bidens, and also called on China to investigate the Bidens.[90]

Soon after the release of the Mueller report, Trump began urging an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, wanting to "investigate the investigators" and possibly discredit the conclusions of the FBI and Mueller.[91] In April 2019, Attorney General William Barr announced that he had launched a review of the origins of the FBI's investigation,[92][93] even though the origins of the probe were already being investigated by the Justice Department's inspector general and by U.S. attorney John Huber, who had been appointed to the same task in 2018 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.[94] Barr assigned U.S. Attorney John Durham to lead the probe,[95] and Trump directed the American intelligence community to "promptly provide assistance and information" to Barr, and delegated to him the "full and complete authority" to declassify any related documents.[91][96] Although Durham was nominally in charge of the investigation, Barr himself began contacting foreign governments to ask for information about the origins of the FBI probe. Barr personally traveled to the United Kingdom and Italy to seek information; Italy's parliament is expected to begin its own investigation into Barr's meetings with Italian secret services.[97] At Barr's request, Trump himself phoned the prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, to ask for assistance.[98][99]

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, two Florida businessmen and associates of Guiliani, were arrested at Washington Dulles International Airport on October 9, 2019, on campaign finance-related charges brought by federal prosecutors in New York City.[100][101] The men had hired Guiliani as a consultant in their security company and also assisted him in his search in Ukraine for damaging information about Trump's political opponents.[101]

Congressional support for an inquiry

Representative John Lewis says on September 24, 2019, that "the time to begin impeachment proceedings, against this president, has come".
House of Representatives debate the whistleblower complaint against President Trump on September 25, 2019.

A majority of House members support the initiation of the impeachment inquiry.[102] As of October 10, 2019, this includes 227 Democrats, and one independent, Representative Amash from Michigan,[103] who left the Republican Party on July 4, 2019, in the wake of his protests regarding the lack of holding Trump accountable.[104] Amash became a leading supporter of impeachment after the whistleblower report was released, stating that the call script was a "devastating indictment of the president".[105] After further allegations of misconduct came to light in late September, Nevada representative Mark Amodei was reportedly the first Republican in the House of Representatives to support an impeachment inquiry,[106] but later clarified that he supported an "oversight process" but did not support an "inquiry," without explaining the distinction between the two.[107][108]

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