Previous calls for impeachment
Efforts to impeach President Trump have been made by a variety of people and groups.
The first efforts in the Republican-controlled Congress were initiated in 2017 by Representatives Al Green and Brad Sherman, both Democrats (D), in response to Trump's obstructions of justice in the Russian influence investigations begun during the first year of Trump's presidency. A December 2017 resolution of impeachment failed in the House by a 58–364 vote margin.
Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives following the 2018 elections and made Nancy Pelosi the new Speaker. While she opposed any move toward impeachment, she supported multiple committees' respective investigations into Trump's actions and finances. On January 17, 2019, new allegations involving Trump surfaced, claiming he instructed his long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie under oath about Trump's conflict-of-interest involvement with the Russian government to erect a Trump Tower in Moscow. This also sparked requests for an investigation and for the president to "resign or be impeached" should such claims be substantiated.
Special Counsel Mueller's Report
The report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, released on April 18, 2019, found that soon after the firing of James Comey and the appointment of the Special Counsel, Trump "engaged in conduct ... involving public attacks on the investigation, non-public acts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation." The Mueller Report found "multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigation." For example, the Mueller Report found "substantial evidence" or "evidence" that:
- "The President's attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel's oversight of investigations that involved the President's conduct";
- "The President's effort to have (Attorney General) Sessions limit the scope of the Special Counsel's investigation to future election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President's and his campaign's conduct";
- "In repeatedly urging (White House counsel Donald) McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn's account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President's conduct towards the investigation."
- "... at least one purpose of the President's conduct towards (Attorney General) Jeff Sessions was to have Sessions assume control over the Russia investigation and supervise it in a way that would restrict its scope ... A reasonable inference ... is that the President believed that an unrecused Attorney General would play a protective role and could shield the President from the ongoing Russia investigation."
- "... could support the inference that the President intended to discourage (attorney Michael) Cohen from cooperating with the government because Cohen's information would shed adverse light on the President's campaign-period conduct and statements."
- "... the President's actions had the potential to influence (campaign adviser Paul) Manafort's decision on whether to cooperate with the government ... The President's public statements during the Manafort trial, including during jury deliberations also had the potential to influence the trial jury."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that "The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests." Nevertheless, the Mueller Report made no definitive conclusion as to whether Trump had committed criminal obstruction of justice. Instead, the Special Counsel strongly hinted that it was up to Congress to make such a determination based on the evidence presented in the report. Congressional support for an impeachment inquiry increased as a result.
After the Special Counsel's Report
On May 6, 2019, a group of former federal prosecutors released a statement which said, in part: "Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice." News outlets reported that this statement was eventually signed by approximately 400 former federal prosecutors.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initially continued to resist calls for impeachment. 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. An increasing number of Democrats and a then-Republican representatives of the House, Justin Amash (who later became an independent), were requesting such an inquiry.
- H. Res. 13 (alleging interference with the Mueller investigation) introduced on January 3, 2019, by Representative Sherman (D-California): immediately referred to the House Judiciary Committee and to Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties on February 4, 2019.
- H. Res. 257 (which would launch an impeachment inquiry with no specific allegations) introduced on March 27, 2019, by Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan): referred to the House Rules Committee.
- H. Res. 396 (which names 19 areas of inquiry) introduced on May 22, 2019, by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas): referred to the House Rules Committee.
- H. Res. 498 (which alleges Trump is unfit for office due to racist comments) introduced on July 17, 2019, by Representative Green (D-Texas): a privileged resolution[c] which was blocked from proceeding by a vote of 332–95.
Fewer than 20 Representatives in the House supported impeachment by January 2019, but this number grew after the Mueller Report was released and after Mueller testified in July, up to around 140 Representatives before the Trump–Ukraine scandal surfaced.
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. In April 2019, Attorney General William Barr announced that he had launched a review of the origins of the FBI's investigation, 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. Barr assigned U.S. Attorney John Durham to lead the probe, and Trump directed the to "promptly provide assistance and information" to Barr, and delegated to him the "full and complete authority" to declassify any related documents. 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. At Barr's request, Trump himself phoned the prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, to ask for assistance.
Rudy Giuliani and his business associates
In 2018, Florida businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman hired Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani as a consultant in their security company, paying him $500,000. In turn, Fruman and Parnas assisted him in his search in Ukraine for damaging information about Trump's political opponents. Giuliani sent Fruman and Parnas to Ukraine to seek information to undermine the Special Counsel's investigation and damage Biden's presidential campaign.
At the same time, Fruman and Parnas were being paid by Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch, with alleged ties to Russian organized crime and the Kremlin, who is facing federal bribery charges in the U.S. and is fighting extradition from Austria.[d]
From at least May 2019 to August 2019, Trump and Giuliani pressed the Ukrainian government to launch an investigation that would have negatively affected Trump's political rival Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Giuliani and his associates asked Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into the business activities of Hunter Biden. The pressure tactics were developed by Giuliani and Gordon Sondland and applied in part by Parnas and Fruman. Zelensky reportedly felt rattled by the pressure, according to Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat and a member of Naftogaz's supervisory board, who alerted the National Security Council (NSC) of the matter in May 2019. Fruman and Parnas were arrested at Washington Dulles International Airport on October 9, 2019, on campaign finance-related charges brought by federal prosecutors in New York City.
The proposed investigation of Biden was based on a 2015 push by the U.S. to remove the Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin because he had been ignoring corruption in Ukraine and protecting political elites. At the time, this request had bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and was also supported by the European Union.[e] Joe Biden, who at the time was vice president, served as the face of this request. Ukraine fired Shokin in early 2016. Trump claimed that Biden's true motivation was to protect his son Hunter, who served on the board of directors of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, even though Shokin had placed his predecessor's investigation into Burisma on hold. Despite Trump's allegations, no one has produced evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by the Bidens.
Withholding of military aid and July 25 phone call
Whistleblower complaint dated August 12, 2019, regarding a July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Zelensky
Memorandum of the call between Trump and Zelensky released by the White House on September 25, 2019
By July 18, 2019, Trump had—without explanation—put a hold on $391 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine. In a July 25 phone call, Trump repeatedly asked Volodymyr Zelensky to launch two investigations in cooperation with Giuliani and Attorney General Barr. One proposed investigation would concern a conspiracy theory—which originated on 4chan in 2017 and was spread by blogs, social media, and Fox News— that connected the American cybersecurity technology company CrowdStrike to Ukrainian actors supposedly interfering in the 2016 election. Trump had been repeatedly told by his own aides that this allegation is false, but refused to accept those assurances. The other proposed investigation would concern Joe and Hunter Biden. At the time of the inquiry, Joe Biden was the leading presidential candidate in Democratic Party primary polling, making him Trump's most likely 2020 opponent.
This July 25 phone call was the subject of an anonymous complaint filed on August 12 in accordance with the . In late August, Trump was notified of the whistleblower's complaint. Congress and the public became aware of it on September 9. Two days later, Trump lifted the hold on military aid.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on September 13 that he had issued a subpoena to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, as Maguire had failed to release the whistleblower's complaint to the congressional intelligence committees, as was arguably required by the relevant statute. Schiff argued 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".
On September 24, the White House released a non-verbatim memorandum of Trump's conversation with Zelensky.[f] The next day, the whistleblower complaint was released to Congress. Trump did not mention the hold on military aid in his conversation with Zelensky, but repeatedly pointed out that the U.S. has been "very very good" to Ukraine, with which Zelensky expressed agreement. Zelensky subsequently asked about obtaining more U.S. missiles, to which Trump replied, "I would like you to do us a favor though" and requested the investigations. The memorandum of the conversation confirmed the whistleblower's allegations that Trump had requested investigations into the Bidens and invoked a conspiracy theory involving a Democratic National Committee server, while repeatedly urging Zelensky to work with Giuliani and Barr on these matters.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren described this sentence as a "smoking gun" suggesting a quid pro quo. 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. Former Ukrainian presidential advisor Serhiy Leshchenko said it was made a "clear fact" that Ukraine's communication with the U.S. was dependent on discussing a future investigation into the Bidens, while another anonymous Ukrainian lawmaker said Trump attempted to "pressure" and "blackmail" them into accepting a "quid pro quo" agreement based upon cooperation.
Volodymyr Zelensky with Donald Trump in New York City on September 25, 2019
On September 20, 2019, Roman Truba, head of the Ukraine State Bureau of Investigations, told left-wing American news and opinion website The Daily Beast that his agency had not investigated the Biden–Burisma connection and there were no signs of illegality there. Anton Herashchenko, a senior advisor to the Ukraine interior minister, told The Daily Beast that Ukraine will open such an investigation if there is an official request, along with details of why an investigation is needed and what to look for; Trump's requests had come through unofficial representatives such as Giuliani.
Ukrainian foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko told a Ukrainian news outlet on September 21: "I know what the [phone] conversation was about and I think there was no pressure. This conversation was long, friendly, and it touched on many questions, sometimes requiring serious answers." Prystaiko was also quoted as saying: "I want to say that we are an independent state, we have our secrets." On September 22, Senator Murphy said President Zelensky told him he had no intention to get involved with an American election.
In an interview released on September 24, Ukrainian diplomat and politician Valentyn Nalyvaichenko told The Daily Beast that Ukrainian authorities would be reopening corruption investigations into multiple individuals and organizations including, potentially, Burisma, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, TV host Larry King, and former prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko. King was suspected of having received slush fund payments recorded in the "black ledger" that also named Manafort. Nalyvaichenko accused Lutsenko of having been in communication with associates of Trump "for vindictive purposes".
Trump and Zelensky held a joint press conference at the United Nations the same day the transcript of their phone call was released. Zelensky told reporters: "We had, I think, good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. So, I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed me." The next day, President Zelensky said President Trump had not pressured anyone nor made any promises, and that the Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka would investigate all domestic cases without prejudice. On September 30, Zelensky made it clear that he was not going to interfere with the intra-American party confrontation. Subsequently, at an all-day press conference on October 10, Zelensky said he had learned about the blockage of the military aid only after the July 25 phone call. "We didn't speak about this. There was no blackmail."
The New York Times reported on October 3 that Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine, had in August drafted a statement for Zelensky 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.
On September 22, shortly after the public had become aware of the existence of a whistleblower, Trump acknowledged that he had discussed Joe Biden during a call with Zelensky on July 25. Trump said, "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 to [sic] the corruption already in Ukraine." 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. On September 26, 2019, Trump accused the person who provided the whistleblower with information of the call of being a "spy" and guilty of treason, before noting that treason is punishable by death. The whistleblower's lawyers said their client feared for his or her safety.
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", e.g. engaging in flattery, discussing cooperation, and bringing up a personal favor which then could be delegated. 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. A second whistleblower, who is also an intelligence official, came forward on October 5 with "first-hand knowledge of allegations" associated with the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, according to the lawyer representing both whistleblowers.
President Trump states on October 3, 2019, that "China should start an investigation into the Bidens"
On September 27, 2019, the White House confirmed an allegation by the first whistleblower that a record of the call between Trump and Zelensky was sealed in a highly classified computer system at the advice of NSC lawyers. This came alongside media reports that the White House had used the most highly classified 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. This was seen by critics and the media as a deliberate attempt to hide potentially damaging information.
On October 3, after saying the U.S. has "tremendous power" and "many options" in the trade war with China "if they don't do what we want", Trump was asked by a reporter on what he hoped Zelensky would do after his phone call. Trump responded by publicly urging both Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens.
In an interview with The New Yorker on December 16, Rudy Giuliani said removing the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine became imperative for him and Trump. "I needed Yovanovitch out of the way," Giuliani told the magazine.