By Keana Hilario ’20 & Jennie Kim ’20
President Donald Trump currently faces an impeachment inquiry. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recently opened an impeachment investigation following a whistleblower complaint filed against the president.
Here is a recap of the chain of events leading to this inquiry:
A whistleblower filed a complaint that reported an “urgent concern” about the abuse of power within the office of president. The whistleblower wrote that he (or she) believed the president was using his power to pressure foreign countries to interfere in the 2020 election by asking them to investigate former vice president and presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Although the whistleblower says he was not a direct witness to most of the events described in the complaint, he says that he has received multiple reports from colleagues that corroborated each other’s accounts. He also accused the White House of a cover-up of the phone call. (A second whistleblower has since come forward with firsthand knowledge of the call.)
The complaint centered around a July 25 phone call between Trump and newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. In an unclassified transcript released by the White House, Trump says to Zelensky, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.” Despite these details, Trump calls his phone call with the Ukrainian president “perfect.”
Trump’s comments are about Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma Holdings, a major Ukrainian natural gas producer. Biden served on the board of the company from 2014-2019. According to media reports, Trump falsely claimed that Joe Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor in order to prevent an investigation into the company that was tied to his son. The prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, wasn’t fired for that reason; he was fired because he was not dealing with corruption in his country. Also, Shokin had already investigated Burisma during a period of time before Biden joined the company.
Trump also withheld aid of nearly $400 million to Ukraine. According to media reports, Trump said he suspended the aid because he believed that other European countries were not paying as much as the US does. However, some critics argue that Trump withheld aid in order to pressure Zelensky into investigating the Bidens.
There are also reports that White House officials moved the transcript of the call to a highly classified server reserved for national security. Again, according to media reports, this action was taken out of concerns regarding the nature of the call and it has raised questions about a potential coverup.
Trump also publicly asked Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens. However, this doesn’t change the fact that he asked foreign governments to dig up dirt on his political rival. Trump believes that by saying his crimes out loud, his actions are no longer a crime. He can say that there was nothing wrong with asking them to get involved in the 2020 election because he asked them publicly, but really, Trump just publicly admitted to his own crimes and announced his own impeachment.
From the start, the scandal has ensured chaos. On September 20, President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared on CNN in which he contradicted himself. When CNN interviewer Chris Cuomo questioned Giuliani about asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, Giuliani responded, “No, I actually didn’t. I asked Ukraine to investigate the allegations that there was interference in the election of 2016 by the Ukrainians for the benefit of Hillary Clinton.” Yet, when Cuomo asked specifically about Biden, Giuliani stated, “The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that the guy Lutsanko, who was appointed, dismissed the case,” affirming the he indeed called for Joe Biden’s investigation. It is important to note that on this same day, House Democrats like Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Ilhan Omar, and Joe Kennedy called for an impeachment inquiry.
September 25 is when a transcript of the phone call (not verbatim) was released by the White House. Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, initially threatened to resign if he was not allowed to speak freely before Congress (and he has since testified.) During his testimony, Maguire called the whistleblower complaint “unprecedented,” but did not state whether he talked to Trump about the whistleblower or if he considered interference in an election by a foreign power to be illegal.
The whistleblower’s lawyers later sent Maguire a letter, asserting that the whistleblower’s safety is in danger after Trump called the informant “close to a spy” and offered a $50K bounty on the whistleblower’s identity (despite the legal protections in place on the identities of whistleblowers).
In addition to the release of the phone call’s records, the House intelligence committee set a deadline for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to submit details about the whistleblower’s complaint. The DOJ has since concluded that the complaint was not enough for a criminal investigation after the acting director and inspector general of national intelligence referred it to the DOJ.
Maguire is one of the few members of the Trump administration being subpoenaed or summoned to court. According to House intelligence chair Adam Schiff, Maguire withheld the whistleblower report. Other members of the administration being subpoenaed include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Giuliani.
Pompeo has since confirmed that he had listened to the July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky. In addition to being subpoenaed, Giuliani must give Congress documents about his dealings with Ukraine.
Though not subpoenaed (as of now), US attorney general Bill Barr has also been criticized for using Trump’s executive power to investigate Trump’s rivals. According to The Washington Post and The New York Times, when Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, he also asked with Barr’s assistance. The Washington Post also reports that Barr “held private meetings with foreign intelligence officials seeking their help in an [DOJ] inquiry that … will discredit … possible connections between Russia and members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 campaign.” Recently, House Democrats released text messages sent among former Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker, Rudy Giuliani, and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland. They prove that a quid pro quo agreement –– Latin for “something for something” –– existed so that Ukraine can investigate Trump’s rivals.
The majority of Trump’s critics point out that he has clearly violated constitutional law by requesting help from a foreign power in disrupting an election. Of course, Trump’s violation is the motive for an impeachment inquiry.
To clarify, impeachment is the process of removing a president through Congress, as bestowed by the Constitution. The Constitution states that “The President … shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Before the House of Representatives can impeach the President, a House member must propose a resolution of impeachment and refer the resolution to the House Judiciary Committee. The committee must then vote whether “grounds of impeachment exist,” and report to the full House. House members must vote to impeach, which, then, the case moves to the Senate. A trial in the Senate occurs wherein House managers serve as prosecutors, and the Supreme Court chief justice presides over the trial as the judge. If two-thirds of the Senate majority votes to convict the President, the President is then removed from office.
As of now, the House is still in the process of an impeachment inquiry, and President Trump has made clear he plans to wage war on the impeachment effort. In a letter from White House lawyers this week, Trump said he is refusing to cooperate with the inquiry, which, according to CNN, he described as an illegitimate effort to reverse the 2016 election.
Graphic via NBC News