Everyone You Need To Know In The Trump-Ukraine Investigation
The House has launched an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump over what Democrats consider an abuse of power and an attempted quid pro quo by pressuring Ukrainian officials to investigate his political rivals in exchange for releasing U.S. military aid.
The House Oversight, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees are leading the investigation, questioning a long list of witnesses who have confirmed an attempted quid pro quo and provided information that has led investigators to ask more questions about Trump’s actions.
As the investigation progresses, the list of people involved in the scandal grows longer, and the roles that they played become more intertwined. This is a running list of who’s who in the Ukraine story, why they matter and how they fit into the congressional investigation surrounding them.
DONALD TRUMP ― PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
The president is facing an impeachment inquiry in the House after reports emerged that he asked foreign leaders to investigate his political rivals in exchange for security aid, which would amount to an illegal quid pro quo and an abuse of power.
Trump called the Ukrainian president on July 25 and asked him to do a “favor” by investigating 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. He also requested that his Ukrainian counterpart investigate a cybersecurity firm that had found out Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee’s servers in 2016.
The president, who said Ukrainian officials should meet with his personal attorney, was simultaneously withholding nearly $400 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine. Trump has defended the call and does not see it as a quid pro quo.
The investigation comes just months after the release of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election specifically to benefit Trump and that there were several instances in which Trump tried to obstruct the investigation.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY ― PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE
Zelensky is a former comedian and actor who was elected president of Ukraine in April. He was at the receiving end of Trump’s July 25 call, in which the U.S. president asked him to do a favor and investigate his political rival.
In the call, Zelensky promised Trump he would look at Joe Biden and his son for instances of corruption in Ukraine. The Ukrainian president later said there was “no blackmail” in his call with Trump but stressed that he did not want to be involved in U.S. politics or elections.
In addition to allegations that the release of the military aid to Ukraine was contingent on investigating the Bidens, Trump is also accused of making a meeting between him and Zelensky contingent on such investigations.
REP. NANCY PELOSI ― SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE
Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the House’s impeachment inquiry into Trump on Sept. 24 after a whistleblower anonymously came forward about allegations that the president was abusing his office by pressuring Ukraine to interfere in U.S. elections.
A growing list of Democrats had called for an impeachment inquiry after the April release of Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The speaker of the House had long argued that an attempt to impeach Trump would only further divide the country and distract Democrats from trying to take back the Senate and White House.
Pelosi recently said the House would vote Oct. 31 on a resolution that “establishes the procedure for hearings that are open to the American people, authorizes the disclosure of deposition transcripts, outlines procedures to transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee as it considers potential articles of impeachment, and sets forth due process rights for the President and his Counsel.”
REP. ADAM SCHIFF ― HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN
Pelosi has virtually appointed Schiff (D-Calif.) to lead the House impeachment inquiry and investigate the whistleblower’s complaint. The Intelligence Committee chairman said “shaking down a foreign leader” is an impeachable offense and that White House stonewalling of the impeachment inquiry would be considered obstruction of justice.
Schiff also said the whistleblower’s attorneys had been working with Democrats to set up a time for the anonymous intelligence official to potentially testify before the committee. But the congressman has stressed the importance of keeping the whistleblower’s identity hidden throughout the investigation process for safety reasons.
Trump has ramped up his attacks on Schiff since the launch of the impeachment inquiry, accusing the congressman of treason. House Republicans angered by the inquiry tried to censure Schiff on allegations of “certain misleading conduct,” but the chamber’s Democratic majority blocked the measure.
JOE BIDEN ― FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Joe Biden’s name is at the center of Trump’s and his allies’ communications with Ukrainian leaders, with the president pressuring Zelensky in the July 25 call to investigate the former vice president and 2020 political rival ahead of the U.S. elections.
Trump made unsubstantiated allegations that Biden used his official capacity as vice president during the Obama administration to block an investigation into Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings while his son was a board member, saying he withheld $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees if Ukraine didn’t fire then-prosecutor Viktor Shokin.
There is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens, who have both repeatedly denied the allegations. Biden and others in the Obama administration have said they joined Western leaders’ calls for dismissing Shokin because he allegedly neglected to prosecute corruption cases, including those involving Burisma.
HUNTER BIDEN ― SON OF JOE BIDEN, BUSINESSMAN
Hunter Biden has also been accused by Trump of engaging in corrupt practices in Ukraine. Joe Biden’s son was hired by Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky to serve on the company’s board in 2014, when his father was vice president of the U.S. and was overseeing diplomatic relations with Kyiv. The company paid Biden as much as $50,000 a month for serving on its board of directors.
Ukraine’s current prosecutor general has said that the government is auditing all the cases that were closed or dismissed by former prosecutors, including 15 cases linked to Zlochevsky and related to potential money laundering and abuse of office. Zlochevsky used to head the Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources.
Hunter Biden said that he never discussed Burisma with his father, and there has been no evidence of wrongdoing related to his work with the company.
THE WHISTLEBLOWER ― ANONYMOUS GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL
The whistleblower is an unnamed U.S. intelligence officer who filed a complaint Aug. 12 alleging several White House officials told the person that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call to investigate the Bidens ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections.
The whistleblower also alleged the White House tried to cover up the exchange by hiding the call’s transcript in a codeword-protected server meant only for highly classified documents. The complaint was released Sept. 26.
Trump has repeatedly demanded to know who the whistleblower is and has suggested anyone who provided the information that’s in the complaint be punished the way “we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason.” The remarks led Democrats and attorneys for the whistleblower to fear for the person’s safety and have called for hiding the whistleblower’s identity even if the person testifies before the House.
MICHAEL ATKINSON ― INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire gave Atkinson the whistleblower complaint after receiving it from the person who submitted it.
After reviewing the complaint, Atkinson wrote an Aug. 26 letter to Maguire describing the complaint as “credible” and of “urgent concern.” He also said that Maguire was legally required to give the complaint to congressional intelligence committees within seven days.
JOSEPH MAGUIRE ― ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint he received from the whistleblower. He said he initially withheld the complaint from Congress because his attorneys said Trump was not part of the intelligence community.
The acting DNI eventually gave the complaint to the committee, which then declassified it for the public to read. Maguire defended the whistleblower’s decision to file a complaint, calling it “unique” and “unprecedented.”
MIKE POMPEO ― U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE
Pompeo, a former CIA chief, was on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky in which the U.S. president tried get foreign help to win the 2020 election.
Pompeo’s name was not directly mentioned in the whistleblower complaint, but Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani admitted multiple times that the State Department helped set up the meetings between Giuliani and top Zelensky aides. Pompeo also oversaw the abrupt removal in May of Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
The House subpoenaed Pompeo for documents related to the impeachment inquiry, though the secretary has refused to comply and accused Democrats of intimidating his department. The secretary of state vehemently denied witnessing an attempted quid pro quo by Trump.
RICK PERRY ― U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY
Perry, the former governor of Texas, became relevant to the Ukraine investigation earlier in October when Axios reported that during a conference call with House Republicans, Trump said Perry was the one who arranged his July 25 phone call with Zelensky, a call that has become the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
The energy secretary also told The Wall Street Journal in October that Trump told him to communicate with lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the president’s concerns about corruption in Ukraine.
Perry notified Trump of his plan to resign as energy secretary by the end of the year. The House subpoenaed Perry in the impeachment inquiry, but the energy secretary has refused to comply.
MIKE PENCE ― VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
Pence has worked to distance himself from the Ukraine scandal after a report alleging that the vice president met Sept. 1 with Ukrainian President Zelensky to tell him that the U.S. was not going to release military aid unless Ukraine was more willing to combat corruption.
Pence told reporters after meeting the Ukrainian president that the two did not discuss Joe Biden, whom Trump had asked Zelensky to investigate in a July phone call. The vice president instead said he spoke about Trump’s wanting to end corruption in Ukraine and about the U.S. military aid for the country.
The House asked Pence to hand over documents related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, though the vice president’s spokesperson dismissed the new demand.
JOHN BOLTON ― FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER
Bolton was Trump’s national security adviser until his resignation earlier this year, and he reportedly grew so concerned about Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy that he ordered top Russia adviser Fiona Hill to warn White House attorneys about the behavior of Trump’s personal lawyer, whom he called “a hand grenade.”
Hill, who reported to Bolton, told lawmakers that she notified her boss of Giuliani’s foreign policy back-channel with Ukraine. A State Department Foreign Service officer who was previously the special adviser for Ukraine negotiations testified to the House Oct. 30 that Bolton cautioned him Giuliani “was a key voice with the president on Ukraine.”
The House has invited Bolton to testify in the impeachment investigation on Nov. 7. Bolton’s lawyer said his client will not appear voluntarily but reportedly will testify if subpoenaed.
RUDY GIULIANI ― PERSONAL ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP
Giuliani appears to be the driving force behind Trump’s pursuit of a quid quo pro with Ukraine, becoming a shadow diplomat to the country despite only being the president’s personal attorney.
The former New York mayor has had direct communication with Ukrainian officials for some time, and he said he went to the country initially to undermine the beginnings of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and protect now-imprisoned Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Giuliani has pushed the unsubstantiated allegations that Hunter Biden was involved in Ukrainian corruption, and that Joe Biden pushed for a prosecutor’s firing in order to block an investigation into such corruption. The attorney met with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukraine’s president, just days after Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky.
The president’s personal attorney has repeatedly gone on cable news to rant about Ukraine conspiracy theories, often revealing new compromising information in those interviews. The House has subpoenaed Giuliani in the impeachment investigation, though he has said he would not comply.
WILLIAM BARR ― ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES
Barr was in charge of overseeing the release of the special counsel’s report on the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. In a summary of Trump’s July phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky, the president also asked Zelensky to talk to Barr as part of the attorney general’s review of that investigation.
The Justice Department said its Criminal Division reviewed Trump’s call and decided not to investigate him for committing a potential campaign finance violation when he asked Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.
The House has said it expects Barr to testify in the impeachment inquiry, though the attorney general has remained mum on his involvement.
YURIY LUTSENKO ― FORMER UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR GENERAL
Lutsenko was Ukraine’s top prosecutor from 2016 under the country’s previous president, Petro Poroshenko, and was Giuliani’s initial point of contact in persuading Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
He was fired in August by current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Ukrainian authorities said earlier in October that they had opened a criminal investigation into him over allegedly abusing his power in dealings with politicians.
The former prosecutor was also involved in Marie Yovanovitch’s ouster in May, falsely accusing the ambassador of interfering with the 2016 U.S. elections by giving him a “do not prosecute” list and blocking Ukraine from giving evidence of corruption in the election. He later admitted that he was the one who requested the “do not prosecute” list.
Lutsenko initially took a hard stance against energy company Burisma but eventually closed all investigations into the company and owner Mykola Zlochevsky. During the time he was communicating with Giuliani earlier this year, Lutsenko tried to revive scrutiny of Burisma but stressed that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden, who had been on the company’s board.
VIKTOR SHOKIN ― FORMER UKRAINE PROSECUTOR GENERAL
Shokin was Ukraine’s top prosecutor in 2015 under the country’s previous president, Petro Poroshenko, and allegedly faced criticism during his time in office for refusing to prosecute corruption by high-level officials. He was ousted in March 2016 and replaced by Yuriy Lutsenko.
Joe Biden was responsible for dealing with Ukraine relations as vice president in the Obama administration and, alongside other world leaders, encouraged Poroshenko to fire Shokin for not prosecuting instances of corruption by the political elite.
Trump has used Biden’s interaction with Ukraine to make unsubstantiated allegations that the former vice president pushed for Shokin’s ouster to benefit a Ukrainian energy company paying his son Hunter Biden.
LEV PARNAS and IGOR FRUMAN ― BUSINESS ASSOCIATES OF RUDY GIULIANI
Parnas and Fruman are Soviet-born American businessmen who helped Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine, where they also had business interests regarding an energy company.
The two were arrested on charges of making campaign contributions to a Trump-aligned super PAC using straw donors last year. Parnas and Fruman were also allegedly involved in the removal of Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine.
ANDRIY YERMAK ― AIDE TO VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY
Yermak is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s close friend, personal aide and chief international negotiator. Yermak met with Giuliani in Spain a week after Trump’s call with Zelensky, in which he urged the newly elected leader to speak with Giuliani to set up meetings with Ukrainian officials.
Several U.S. officials said the meeting between Giuliani and Yermak was a “direct follow-up” to the Trump-Zelensky call, according to the whistleblower complaint.
THOMAS ULRICH BRECHBUHL ― U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT COUNSELOR
Brechbuhl was appointed in May 2018 as counselor of the State Department by his friend and former U.S. Military Academy classmate Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state. The whistleblower complaint alleges Brechbuhl listened in on Trump’s call to Ukraine, though the State Department denies it.
House Democrats sent a subpoena earlier in October requesting that Brechbuhl provide a closed-door deposition on Nov. 6 after he declined to voluntarily appear for an interview. The subpoena came the same day Democrats also subpoenaed Office of Management and Budget officials Russell Vought and Michael Duffey.
KURT VOLKER ― FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR UKRAINE
Volker was the State Department special envoy to Ukraine until he resigned Sept. 27 after his name’s mention in the whistleblower complaint.
According to the complaint, Volker set up the meeting between Giuliani and Andriy Yermak, and tried to advise Ukrainian officials on how to work with Trump and his personal attorney.
Volker was the first witness that the House called in the impeachment investigation, in which he said in his closed-door testimony that he was unaware of Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden. But text messages between him and two other diplomats that Volker provided to Congress contradict the former ambassador’s story, as the texts showed clear concern over Trump’s withholding of military aid until Ukraine promised to investigate his political rivals.
BILL TAYLOR ― FORMER U.S AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE
Taylor was the chargé d’affaires for Ukraine after resigning as its U.S. ambassador. Taylor gave explosive testimony before House members in October confirming there was a quid pro quo demand in Trump’s July 25 call to Ukraine.
The acting ambassador was one of three diplomats who discussed the Ukraine talks in text messages released by the three House committees. Taylor was the only one in the group text with Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland to outwardly disapprove of Trump’s withholding of military aid to Ukraine in order to get the country to interfere in U.S. elections.
Trump’s response to Taylor’s testimony was to compare the impeachment inquiry to a “lynching” and label all “Never Trumpers” as “human scum.” Many Senate Republicans questioned Taylor’s integrity despite his reputation as a highly respected diplomat who also served under President George W. Bush.
GORDON SONDLAND ― U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION
Sondland, a Republican donor and hotel owner, had no foreign policy experience when Trump hired him as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union in June 2018. Sondland is involved in Trump’s scheme to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens.
The ambassador was one of the three diplomats in the group text that Bill Taylor talked to impeachment investigators about. In a Sept. 9 text, Taylor expressed dismay to Sondland about Trump involving the State Department in his attempted quid pro quo, to which the E.U. ambassador responded by dismissing Taylor’s concerns.
House Democrats have subpoenaed Sondland to testify in the impeachment investigation. His attorneys have said their client intends to honor the subpoena despite the White House’s demands not to.
MARIE YOVANOVITCH ― FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE
Yovanovitch was removed in May from her post as ambassador in Kyiv after complaints by Republicans and by Yuriy Lutsenko that she was undermining efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals.
The firing came after Yovanovitch insisted that Giuliani’s requests for Ukraine to conduct certain investigations be relayed through the proper foreign policy channels. Trump disparaged the former ambassador during his phone call with Ukraine, calling her “bad news” and saying she’s “going to go through some things.”
Yovanovitch appeared Oct. 11 for her deposition with House investigators. She reportedly told them Trump pressured the State Department to “abruptly” fire her as a politically motivated, “concerted campaign against me” in response to her refusal to allow Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy.
FIONA HILL – FORMER RUSSIA ADVISER TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Hill was Trump’s top Russia policy adviser with the National Security Council until she resigned in July. She was cited in the text messages between Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker and Bill Taylor that were provided to House impeachment investigators.
Hill spoke with House members on Oct. 14 in a closed-door session. She told lawmakers that she considered Sondland a national security risk as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union because of his inexperience, according to The New York Times.
Hill was allegedly told as early as May that there was a pressure campaign by Sondland and Giuliani concerning newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, NBC News reported on Oct. 28. Hill then reportedly briefed her boss, then-national security adviser John Bolton, about the shadow diplomacy he later described as a kind of “drug deal.”
ARMY LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN ― EUROPEAN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR FOR THE WHITE HOUSE
Vindman is currently the top Ukraine expert for the National Security Council and the first witness with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s July 25 phone call to testify in the House’s impeachment investigation. Many Republicans previously dismissed the whistleblower’s allegations because the anonymous intelligence officer admitted to not being a direct witness to the call with Ukraine.
Vindman, who reported to Fiona Hill until her resignation, privately testified to lawmakers on Oct. 29 that he heard Trump’s call with Zelensky in real time and twice reported it internally to his superiors because he felt it was his duty to share his concerns about the attempted quid pro quo. He also reportedly said the White House’s summary of the phone call had key omissions that do not change the basic contents of the call but raise questions about its handling.
Several Trump allies have questioned Vindman’s patriotism solely based on the fact that the Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a child. Trump also dismissed Vindman’s testimony, calling him a “Never Trumper witness,” though several Republican lawmakers defended the veteran’s reputation.
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