On Tuesday, September 24, 2019, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, announced a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald J. Trump. As the impeachment inquiry escalates, the path to impeachment may seem confusing. In this blog, I will attempt to illuminate what’s happened to date, and be happy to answer any questions you pose in the comments.
How did this all happen?
It all started with a nine-page whistleblower complaint on Aug 12, 2019
A whistleblower is someone with evidence of fraud who reports misconduct to the press or some overseeing authority. The identity of the whistleblower is unknown, however, the hard evidence provided by the whistleblower means that his or her identity should not meaningfully affect Trump’s impeachment inquiry.
What is in the whistleblower complaint?
The complaint was centered around a call that happened between President Trump and the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July. The original purpose of the call between President Trump and Zelensky was to establish a good alliance between the United States and Ukraine. However, later in the call, Donald Trump seems to have used his power to ask for investigation of his political rival in 2020, Joe Biden. Though the whistleblower explicitly stated that he or she was not on the call, a dozen or so White House officials listened in on the July call and reported what they had heard to the whistleblower. They reported concern that Ukrainian leaders were being pressured to believe that the only way to maintain a strong relationship with the United States was to “play ball” with certain issues requested by President Trump.
What are the stakes for Ukraine?
The newly elected Ukrainian President Zelensky planned on buying US-made Javelin missiles to defend his country from a rising Russia. Ukraine and Russia have had an aggressive relationship because of the Crimean Peninsula, an area of Ukraine that Russia annexed in 2014. Zelensky is currently dealing with an internal battle between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government, so military aid from the US is very important for him.
Why is what Trump purportedly said controversial?
There is clear evidence that President Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pushed the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden. Trump seemed to make $400 million in military aid contingent on Ukraine agreeing to investigate Biden and his son, demonstrating an implicit quid pro quo. Furthermore, the whistleblower stated that the White House took steps to cover up the call. Important calls between two leaders are usually recorded and have a transcript. The White House moved this particular call into a separate system where they can control who sees the transcript.
How does Joe Biden relate to this?
After a quasi-revolution in Ukraine in 2014, the Obama administration wanted to work more effectively with the new government, and Joe Biden was their point man. After the overthrow of the government in a popular revolt due to ousted president Yanukovych,’s attempts at aligning Ukraine closer with Russia instead of the EU, Biden frequently made visits to Ukraine to support their sovereignty. The Obama administration and anti-corruption activists in Ukraine saw Viktor Mykolayovych Shokin, Ukraine’s Chief Prosecutor, as someone who failed to prosecute corruption, therefore Joe Biden pushed to remove Shokin and replace him with someone tougher. In 2014, Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son and a private citizen, was hired by a Ukrainian gas company that was connected to Yanukovych, the former president who was overthrown. The Obama White House investigated this potential conflict of interest and found that there was no corruption, in part due to the fact that his son was a private citizen at that time. Furthermore, Ukranian chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko has said that Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws.
What is the timeline of key events?
- September 24, 2019- Trump authorizes the release of a transcript of his call with President Zelensky after the release of the whistleblower complaint. The GOP viewed this release as a mistake, whereas Trump believes that the transcript shows that he is innocent. Representative Adam Schiff, D-Calif (Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee) summarized the call in a tweet: “The transcript of the call reads like a classic mob shakedown: — We do a lot for Ukraine — There’s not much reciprocity — I have a favor to ask — Investigate my opponent — My people will be in touch — Nice country you got there. It would be a shame if something happened to her.”
- September 25, 2019-White House accidentally sent Ukraine talking points to Democrats. The Democrats proceeded to post the talking points on Twitter.
- September 25, 2019-President Trump speaks with President Zelensky again. President Zelensky says he has no intention of interfering in American politics and that he did not feel pressured by President Trump’s request as he just needs the aid.
- September 27, 2019- Kurt Volker, a US envoy (a messenger) to Ukraine, resigns hours after democrats announce that he was a target to seek information from.
- October 3, 2019-President Trump publicly asks China to investigate Joe Biden.
- October 3, 2019- Congress releases Ukraine related text messages. These messages show that top State Department diplomats worked with Giuliani to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden.
- October 6, 2019- Lawyers say that they are representing a second whistleblower.
- October 8, 2019- White House sends a letter to the House refusing to cooperate in impeachment inquiries. This is seen by some as an illegal effort to put the president above the law. This issue may be taken to court where the White House will be forced to testify.
- October 8, 2019-The State Department prevents Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, from testifying. The whistleblower complaint explicitly mentions Sondland, making him a key witness. The inability to have Sondland testify results in the loss of strong evidence.
- October 15, 2019- Vice President Mike Pence, Mr. Guiliani, the Defense Department, and the Office of Management and Budget were asked to hand over documents for the impeachment inquiry. Mike Pence and the Office of Management and Budget rejected the requests and Mr. Guliani sent a letter saying that he will not cooperate with his subpoena.
What happens next?
The first whistleblower has agreed to testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee, and while the date is yet to be determined, according to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, it will be happening “very soon.” The House has been in recess for two weeks, but Schiff’s committee is compiling evidence against President Trump and will soon share it with the House Judiciary Committee. The committee would then decide whether to recommend articles of impeachment to the full House. There are no specific deadlines for when the evidence must be turned in; however, Representative Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, plans on all information being turned in by the end of the year.
Is Trump going to be impeached?
Many democrats reached out to their constituents during the break to gain support. 218 votes (the majority) of the House are required to impeach, and as of the end of September 2019, there are 225 Democrats in support– this number is likely to grow.
Will Trump be removed from office?
If impeachment passes the House, there will be a trial conducted in the Senate where two-thirds of the Senators need to vote in favor of impeachment for Trump to be removed from office. This would necessitate 20 Republicans joining all the Democrats. While certain Republicans have expressed concern over President Trump’s actions, there are strong pressures from within the party to avoid removal. I feel that Republicans’ decision whether to impeach will cause them to pick between their party or the overall integrity of American politics. Whatever the decision is, America will be forced to make an unprecedented decision. No sitting president has ever been removed through the process in the Senate. However, now more than ever, we need to stop allowing the President to put himself above the law.