Politics

The Case for Impeaching Trump Over Ukraine Is Already Complete

Goldman and Schiff, who is speaking, seated in the hearing room.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Democratic staff attorney Daniel Goldman at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Anna Moneymaker/Pool/Getty Images

The House Intelligence Committee has finished its first round of public hearings regarding impeachment and will have to fight in court to compel the appearance of further witnesses. In the meantime, let’s make the case for impeachment for Ukraine-related “high crimes” as simply as possible.

Donald Trump ordered that congressionally authorized military aid for Ukraine and an invitation to the White House for Ukraine’s president be withheld unless Ukraine made a public announcement that it was “investigating” Joe Biden’s son and various 2016 election conspiracy theories. These investigations would have benefited Trump politically but would not have advanced any U.S. policy interest.

Now let’s break that up into provable chunks.

[Donald Trump] [ordered that congressionally authorized military aid for Ukraine] [and an invitation to the White House for Ukraine’s president] [be withheld unless Ukraine made a public announcement that it was “investigating”] [Joe Biden and his son] [and various 2016 election conspiracy theories.] [These investigations would have benefited Trump politically] [but would not have advanced any U.S. policy interest.]

Now let’s prove all the chunks!

[Donald Trump]: Testimony shows that Trump directed the acts that Democrats in the House are investigating. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said that Trump told him and other officials at a May 2019 meeting to speak to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about Ukraine, and that Giuliani subsequently outlined “investigations” (discussed below) that would have to be undertaken before Trump would advance the United States’ diplomatic relationship with the country in the way that Sondland and others recommended. Former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker testified that interactions with Trump (and Giuliani) led him to conclude that Trump’s participation in Ukraine diplomacy was contingent on the satisfaction of Giuliani’s requests. And State Department official David Holmes testified that he overheard Trump asking Sondland about “investigations” when Sondland spoke to Trump about Ukraine by phone in July at a lunch attended by Holmes and others.

[ordered that congressionally authorized military aid for Ukraine]: Trump and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney have both acknowledged publicly that the administration intentionally delayed the release of military aid to Ukraine this summer. Mulvaney admitted that the aid was delayed in part because of one of the 2016 “investigations” addressed below, while Sondland testified that he concluded—though was not told directly by Trump—that its release was contingent on both “investigations,” and that he conveyed this belief to a Ukrainian official. (The aid was only released in September after the House began investigating the issue and after news reports about the delay were published, including a Washington Post editorial that cited anonymous sources as saying the aid had been withheld as leverage to force an investigation of Biden.)

[and an invitation to the White House for Ukraine’s president]: Sondland testified that he understood from Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would not be invited to the White House until the country addressed Giuliani’s concerns, which were ultimately requests for “investigations” that overlapped with ones Trump requested of Zelensky in a July 25 phone call. Volker also testified that he believed Giuliani’s influence kept Trump from approving a White House visit.

[be withheld unless Ukraine made a public announcement]: Volker testified that he worked on arranging a public statement about the investigations with Giuliani and one of Zelensky’s aides. Sondland testified that Giuliani never expressed concern that the investigations even be carried out, only that they be announced publicly.

[that it was “investigating” Joe Biden and his son]: The White House released an edited transcript-style write-up of the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Zelensky in which Trump asks Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. Volker says that Giuliani told him, and Zelensky’s aides understood, that an investigation into “Burisma”—a Ukrainian natural gas company that Hunter Biden served on the board of—had to be mentioned in the public announcement. Giuliani touted the Bidens’ connections to Burisma in various Fox News appearances. (The context of the accusation against Joe Biden is that, while he was vice president, he called for the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor general who had previously investigated, but not indicted, Burisma on suspicion of corruption. However, as State Department official George Kent testified, Joe Biden’s position was consistent with U.S. policy intended to facilitate, rather than restrain, anti-corruption efforts in the country.)

[and various 2016 election conspiracy theories]: Trump, on his call with Zelensky, told the Ukrainian leader he should investigate “CrowdStrike” and “the server.” CrowdStrike is the company that concluded that Russia hacked Democratic emails in 2016, and right-wing conspiracists, under the mistaken belief that CrowdStrike is Ukraine-owned, believe it framed Russia and has hidden a server in Ukraine that would reveal as much. Sondland testified that Trump said in May that Ukraine “tried to take him down” in 2016, which, as elucidated by Giuliani in his Fox appearances, is a reference to the CrowdStrike theory and other accusations of Ukrainian “interference” propagated by right-wing writer John Solomon. (Some of those accusations appear to be totally fabricated, while some concern activities, like Ukraine’s ambassador writing in an op-ed that the country doesn’t consider Russia’s seizure of Crimea legitimate, that are neither suspicious nor illegal.)

[These investigations would have benefited Trump politically]: Sondland, under questioning from Democratic New York Rep. Sean Maloney, acknowledged that an investigation of Biden would have benefited Trump politically. Trump has said publicly that the “server” could show that Ukraine conspired to support the Hillary Clinton campaign and that Russia did not conspire to support the Trump campaign.

[but would not have advanced any U.S. policy interest]: No evidence shows any of the State Department employees involved in Ukraine policy advocating for the necessity of investigations of the Bidens and 2016 “interference.” The testimony of Sondland and Volker shows instead that the possibility of launching such investigations was introduced by Giuliani, who works for Trump on a personal basis and has no position in government. Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified that a former Ukrainian official Giuliani met with and used as a source for his allegations is himself a corrupt individual whose removal from office advanced the cause of good government in the country. When asked by a CNBC reporter, Trump was unable to name any companies or individuals besides Hunter Biden’s that his administration has targeted in corruption investigations. Holmes testified that Sondland told him Trump did not “give a shit about Ukraine” except insofar as relations with the country could benefit him personally.

The consensus position of U.S. intelligence agencies, meanwhile, is that the attack on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 was carried out by Russian military intelligence. Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill testified Thursday that accusations of Ukraine-Clinton collusion are “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

As illustrated by the mere six weeks or so it took House Intel to assemble the above information, there is likely much more that Democrats could discover by continuing to investigate this and other Trump administration misconduct. But they’ve got one article of impeachment already locked down.