House Democrats’ impeachment case hinges on whether the Trump administration pursued a quid pro quo with Ukraine, withholding military aid and a White House invitation in order to extort new President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating Joe Biden and the 2016 election.
If President Trump did engage in such a quid pro quo, it would amount to precisely the type of abuse of power the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the impeachment clause into the Constitution. But after a month of damning testimony from an array of witnesses with first-hand knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine policy, there’s a preponderance of evidence that that’s exactly what Trump did.
Public impeachment inquiry hearings kicking off on Wednesday may add to the pile, but in the meantime, we’ve put together a guide to the mountain of evidence suggesting Trump leveraged military aid to push a foreign regime to meddle in the 2020 U.S. presidential election on his behalf.
Who is he? The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Sondland was a central figure in the Trump administration’s efforts to extort Ukraine into investigating Biden. He is also most definitely not a Never Trumper. The founder of a hotel company, he was awarded his ambassadorship after donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
What did he say? Sondland’s testimony has been inconsistent. He initially said he wasn’t aware of a quid pro quo, but prior to his testimony being made public earlier this month, submitted an addendum in which he admitted he told Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Zelensky, that a quid pro quo was in place:
“I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
Multiple witnesses corroborated that Sondland told Ukraine the release of aid was conditional.
Sondland also testified that he was directed by the president to insist to concerned State Department officials that there wasn’t quid pro quo.
How did Trump respond?
Trump on Sondland: "I hardly know the gentleman." pic.twitter.com/gz7v2DaSoP
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 8, 2019
Who is he? Taylor is the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. He took over the post this summer after the U.S. ambassador to the nation, Marie Yovanovitch, was relieved of her duties following a right-wing smear campaign. Taylor previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
What did he say? Taylor didn’t mince words when he was asked directly if Ukraine receiving military assistance and Zelensky receiving an invitation to the White House were “conditioned” on Ukraine launching investigations into Biden and the 2016 election:
“The was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the President committed to pursue the investigation.”
He clarified this point in responding to multiple follow-up questions. “Yes, sir,” he said when asked again if military aid was contingent upon a commitment to pursue an investigation. “I am,” he said when asked if he was aware “quid pro quo literally means this for that.”
Taylor also confirmed that Trump himself wanted Zelensky to announce an investigation into Biden and the 2016 election publicly. “But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference, and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself,” he said.
This was corroborated by other witnesses, including George Kent, the deputy assistant to the secretary of state. “POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelenskyy to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden and Clinton,” Kent testified of an exchange between Sondland and Tim Morrision, which was then relayed to Taylor.
How did Trump respond? The day after Taylor’s testimony, Trump tweeted that “Never Trumper Republicans are “human scum.” Hours later he referred to Taylor as a “Never Trumper Diplomat.”
Who is he? Morrison was a National Security Council director specializing in Russia and Europe. He assumed the post after Fiona Hill resigned in August of this year, and resigned himself prior to testifying on October 31st.
What did he say? Bill Taylor also testified that Sondland told Yermak military aid was contingent upon a public announcement from Ukraine that it would launching investigations into Biden and the 2016 election. Morrison testified this was “accurate,” only correcting that he believed “it could be sufficient if the new Ukrainian prosecutor general — not President Zelensky — would commit to pursue the Burisma investigation.”
Nevertheless, Morrison corroborated that an investigation was required before military aid would be released.
He later elaborated that he first became aware of the quid pro quo during a September 1st conversation with Sondland. “I had no reason to believe that the release of the security sector assistance might be conditioned on a public statement reopening the Burisma investigation until my September 1, 2019 conversation with Ambassador Sondland,” the transcript of his testimony read. “Even then I hoped that Ambassador Sondland’s strategy was exclusively his own and would not be considered by leaders in the Administration and Congress.”
Though Morrison said at the time he hoped Sondland’s strategy was his own, Sondland has testified that it came directly from Trump.
How did Trump respond? Trump tried to paint Morrison’s testimony as a win, focusing on when he said he “was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed” on Trump’s July 25th call with Zelensky. “But the Crooked Democrats don’t want people to know this!” Trump tweeted in response. “Thank you to Tim Morrison for your honesty.”
Who is he? Vindman is an Army lieutenant colonel, Purple Heart recipient, and the the top Ukraine adviser at the National Security Council.
What did he say? In his late-October testimony, Vindman also pointed to Sondland, particularly his involvement in a chaotic July 10th White House meeting with Ukrainian officials in which he laid out the terms of the quid pro quo. “When the Ukrainians raised this issue of trying to figure out what the date would be for the presidential meeting, Ambassador Sondland proceeded to discuss the deliverable required in order to get the meeting, and he alluded to investigations.”
“My visceral reaction to what was being called for suggested that it was explicit,” Vindman said of the idea that a White House invitation for Zelensky was contingent upon the investigations being launched. “There was no ambiguity.”
How did Trump respond? Trump and his allies attacked Vindman following his testimony, with the president telling reporters on multiple occasions that he would “very soon” be releasing information proving Vindman was an illegitimate witness who is biased against the president.
On November 10th, two days after the transcript of his testimony was released, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told CBS News that Vindman will be removed from the National Security Council. Vindman’s lawyer later confirmed that his detail will end next July.
Who is she? Hill was the top Russia and Europe expert in the National Security Council before stepping down in August.
What did she say? Hill also described the July 10th meeting in which Sondland laid out the quid pro quo to Ukrainian officials. She corroborated Vindman’s testimony that Sondland made clear that the launch of investigations into the 2016 election and Biden was required before Zelensky would be invited to the White House.
🚨Fiona Hill describes this scene:
In a White House meeting, Sondland tells Ukrainians they will get a Trump meeting if they open the investigations Trump wants. Then, Sondland follows the Ukrainians out of the meeting to privately make clear he's talking about Hunter Biden.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) October 15, 2019
Sondland’s behavior in the meeting was so alarming that then-National Security Adviser John Bolton told Hill to alert White House lawyers. “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Hill recalled Bolton telling her.
How did Trump respond? Trump did not attack Hill by name but a day after her testimony railed against the “selective leaks” coming out of the hearings “Let the facts come out from the charade of people, most of whom I do not know, they are interviewing for 9 hours each, not selective leaks,” he tweeted.
Hill’s complete testimony was released on November 8th.
Who is he? Mulvaney is Trump’s acting chief of staff. Multiple witnesses suggested he played a prominent role in the administration’s attempt to extort Ukraine.
What did he say? Mulvaney flatly admitted a quid pro quo was in place while speaking with reporters October 17th. Here’s his exchange with ABC’s Jonathan Karl:
Karl: “So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered you to withhold funding to Ukraine?”
Mulvaney: “’Look back to what happened in 2016,’ certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with the nation. And that is absolutely equivalent.”
Karl: “What you described is a quid pro quo. It is: Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens as well.”
Mulvaney: “We do that all the time with foreign policy. We were holding up money at the same time for, what was it? The Northern Triangle countries. We were holding up aid at the Northern Triangle countries so that they — so that they would change their policies on immigration.”
Mulvaney admits Ukraine military aid tied to probe into DNC server pic.twitter.com/IyMVpxCFFC
— Caitlin MacNeal (@caitlinmacneal) October 17, 2019
Hours later, Mulvaney released a statement attempting to walk back the comments, arguing there was no quid pro quo and that the media “decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump.”
How did Trump respond? Though he did not comment on Mulvaney’s press conference publicly, it was reported that Trump was “not happy” with it. He later refused to comment on whether he was pleased the job Mulvaney was doing as chief of staff, according to the Washington Examiner.
Who is he? A U.S. senator from Wisconsin.
What did he say? Ron Johnson told the Wall Street Journal that in August, Sondland informed him of the quid pro quo with Ukraine. Johnson described Sondland telling him of a desire to “get to the bottom of what happened in 2016 — if President Trump has that confidence, then he’ll release the military spending.”
How did Trump respond? The day after speaking with Sondland, Johnson asked the president about it. He told the Journal the president denied any connection between investigations and the release of the aid.
Who is he? Parnas is a Ukranian-born associate of Rudy Giuliani’s who along with Igor Furman, another associate of Giuliani’s, was indicted in October on campaign finance charges.
What did he say? The New York Times reported that after Zelesnky was elected in May, Parnas told a representative of the incoming government that it would need to launch an investigation into Biden or the Trump administration would freeze U.S. military aid to Ukraine. Furman and Giuliani both disputed Parnas’ claim, with Giuliani telling the Times he “did not tell [Parnas] to say that” to the Ukranian government.
How did Trump respond? Trump has yet to respond to Parnas’ claim that he informed the Ukranian government of a quid pro quo in May, but in the wake of Parnas’ arrest, Trump said he “doesn’t know” him, despite several pictures of them together surfacing.
Who is he? The president of the United States.
What did he say? Though Trump has repeatedly directed Americans to “READ THE TRANSCRIPT” of his July 25th call with Zelensky, the partial readout of the call released by the White House in September is actually pretty damning. After Zelensky mentions that Ukraine is willing to “cooperate” regarding military aid, Trump says, “I want you to do me a favor though,” before detailing the investigations he wants carried out. The “though” is a pretty explicit indication that the aid in question is contingent upon Ukraine launching the investigations details by the president.
In other words, it was a quid pro quo.