The Trump-Ukraine scandal is moving at a breakneck pace, and it can be difficult to keep your head above water in the torrent of news it is producing. That’s why we here at The Watchdog have compiled a list of the six things you need to know to make sense of the news.
- Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate his political opponent.
This is what started the whole incident. On July 25, in a call with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Donald Trump asked him to “look into” the affairs of Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy giant, Burisma while his father was Vice President of the United States.
People with impressive last names often get paid well to sit on corporate boards, but Trump has repeatedly indicated that he thought something was fishy about the whole situation.
Trump’s opponents say that this behavior is a breach of his oath of office, because he is using his power as the President of the United States to support his own personal goals and reelection campaign, while Trump’s supporters claim he was merely trying to weed out corruption.
- The Trump administration also denied military aid to Ukraine that was approved by Congress.
The administration has claimed that they withheld the $391 million in military aid in order to pressure European allies to contribute more. He later added that they were also worried about corruption in the Ukrainian government. Nonetheless, he was withholding funds at a similar time of the call where he discussed both aid and the “favor,” so his opponents see this timing as suspicious.
If, in fact, he was using the withheld funds as leverage to get the Ukrainian president to produce dirt on Hunter Biden, it would greatly increase the case that his request was an abuse of power.
- Someone in the government heard about Trump’s request and filed a formal complaint, which outlines both his call with Zelenskiy and an attempt to hide it.
Weeks behind schedule, Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence, sent the complaint to Congress. According to him, the complaint was delayed because of now-resolved concerns about its credibility.
In addition to detailing his request of Zelenskiy, it also claims that senior White House officials attempted to “lock down” information about the call in an unusually secure server reserved for highly classified national security information
According to Nancy Pelosi, if true, it would appear that the President was attempting to stop some element of the call from being leaked, despite the fact that no element of the call appears to deal with sensitive information. He goes on “It is wrong for a president to say that he wants you—another head of state—to create something negative about his possible political opponent to his own advantage, at the expense of our national security.”
- After receiving the complaint, the House of Representatives, which had previously shied away from impeachment, decided to open a formal impeachment inquiry into the President.
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi previously refused to open impeachment inquiries into President Trump’s conduct. On a previous NPR interview, Nancy Pelosi stated that she feared an impeachment inquiry would alienate swing voters and harm democrats in 2020. However, the White House attempting to bury the first whistleblower complaint seems to have been the straw that broke the donkey’s back.
An impeachment inquiry is an investigation to decide whether or not to impeach the president, which is a formal accusation that the president has committed an offense worthy of being removed from office. If impeached, the president would be tried by the Senate, where a 66-vote majority would be necessary to remove him from office.
- Following the start of the formal inquiry, the White House released the transcript of his call, which shows him ask President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for a “favor” of investigating the Biden’s after discussing military aid.
In the transcript, Trump makes reference to the billions of dollars that the U.S. has given Ukraine, saying that “the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.” President Zelenskiy says that they are willing to cooperate with the Trump administration and this is when Trump says the 10 words that may end his presidency: “I would like you to do us a favor though.” That favor involved Ukraine looking into his main political rival, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden.
This is where things get a little complicated. In 2014, Hunter landed a nice job at the Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma. Burisma’s owner at the time was being investigated by the U.K. for money laundering. Viktor Shokin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, was asked to prosecute the case, but Shokin never looked into it. The Ukrainian people became fed up with Shokin allowing corruption to flourish and demanded the resignation of the prosecutor. That effort was ultimately successful due to help from the U.S. which was headed by Joe Biden. According to President Trump, Joe Biden removed Viktor Shokin from office in order to protect his son. This event is what Zelenskiy agreed to look into.
Trump’s allies argue that his actions are not impeachable because there was no explicit exchange of favors, while his opponents argue that they still represent a breach of his oath of office.
- So far, the Trump administration has been reluctant to comply with Congress’ requests for documents and testimony and has discredited the investigation while his opposition has continued to push for both answers and public support.
On Oct. 8, President Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to the House stating that, “Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it.”
On the same day, Trump blocked a U.S. European Union ambassador, Gordon Sondland from testifying before the House. Sondland possesses text messages that appear to establish a quid pro quo.
So far, Trump’s supporters in the Senate have been hesitant to speak to the press and only a few republican congress members have actually commented on the inquiry.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have been very vocal about the process, and public support for impeachment seems to be growing—according to a Fox News Poll yesterday, 51 percent of voters now want to see Donald Trump impeached and removed from office.
The House will be in recess for the next two weeks, but when they return, Democrats promise a new round of subpoenas in hopes of getting to the bottom of this quickly—they’d like to wrap up the issue before election season begins, so we should know if they are going to impeach by the end of the year.
As of right now, a lot remains in the air, but what is clear is that this is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. If things keep going the way they are, this impeachment inquiry will be a political fight to remember.