1. What’s this all about?
In that telephone call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to “look into” allegations of wrongdoing by former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 competitor, and his son, Hunter. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son,” Trump said as he steered the conversation toward the topic, according to an approximate transcript of the call that Trump subsequently ordered released. Trump also asked for an investigation into a conspiracy theory that holds that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind the hacking of U.S. Democrats in the 2016 election, a theory that intelligence and national security officials say is contradicted by evidence uncovered by several investigations.
2. How did the U.S. Congress get involved?
The call’s existence may not have been widely known but for the actions of a U.S. intelligence official who filed a whistle-blower complaint alleging that Trump, in that call and through other actions, was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The inspector general for the intelligence community, deeming the report credible, contacted the House of Representative’s Intelligence Committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who leads the opposition to Trump as the most powerful Democrat in Washington, ordered the opening of an impeachment inquiry.
3. What was Trump after in the phone call?
Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, had been arguing for months that while vice president, the elder Biden had derailed an investigation into Burisma Holdings, one of Ukraine’s largest private natural gas companies, in order to protect Hunter Biden, who had been named to Burisma’s board in 2014. Trump has said that the two Bidens “raided and scammed” other countries for millions of dollars. A witness in House impeachment hearings, Gordon Sondland, Trump’s appointee as ambassador to the European Union, testified that Trump wanted Zelenskiy to publicly announce Ukraine’s intention to investigate the Bidens, whether or not the investigation actually took place.
4. Did the Bidens do anything illegal?
There’s no evidence of that, though the younger Biden has been accused of trading on his family name and now says serving on Burisma’s board while his father was vice president may have been “poor judgment.” There’s no known evidence that investigations of Ukraine corruption ever involved Hunter Biden. And all available evidence suggests that Joe Biden, along with other European countries, was promoting an anti-corruption agenda with Ukraine, not the reverse.
5. What did Trump do wrong?
Democrats say Trump used two levers to try to force Ukraine to say it was investigating the Bidens. One was the release of funding: A week or more before the call, Trump had directed the withholding of $391 million in military and security aid that Congress had approved to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia. (The money was ultimately disbursed to Ukraine on Sept. 11, after disclosure of the whistle-blower complaint.) The other was an invitation to visit the White House, something that Zelenskiy, a political novice sworn in as president in May, very much wanted as a signal of U.S. support. The first of two impeachment articles approved by the House alleges that Trump abused his power by soliciting “the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States presidential election” by “conditioning official United States government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations.”
6. What does the second impeachment article charge?
That Trump’s “unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives” -- directing the White House and other executive branch agencies to withhold documents and blocking officials from cooperating -- amounted to obstruction of Congress.
7. What’s the standard for impeachment?
The U.S. Constitution says the president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” As Congress has defined it through the years, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” includes exceeding or abusing the powers of the presidency, or misusing the office for improper purpose or gain.
8. What do Trump and his supporters say?
Trump has derided the impeachment inquiry as a witch hunt and illegitimate. He and Giuliani have insisted that Trump’s sole motivation in holding up financial aid to Ukraine, and in pressuring Zelenskiy on the call, was to make sure corruption was being addressed in a country that gets aid from the U.S. “We have an obligation to investigate corruption,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News. “And that’s what it was.”
9. What happens now?
Following the Senate trial led by the chief justice of the U.S., a vote of two-thirds of senators present would be required to order Trump removed from office -- an extremely high bar, given that Trump’s fellow Republicans hold 53 of the 100 seats.
To contact the reporters on this story: Laurence Arnold in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Billy House in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at firstname.lastname@example.org, Larry Liebert, Andy Reinhardt
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.