After a thoughtful investigation of allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to impeach Donald Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The information gathered during the House Intelligence Committee’s public hearings a month prior to that vote laid the foundation for this momentous course of action.
More than a dozen witnesses confirmed that a quid pro quo took place — and the order to withhold aid to Ukraine so that he could use it as leverage to pressure Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 election came directly from Trump. Here are some of the most important takeaways from the witness testimony given before the House Intelligence Committee.
Wednesday, November 13, 2019: Public testimony began with former Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent. They set the stage for the hearings by confirming the crime at the center of the Ukraine scandal: Trump withheld military aid in order to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election.
Taylor confirmed the Ukrainians knew the military aid was withheld and felt pressure to cave to Trump’s demands to launch an investigation. He also revealed that a member of his staff overheard a phone conversation between Trump and E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland where the president spoke about the investigations. After the call, Sondland told Taylor that Trump was only interested in the Bidens when it came to Ukraine policy.
Friday, November 15, 2019: Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified that she was removed from her position because she was seen as an obstacle to Trump’s attempts to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election. Trump attempted to smear Yovanovitch when it became clear she would not undermine U.S. foreign policy to do his bidding. He was threatened by her reputation as an anti-corruption crusader.
Tuesday, November 19, 2019: We heard from two firsthand witnesses who were listening in on Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian President. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Director for European Affairs for the National Security Council and Jennifer Williams, the State Department official who serves as a special advisor to Vice President Pence on European and Russian affairs confirmed that Trump asked the Ukrainians to investigate his political rival. According to their testimony, they were alarmed by the call and found Trump’s demands “inappropriate.”
Kurt Volker, an American diplomat who served as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, confirmed that a White House meeting was contingent on the launch of investigations into Trump’s political rivals. Further adding to the towering pile of evidence of this bribery scheme was Tim Morrison, former NSC top adviser for Russia and Europe, who confirmed that Ambassador Sondland conditioned the aid to Ukraine on an investigation into the Bidens.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019: Ambassador Sondland, a major Trump donor, was expected to be a key GOP witness. Instead, he flipped and explicitly tied Trump to the Ukraine bribery scheme.
Sondland admitted to working with Giuliani to pressure Ukraine “at the express direction of the president”, creating a direct link from the president to the plot soliciting a bribe from Ukraine in exchange for the release of military aid and a White House meeting with President Zelensky.
The bribe Trump demanded? Ukraine’s interference in the 2020 election in the form of announcing an investigation into the Bidens. His testimony shattered any remaining GOP defense of Trump.
Sondland went on to state that “everybody was in the loop. [The bribe] was no secret.” Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and others in Trump’s inner circle knew about the effort to extort Ukraine.
Sondland testified that it was “abundantly clear” that military aid was contingent on the announcement of investigations. Secretary Pompeo agreed that Ukraine announcing the investigations would “break the logjam” and release the aid.
Later in the day, we heard testimony from Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and State Department official David Hale. Cooper corroborated that Ukrainian officials knew that aid was being withheld on July 25 — the same day as the now infamous call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky.
Thursday, November 21, 2019: Fiona Hill, former Senior Director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, and David Holmes, Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, added their expert testimony regarding Trump’s bribery scheme.
Both Hill and Holmes rounded out the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings by corroborating what we heard throughout the week.
Both witnesses confirmed that everyone knew Burisma was code for the Biden investigations. Hill directly tied both Ambassador Sondland and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to the bribery scheme, including that Sondland and Mulvaney met regularly.
Holmes testified he had a “clear impression” that Ukraine military aid was being withheld because there had not been an announcement of investigations. Holmes also confirmed that a top adviser to President Zelensky was contacted by “someone named Giuliani who said he was an adviser to the Vice President,” further tying Pence to the bribery scheme and suggesting the Ukrainians considered Giuliani to be an official agent of the U.S. government.
It took no small amount of bravery to publicly testify before the House and the country at large. Many of those who testified have faced repercussions for their honesty.
In January 2020, Jennifer Williams left Vice President Pence’s office two months ahead of her scheduled departure date. After Trump’s “acquittal” by the Senate in February 2020, Gordon Sondland was recalled from his post as E.U. Ambassador. On the same day, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, as well as his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, were marched out of the White House by security officers and told their services were no longer needed.
Ukraine has also opened a criminal investigation into Trump’s allies following reports that Marie Yanovich had been under surveillance by Giuliani and his associates while she was stationed in Kyiv.