In February 2014, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was discharged from the U.S. Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine use. On April 21-22, 2014, Joe Biden, in his role as overseer of the Obama administration’s policy towards Ukraine, visited that country to urge its government to increase its natural gas production. That same month, British officials who were investigating allegations of money laundering by Burisma Holdings, a large Ukrainian natural gas company, froze a number of London bank accounts containing $23 million that belonged to Burisma owner and president Mykola Zlochevksy.
On May 13, 2014 — just three weeks after Joe Biden’s visit to Ukraine — Hunter Biden was appointed to the Burisma board of directors. That position paid him approximately $50,000 per month, even though he had no background or expertise in either Ukrainian matters or natural gas.
In February 2015 Yarema was succeeded as Prosecutor General by Viktor Shokin, who continued the Ukrainian investigation into Burisma.
In September 2015, then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, publicly called for an investigation into Burisma president Zlochevsky.
According to journalist John Solomon: “[In] January 2016 … the Obama White House unexpectedly invited Ukraine’s top prosecutors to Washington to discuss fighting corruption in the country. The meeting, promised as training, turned out to be more of a pretext for the Obama administration to pressure Ukraine’s prosecutors to drop an investigation into the Burisma Holdings gas company that employed Hunter Biden and to look for new evidence in a then-dormant criminal case against eventual Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a GOP lobbyist.”
On February 2, 2016, the home of Burisma owner Zlochevksy was raided by the Ukrainian state prosecutor’s office. Joe Biden subsequently called Ukrainian president Poroshenko at least three times that same month, following the raid.
In March 2016 – while Prosecutor General Shokin was still actively investigating Burisma’s alleged corruption – Vice President Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to the Ukrainian government unless it agreed to fire Shokin immediately. Because the revocation of American aid would have been devastating to Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko caved to Biden’s threat and fired Shokin on March 29. At the time of Shokin’s termination, he and other Ukrainian prosecutors were in the midst of preparing a request to interview Hunter Biden about his activities and the funds he was receiving from Ukraine.
In a sworn affidavit prepared for a European court, Shokin later testified that he had been told that the reason for his firing was that Joe Biden was troubled by the Burisma investigation. “The truth,” said Shokin, “is that I was forced out because I was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma Holdings, a natural gas firm active in Ukraine and Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was a member of the Board of Directors. On several occasions President Poroshenko asked me to have a look at the case against Burisma and [to] consider the possibility of winding down the investigative actions in respect of this company but I refused to close this investigation.”
And here is how Joe Biden himself – in a January 2018 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations – boastfully recollected his own role in getting Shokin fired:
“I was supposed to announce that there was another billion-dollar loan guarantee. I had gotten a commitment from [Ukrainian President] Poroshenko and from [Prime Minister] Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor [Shokin]. And they didn’t. So they said they had — they were walking out to a press conference. I said, nah, I’m not going to — or, we’re not going to give you the billion dollars. They said, ‘you have no authority. You’re not the president. The president [Obama] said’ — I said, ‘call him’ [Obama]. I said, ‘I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars.’ I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in,’ I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a bitch. He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”
Biden claimed that he had pressured Ukraine to fire Shokin not because the prosecutor was investigating the vice president’s son, but rather, because Shokin himself was corrupt and incompetent. But that narrative was debunked by journalist John Solomon, who wrote in September 2019:
“Hundreds of pages of never-released memos and documents — many from inside the American team helping Burisma to stave off its legal troubles — conflict with Biden’s narrative…. For instance, Burisma’s American legal representatives met with Ukrainian officials just days after Biden forced the firing of the country’s chief prosecutor and offered ‘an apology for dissemination of false information by U.S. representatives and public figures’ about the Ukrainian prosecutors, according to the Ukrainian government’s official memo of the meeting. The effort to secure that meeting began the same day the prosecutor’s firing was announced. In addition, Burisma’s American team offered to introduce Ukrainian prosecutors to Obama administration officials to make amends, according to that memo and the American legal team’s internal emails.
“The memos raise troubling questions. If the Ukraine prosecutor’s firing involved only his alleged corruption and ineptitude, why did Burisma’s American legal team refer to those allegations as ‘false information’? [And] if the firing had nothing to do with the Burisma case, as Biden has adamantly claimed, why would Burisma’s American lawyers contact the replacement prosecutor within hours of the termination and urgently seek a meeting in Ukraine to discuss the case?”
Other Occasions When Democrats Have Pressured Ukraine to Interfere in American Politics
When Vice President Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in March 2016, by no means was that the only time a Democrat in recent years has used his political influence either to interfere in Ukrainian politics, or to facilitate Ukrainian interference in American politics. As John Solomon wrote in The Hill in September 2019:
- “Democrats repeatedly have exerted pressure on Ukraine, a key U.S. ally for buffering Russia, to meddle in U.S. politics and elections, … [since] as early as January 2016, when the Obama White House unexpectedly invited Ukraine’s top prosecutors to Washington to discuss fighting corruption in the country. The meeting, promised as training, turned out to be more of a pretext for the Obama administration to pressure Ukraine’s prosecutors to drop an investigation into the Burisma Holdings gas company that employed Hunter Biden and to look for new evidence in a then-dormant criminal case against eventual Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a GOP lobbyist.”
- “Democrats continued to tap Ukraine for Trump dirt throughout the 2016 election…. Nellie Ohr, the wife of senior U.S. Justice Department official Bruce Ohr [who detested presidential candidate Donald Trump], worked in 2016 as a contractor for Fusion GPS, the same Hillary Clinton-funded opposition research firm that hired Christopher Steele, the British spy who wrote the now-debunked dossier linking Trump to Russia collusion. Nellie Ohr testified to Congress that some of the dirt she found on Trump during her 2016 election opposition research came from a Ukrainian parliament member. She also said that she eventually took the information to the FBI through her husband — another way Ukraine got inserted into the 2016 election.”
- “Shortly after the Ukrainian prosecutors returned from their  Washington meeting, a new round of Democratic pressure was exerted on Ukraine — this time via its embassy in Washington. Valeriy Chaly, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States at the time, confirmed to me … that, in March 2016, a contractor for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) pressed his embassy to try to find any Russian dirt on Trump and Manafort that might reside in Ukraine’s intelligence files. The DNC contractor also asked Chaly’s team to try to persuade Ukraine’s president at the time, Petro Poroshenko, to make a statement disparaging Manafort when the Ukrainian leader visited the United States during the 2016 election. Chaly said his embassy rebuffed both requests because it recognized they were improper efforts to get a foreign government to try to influence the election against Trump and for Hillary Clinton.”
- “Nazar Kholodnytsky, Ukraine’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, told me that, soon after he returned from the Washington meeting,… two top Ukrainian officials released secret evidence to the American media, smearing Manafort. The release of the evidence forced Manafort to step down as Trump’s top campaign adviser. A Ukrainian court concluded [in December 2018] that the release of the evidence amounted to an unlawful intervention in the U.S. election by Kiev’s government, although that ruling has since been overturned on a technicality.”
In an audio recording from 2016, Artem Sytnyk, Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, could be heard admitting that he was trying to boost the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton by sabotaging that of Republican Donald Trump. Said Sytnyk in the recording: “Hillary, she is – how shall I put it? She belongs to the cohort of politicians who comprise the hegemony in the U.S. Both in the U.S. and the entire world, right? For us, it’s … sort of … better. For Americans … what Trump is doing is better for them.”
In 2016 as well, Sytnyk released a “black ledger” containing information designed to bring down then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Sytnyk was eventually tried and convicted in Ukraine for interfering in America’s 2016 presidential election.
The key figure who helped the Democratic National Committee (DNC) connect with the Ukrainian government in 2016 was DNC consultant Alexandra Chalupa, who had previously worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison during the Bill Clinton administration. Chalupa in 2016 worked directly with the Ukrainian embassy in the U.S. to portray [Trump campaign adviser Paul] Manafort in a negative light. The embassy, in turn, worked collaboratively with reporters who were researching Trump, Manafort, and Russia. The Ukrainian embassy’s then-political officer, Andrii Telizhenko, candidly stated that the Ukrainians “were coordinating an investigation with the Hillary team on Paul Manafort with Alexandra Chalupa” and that “the embassy worked very closely with” Chalupa.
In a 2016 email to the DNC’s Louise Miranda, Chalupa wrote: “Hey, a lot coming down the pipe. I spoke to a delegation of 68 investigative journalists from Ukraine last night at the Library of Congress, the Open World Society forum. They put me on the program to speak specifically about Paul Manafort. I invited Michael Isikoff, who I’ve been working with for the past few weeks, and connected him to the Ukrainians. More offline tomorrow, since there was a big Trump component you and Lauren need to be aware of that will hit in the next few weeks. Something I’m working on that you should be aware of.”
In January 2017, Politico reported:
“Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found. A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation. The Ukrainian efforts had an impact in the race, helping to force Manafort’s resignation and advancing the narrative that Trump’s campaign was deeply connected to Ukraine’s foe to the east, Russia.”
In a July 20, 2017 letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) expressed his own concern regarding reports that Ukraine’s political leadership in 2016 had “opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump for president of the United States and worked with a Democratic National Committee consultant [Alexandra Chalupa] to undermine his campaign.” “This consultant,” wrote Grassley in a press release announcing the letter, “allegedly had various meetings with Ukrainian government officials, including embassy staff, to coordinate the dissemination of incriminating information about Trump campaign officials. It appears that this consultant was operating to advance the interests of both the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign, and a foreign government, which would have required registration under FARA [the Foreign Agents Registration Act].”
In his letter to Rosenstein, Grassley, using footnotes to document the sources of the quotes he cited, wrote:
- “According to news reports, during the 2016 presidential election, ‘Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump’ and did so by ‘disseminat[ing] documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter…’ Ukrainian officials also reportedly ‘helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers.’ At the center of this plan was Alexandra Chalupa, described by reports as a Ukrainian-American operative ‘who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee’ and reportedly met with Ukrainian officials during the presidential election for the express purpose of exposing alleged ties between then-candidate Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, and Russia. Politico also reported on a Financial Times story that quoted a Ukrainian legislator, Serhiy Leschenko, saying that Trump’s candidacy caused ‘Kiev’s wider political leadership to do something they would never have attempted before: intervene, however indirectly, in a U.S. election.’”
- “Reporting indicates that the Democratic National Committee encouraged Chalupa to interface with Ukrainian embassy staff to ‘arrange an interview in which Poroshenko [the president of Ukraine] might discuss Manafort’s ties to [Viktor] Yanukovych’, [who served as Ukraine’s president from 2010-14] Chalupa also met with Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., and Oksana Shulyar, a top aid to the Ukrainian ambassador in March 2016 and shared her alleged concerns about Manafort. Reports state that the purpose of their initial meeting was to ‘organize a June reception at the embassy to promote Ukraine.’ However, another Ukrainian embassy official, Andrii Telizhenko, told Politico that Shulyar instructed him to assist Chalupa with research to connect Trump, Manafort, and the Russians. He reportedly said, ‘[t]hey were coordinating an investigation with the Hillary team on Paul Manafort with Alexandra Chalupa’ and that ‘Oksana [Shulyar] was keeping it all quiet … the embassy worked very closely with’ Chalupa.”
- “Chalupa’s actions appear to show that she was simultaneously working on behalf of a foreign government, Ukraine, and on behalf of the DNC and Clinton campaign, in an effort to influence not only the U.S voting population but U.S. government officials. Indeed, Telizhenko recalled that Chalupa told him and Shulyar, ‘[i]f we can get enough information on Paul [Manafort] or Trump’s involvement with Russia, she can get a hearing in Congress by September.’ Later, Chalupa did reportedly meet with staff in the office of Democratic representative Marcy Kaptur to discuss a congressional investigation. Such a public investigation would not only benefit the Hillary Clinton campaign, but it would benefit the Ukrainian government, which, at the time, was working against the Trump campaign….”
- “Aside from the apparent evidence of collusion between the DNC, Clinton campaign, and Ukrainian government, Chalupa’s actions implicate the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)…. FARA requires individuals to register with the Justice Department if they act, even through an intermediary, ‘as an agent, representative, employee, or servant’ or ‘in any other capacity’ at the behest of a foreign principal, including a foreign political party, for purposes of engagement with a United States official. The registration applies to anyone who attempts to influence a U.S. government official on behalf of a foreign principal in an effort to ‘formulat[e], adopt, or chang[e] the domestic or foreign policies of the United States.”
Occasions When Democrats Have Tried to Interfere in Ukrainian Politics
- In May 2019, CNN reported that Democratic Senators Robert Menendez, Richard Durbin, and Patrick Leahy wrote a letter to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, expressing dismay over the fact that four investigations which they said were critical to special counsel Robert Mueller’s (failed) probe of alleged collusion between Donald Trump and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election season, were being closed. In their letter, the three senators implied that their own support for U.S. financial assistance to Ukraine would hinge on Lutsenko’s adherence to their wishes. “We have supported [the] capacity-building process and are disappointed that some in [Kiev] appear to have cast aside these [democratic] principles to avoid the ire of President Trump,” the senators wrote before demanding that Lutsenko “reverse course and halt any efforts to impede cooperation with this important investigation.”
- During a September 2019 meeting in Kiev, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy (Connecticut) told Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, that future aid from the United States – which Murphy described as Ukraine’s “most important asset” – could be jeopardized if Zelensky acquiesced to requests by President Trump’s attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, to investigate past corruption allegations involving Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Such cooperation with Trump and Giuliani, said Murphy, would be viewed as election meddling and thus would be “disastrous for long-term U.S.-Ukraine relations.” “I told Zelensky that he should not insert himself or his government into American politics,” Murphy later said to reporter John Solomon. “I cautioned him that complying with the demands of the President’s campaign representatives to investigate a political rival [Biden] of the President would gravely damage the U.S.-Ukraine relationship.”
“Whistleblower” Allegations, & The Call to Impeach President Trump
On August 12, 2019, an unidentified “whistleblower” from the intelligence community filed a complaint in which he expressed his own “urgent concern” regarding a July 25, 2019 conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The day prior to that phone call — July 24, 2019 — special counsel Robert Mueller had testified publicly before two separate congressional panels regarding his probe of President Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential race. Mueller’s testimony was disastrous for Democrats, as it demonstrated quite clearly that his long and costly investigation had not turned up any evidence of wrongdoing by Trump. Thus the Democrats now turned their attention immediately to the Trump-Zelensky phone call.
According to the new whistleblower, Trump on July 25th had asked Zelensky to look into why Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin had been fired in 2016 as a result of political and financial threats by then-Vice President Joe Biden. Some key excerpts from the whistleblower’s complaint:
- “In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals [Joe Biden].”
- “I was not a direct witness to most of the events described. However, I found my colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another. In addition, a variety of information consistent with these private accounts has been reported publicly.”
- “I am deeply concerned that the actions described below constitute ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order’ that ‘does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters.’ … I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”
- “Early in the morning of 25 July, the President spoke by telephone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky…. Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests. Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid. According to the White House officials who had direct knowledge of the call, the President pressured Mr. Zelenskyy to, inter alia:
• initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden;
• assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the Ukrainian-owned cyber security firm Crowdstrike, which: (a) initially reported that Russian hackers had penetrated the DNC’s networks in 2016; and
• meet or speak with two people the President named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General Barr, to whom the President referred multiple times in tandem.”
Critics and opponents of President Trump claimed that the whistleblower’s allegations provided evidence that Trump had sought to pressure Ukraine’s new president, Zelensky, to dig up political dirt on Trump’s rival, Joe Biden, as a precondition to Ukraine receiving nearly $400 million in congressionally approved military aid from the United States. They also asserted that Trump, seeking to extract a political quid-pro-quo from Zelensky, had delayed the issuance of that aid for 55 days, until its release in September 2019.
It Was Obama & Biden, Not Trump, Who Had Denied Vital Aid to Ukraine
Joe Biden claimed that by delaying the issuance of vital military aid to Ukraine, President Trump had “used the power and resources of the United States to pressure a sovereign nation, a partner that is still under direct assault from Russia … to subvert the rule of law.” But in fact, it was the Obama-Biden administration that had refused to give that aid to Ukraine. As the New York Post explains:
“In 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea and began arming separatists in eastern Ukraine with tanks, armored vehicles and rocket launchers, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came to Washington to plead for weapons to defend his country. In an impassioned address to a joint session of Congress — with Biden sitting directly behind him — Poroshenko said his country appreciated the nonlethal assistance he was getting, but declared ‘one cannot win a war with blankets.’
“The Obama-Biden administration was unmoved. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that ‘President Barack Obama stuck to his refusal to provide weapons or other lethal military gear to Ukraine.’ Why?
“Team Obama feared that lethal aid would provoke Moscow. So what did the administration give him? Instead of rocket-propelled grenades, we provided food rations. As one frustrated former Pentagon official put it at the time, ‘What kind of message does that send anyway?’ …
“When Trump took office, he delivered a message of strength. In December 2017, the new administration announced that the United States would send the lethal aid to Ukraine that Poroshenko requested and Obama and Biden refused — the sale of $47 million worth of Javelin antitank missiles. In May 2018, after Ukraine tested its new Javelin missiles, Poroshenko exulted on Twitter ‘Finally this day has come!’ and personally thanked Trump ‘for supporting Ukraine and adopting a decision to provide Javelin antitank missile systems.’”
The Truth About the “Whistleblower” and the Trump-Zelensky Phone Call
As The Federalist website noted: “The formal complaint from an anti-Trump ‘whistleblower’ alleging various crimes by President Donald Trump is riddled with third-hand gossip and outright falsehoods…. The document itself is riddled not with evidence directly viewed by the complainant, but repeated references to what anonymous officials allegedly told the complainant.”
Under traditional whistleblower rules – which required whistleblowers to provide direct, first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings – this “whistleblower” would not have been able to file his complaint. But sometime between May 2018 and August 2019, the intelligence community had secretly eliminated that rule; now, whistleblower complaints could be filed even by individuals who had only “heard about [wrongdoing] from others.”
When Democrats — claiming that Trump had engaged in a quid-pro-quo discussion wherein he made U.S. aid contingent upon a Ukrainian investigation of Biden — erupted with outrage and vowed to use Trump’s July 25 conversation with Zelensky as a reason to initiate a “formal impeachment inquiry” against the president, Trump declassified and made public a transcript of the conversation, as it had been transcribed by note-takers in the White House Situation Room. Below are the most noteworthy remarks made by both Trump and Zelensky in the course of their dialog:
• TRUMP: “I will say that we [the U.S.] do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing and they should be helping you more than they are. Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it’s something that you should really ask them about. When I was speaking to Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn’t do anything. A lot of the European countries are the same way so I think it’s something you want to look at but 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.”
• TRUMP: “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike [a Ukrainian-owned cybersecurity technology company that helped investigate the Democratic National Committee cyber attacks and connected those attacks to Russian intelligence services] … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
• ZELENSKY: “Yes, it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier…. I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly.. That I can assure you.”
• TRUMP: Good, because I heard you had a prosecutor [Shokin] who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. [Trump attorney Rudolph] Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
• ZELENSKY: “I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all, I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue….”
• TRUMP: “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor, so good luck with everything.”
On September 24, 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that House Democrats would seek, because of what they viewed as the impropriety of President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump. House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff would be the lead investigator. (Schiff initially told reporters that he had not spoken directly with the whistleblower prior to the latter’s filing of his August 12 complaint. But the congressman’s claim was subsequently proven false by a New York Times story showing that Schiff actually had known about the whistleblower’s allegations before the complaint was even filed.)
On October 8, 2019, newsman John Solomon reported that a newly unearthed document showed that Ukrainian officials in the NABU — an FBI-like anti-corruption agency in Ukraine — had already opened a new probe into Burisma Holdings, the firm on whose board Hunter Biden had served, five months prior to the July 25, 2019 telephone conversation between Presidents Trump and Zelensky. “The U.S. government had open-source intelligence and was aware as early as February of 2019 [when Petro Poroshenko was still Ukraine’s president] that the Ukrainian government was planning to reopen the Burisma investigation,” said Solomon. “This is long before the president ever imagined having a call with President Zelensky. This is a significant shift in the factual timeline.” This information, Solomon added, had been omitted from the whistleblower’s complaint recently lodged against Trump. Solomon’s revelation was monumentally significant because it meant that Trump’s calls for a Ukrainian investigation of Biden and Burisma would not have changed anything; the investigation had already been active for five months.
On October 10, 2019, it was learned that the whistleblower was a career CIA analyst who had been detailed to the National Security Council at the White House, where he had worked with Joe Biden during the latter’s tenure as vice president.
On October 30, 2019, journalist Paul Sperry published additional information about the whistleblower:
More than two months after the official filed his complaint, pretty much all that’s known publicly about him is that he is a CIA analyst who at one point was detailed to the White House and is now back working at the CIA. But the name of a government official fitting that description — Eric Ciaramella — has been raised privately in impeachment depositions, according to officials with direct knowledge of the proceedings, as well as in at least one open hearing held by a House committee not involved in the impeachment inquiry. Fearing their anonymous witness could be exposed, Democrats this week blocked Republicans from asking more questions about him and intend to redact his name from all deposition transcripts.
RealClearInvestigations is disclosing the name because of the public’s interest in learning details of an effort to remove a sitting president from office. Further, the official’s status as a “whistleblower” is complicated by his being a hearsay reporter of accusations against the president, one who has “some indicia of an arguable political bias … in favor of a rival political candidate” — as the Intelligence Community Inspector General phrased it circumspectly in originally fielding his complaint.
Federal documents reveal that the 33-year-old Ciaramella, a registered Democrat held over from the Obama White House, previously worked with former Vice President Joe Biden and former CIA Director John Brennan, a vocal critic of Trump who helped initiate the Russia “collusion” investigation of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
Further, Ciaramella left his National Security Council posting in the White House’s West Wing in mid-2017 amid concerns about negative leaks to the media. He has since returned to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. “He was accused of working against Trump and leaking against Trump,” said a former NSC official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Also, Ciaramella huddled for “guidance” with the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, including former colleagues also held over from the Obama era whom Schiff’s office had recently recruited from the NSC. Schiff is the lead prosecutor in the impeachment inquiry.
And Ciaramella worked with a Democratic National Committee operative who dug up dirt on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, inviting her into the White House for meetings, former White House colleagues said. The operative, Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American who supported Hillary Clinton, led an effort to link the Republican campaign to the Russian government. “He knows her. He had her in the White House,” said one former co-worker, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.
Documents confirm the DNC opposition researcher attended at least one White House meeting with Ciaramella in November 2015. She visited the White House with a number of Ukrainian officials lobbying the Obama administration for aid for Ukraine….
A CIA officer specializing in Russia and Ukraine, Ciaramella was detailed over to the National Security Council from the agency in the summer of 2015, working under Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser. He also worked closely with the former vice president [Biden]. Federal records show that Biden’s office invited Ciaramella to an October 2016 state luncheon the vice president hosted for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Other invited guests included Brennan, as well as then-FBI Director James Comey and then-National Intelligence Director James Clapper.
Several U.S. officials told RealClearInvestigations that the invitation that was extended to Ciaramella, a relatively low-level GS-13 federal employee, was unusual and signaled he was politically connected inside the Obama White House.
Former White House officials said Ciaramella worked on Ukrainian policy issues for Biden in 2015 and 2016, when the vice president was President Obama’s “point man” for Ukraine. A Yale graduate, Ciaramella is said to speak Russian and Ukrainian, as well as Arabic. He had been assigned to the NSC by Brennan.
He was held over into the Trump administration, and headed the Ukraine desk at the NSC, eventually transitioning into the West Wing, until June 2017. “He was moved over to the front office” to temporarily fill a vacancy, said a former White House official, where he “saw everything, read everything.”
The official added that it soon became clear among NSC staff that Ciaramella opposed the new Republican president’s foreign policies. “My recollection of Eric is that he was very smart and very passionate, particularly about Ukraine and Russia. That was his thing – Ukraine,” he said. “He didn’t exactly hide his passion with respect to what he thought was the right thing to do with Ukraine and Russia, and his views were at odds with the president’s policies.” “So I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the whistleblower,” the official said.
In May 2017, Ciaramella went “outside his chain of command,” according to a former NSC co-worker, to send an email alerting another agency that Trump happened to hold a meeting with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office the day after firing Comey, who led the Trump-Russia investigation. The email also noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had phoned the president a week earlier. Contents of the email appear to have ended up in the media, which reported Trump boasted to the Russian officials about firing Comey, whom he allegedly called “crazy, a real nut job.”
In effect, Ciaramella helped generate the “Putin fired Comey” narrative, according to the research dossier making the rounds in Congress, a copy of which was obtained by RealClearInvestigations. Ciaramella allegedly argued that “President Putin suggested that President Trump fire Comey,” the report said. “In the days after Comey’s firing, this presidential action was used to further political and media calls for the standup [sic] of the special counsel to investigate ‘Russia collusion.’”
Following is some key information about one of Ciaramella’s two attorneys, Mark Zaid, senior counsel with the Compass Rose Legal Group:
- Just days after President Trump’s January 2017 inauguration, Zaid tweeted: “#coup has started. First of many steps. #rebellion. #impeachment will follow ultimately.”
- In July 2017, Zaid wrote, “We will get rid of him, and this country is strong enough to survive even him and his supporters…. And 45 years from now we might be recalling stories regarding the impeachment of @realDonaldTrump. I’ll be old, but will be worth the wait.”
- In 2017 as well, Zaid co-founded Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit group that aggressively solicited potential whistleblowers to provide damaging information about the Trump administration.
- In December 2018, Zaid tweeted: “I defied the rain to hear my friend @DavidPriess speak at @BNBuzz abt his new book ‘How to get rid of a President’.”
- According to TheFederalist.com: “Zaid’s bias against the president has been well-documented. In a podcast [in 2018], Zaid spoke about how he often goes out of his way just to use the term ‘resistance,’ and bragged about having sued every president since 1993. On the same podcast, Zaid also discussed fishing for a client to serve as a plaintiff against Trump in a lawsuit alleging unfair business practices stifling competition by the Trump hotel. The attorney also went on Twitter to call for whistleblowers to come forward when Trump took power, welcoming CIA employees to his law firm ‘to lawfully challenge’ the president, according to Fox News.”
- Zaid was also the co-founder and executive director of the James Madison Project, whose advisory board includes John Podesta, who led Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, served as Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton, and founded the Center for American Progress.
Following is some key information about the second of Ciaramella’s two attorneys, Andrew Bakaj:
- Bakaj interned for New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton in 2001.
- He had long been openly hostile toward President Trump, to whom he regularly referred as “President Drumpf.”
- In the summer of 2017, Bakaj argued for Trump’s removal from office by means of the 25th Amendment, on grounds that Trump was supposedly “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
- On February 15, 2017 — less than a month into Trump’s presidency — Bakaj and the Compass Rose Legal Group each tweeted that they were offering discounted pricing for potential Trump administration informants.
- In May 2017, Bakaj exhorted whistleblowers to come forth against Trump, tweeting: “Federal Employees: Your loyalty is to the Constitution, not to an individual.”
- In October 2017, Bakaj exhorted then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to help lead a movement to remove Trump from office: “Tillerson and Mattis could pull together a majority of the cabinet and invoke the 25th [Amendment].”
Impeachment Inquiry Against President Trump
Based on the allegations made by “whistleblower” Eric Ciaramella, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry against President Trump on September 24, 2019, claiming that Trump had abused the power of the presidency. Initial depositions were taken before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees, which met jointly behind closed doors in the basement of the United States Capitol from October 11 through November 8, 2019. Only members of the three committees (47 Republicans and 57 Democrats) were permitted to attend. Witnesses were questioned by staff lawyers, and committee members were allowed to ask questions, with equal time being given to Republicans and Democrats. These closed-door hearings were then followed by televised public hearings which took place between November 13 and November 21, 2019.
A key matter around which the impeachment effort centered, was the fact that the Trump administration had temporarily delayed the distribution of $391 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine. It was a 55-day delay, from July 18 to September 11, 2019. Trump’s accusers claimed that the delay was due to the president’s effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating Burisma and the Bidens, before the money would be released to Ukraine.
Significant Testimony by Impeachment Inquiry Witnesses and Other Key Figures
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (on whether there had been a quid pro quo with Trump)
At a September 25, 2019 press conference in New York, Zelensky was asked: “Have you felt any pressure from President Trump to investigate Joe Biden and Hunter Biden?” Zelensky replied: ” I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be involved to democratic, open elections — elections of USA. No, you heard that we [Trump and I] had, I think, good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. And I — so I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed — pushed me.”
And in a December 2, 2019 interview with reporters from Time magazine and three of Europe’s leading publications, Zalensky was asked: “When did you first sense that there was a connection between Trump’s decision to block military aid to Ukraine this summer and the two investigations that Trump and his allies were asking for? Can you clarify this issue of the quid pro quo?” Zelensky replied: “Look, I never talked to the President from the position of a quid pro quo.”
Mark Sandy (testifying on why U.S. aid to Ukraine had been delayed, and when the decision to delay that aid had been made)
In a closed-door hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in October 2019, Mark Sandy, an official at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), testified that the OMB had been instructed to withhold aid to Ukraine because President Trump was concerned “about other countries not contributing more to Ukraine.” Sandy made the revelation when he was asked what reason OMB official Michael Duffey had been given by the White House, regarding why the aid to Ukraine was to be delayed.
Below is the exchange where the revelation was made:
Question: At any point in time, from the moment that you walked into the [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility] to anytime in history, has Mr. Duffey ever provided to you a reason why the President wanted to place a hold on security assistance?
Sandy: I recall in early September an email [from Mike Duffey] that attributed the hold to the President’s concern about other counties not contributing money to Ukraine.
Question: Was this the first time that you heard that the hold might be about some sort of concern that other countries are not providing sufficient support to Ukraine?
Sandy: We had received information requesting — sorry. We had received requests for additional information on what other countries were contributing to Ukraine.
Sandy subsequently went on to state that in early September, Duffey had sent him a number of inquiries about how much money other nations were contributing to Ukraine.
Though CNN reported that the OMB had taken action on withholding the aid to Ukraine on the evening of July 25, just hours after the Trump-Zelenskyy phone call, Republican congressman Lee Zeldin noted: “This is not true. There were multiple actions before July 25th.”
Zeldin’s claim is supported by a September 23, 2019 Washington Post story which said that according to three senior Trump administration officials, President Trump had instructed acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to withhold the aid to Ukraine at least a week prior to the July 25 phone call. “Officials at the Office of Management and Budget relayed Trump’s order to the State Department and the Pentagon during an interagency meeting in mid-July, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations,” the Post reported. “They explained that the president had ‘concerns’ and wanted to analyze whether the money needed to be spent.”
Laura Cooper (testifying on when Ukraine had first become aware of the hold on U.S. aid)
On October 23, 2019, Laura Cooper — the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. policy towards Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia — testified behind closed doors, focusing mainly on the Trump administration’s decision, against the Pentagon’s recommendation, to withhold nearly $400 million of congressionally approved assistance to Ukraine. In her testimony, Cooper said that during a July 2019 meeting, many in the administration had raised concerns that Trump may have lacked the legal authority to freeze aid after Congress had approved it. “So the comments in the room at the deputies’ level reflected a sense that there was not an understanding of how this could legally play out,” Cooper testified. “And at that meeting, the deputies agreed to look into the legalities and to look at what was possible.” Noting that Ukraine was at war with Russia, Cooper also described Trump’s decision to delay aid as “unusual.” Further, she stated that she had a “very strong inference” that the Ukrainians knew there was a hold on U.S. funding as of August 20, 2019 — 26 days after the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. This suggests that Ukraine did not know that the U.S. had frozen the aid at the time of the July 25 call, thus undercutting claims of a quid pro quo during the Trump-Zelensky conversation.
George Kent (testifying on: [a] his own concern that Hunter Biden’s presence on Burisma’s board would be seen as a conflict of interest; [b] his opinion that, as a prerequisite for releasing the U.S. aid to Ukraine, President Trump had wanted Ukrainian President Zelensky to publicly announce that there would be an investigation into Burisma and the Bidens; and [c] his belief that an investigation into Burisma corruption was justified)
In a closed-door hearing on October 15, 2019, testimony was given by George Kent, who had served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Kyiv (2015 -18) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (September 4, 2018 to present). Kent testified that when Hunter Biden had joined the board of Burisma, he (Kent) had worried that Biden’s position with the gas company would complicate U.S. diplomats’ efforts to help Ukrainian officials understand the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety: “I raised my concerns that I had heard that Hunter Biden was on the board of a company owned by somebody that the U.S. Government had spent money trying to get tens of millions of dollars back [from], and that could create the perception of a conflict of interest. The message that I recall hearing back was that the vice president’s son Beau was dying of cancer, and that there was no further bandwidth [to] deal with family-related issues at that time… That was the end of that conversation.”
Also in his closed-door testimony, Kent told congressional investigators that, based exclusively on conversations relayed to him by others in the Trump administration who had been in contact with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union:
- He (Kent) was worried that “the U.S. Government chose to move an ambassador” — i.e., former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Maria Yovanovitch — “based, as best she [can] tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives, at an especially challenging time in our bilateral [relations] with a newly elected Ukrainian President”
- “Potus [President of the United States) wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to the microphone and say ‘investigations, Biden and Clinton’”
- “That was the message. … Zelensky needed to go to a microphone and basically there needed to be three words in the message, and that was the shorthand.”
- “Clinton” was “shorthand” for the 2016 presidential election, which, by Kent’s telling, Trump viewed as an election that Ukraine may have interfered with.
In televised testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on November 13, 2019, Kent reiterated his “concern … that there was the possibility of a perception of a conflict of interest” related to Hunter Biden’s presence on the board of Burisma Holdings. “To summarize, we thought the [CEO of Burisma] had stolen money,” Kent said. “We thought a prosecutor had take an bribe to shut the case.” When Minority House Intelligence Committee Counsel Steve Castor asked Kent if he was “in favor of that matter being fully investigated and prosecuted,” Kent replied: “I think, since U.S. taxpayer dollars were wasted, I would love to see the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office find who the corrupt prosecutor was that took the bribe, and how much of it was paid.”
Also in his November 13 testimony, Kent reiterated his perception of a quid pro quo between President Trump and President Zelensky. He had the following exchange with Daniel Goldman, the lead Democratic attorney for the impeachment proceedings:
Goldman: Mr. Kent, that vital military assistance, that was not the only thing that President Trump was withholding from Ukraine. What else was contingent on Ukraine initiating these investigations?
Kent: Well, as we’ve talked earlier today, the possibility of a White House meeting was being held contingent to an announcement.
David Hale (testifying on: [a] the propriety of delaying aid to Ukraine; [b] his belief that Trump had not tried to use U.S. aid as leverage for forcing Ukraine to investigate Burisma; and [c] his belief that the Trump-Zelensky phone call was “perfectly normal”)
In closed-door testimony in early November 2019, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale testified that the U.S. had held up aid to Lebanon at roughly the same time, and in the same manner, as it had delayed aid to Ukraine. “Contrary to Democrats’ claims that the administration singled out Ukraine for the president’s own personal and political reasons,” said Breitbart.com, “Hale seemed to suggest that Trump’s actions were part of a ‘long overdue’ policy of paying closer attention to where foreign aid was going and how it was being spent. Hale, like many other witnesses, also testified that there had been no link between aid to Ukraine and the investigations that Trump had requested.” Hale also testified that he had “no knowledge” of any use of aid as leverage by which to pressure Ukraine to conduct investigations into the Bidens and Burisma, and that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had never discussed any such a strategy with him. Moreover, Hale testified that the transcript of the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky seemed “perfectly normal.”
Hunter Biden (conceding that he had exercised “poor judgment” in joining the Burisma board, and that his father’s political connections had “probably” enabled him to secure other high-paying positions as well)
Hunter Biden addressed his work in Ukraine in an October 2019 interview with ABC News’ Amy Robach, where he said: “In retrospect, look, I think that it was poor judgment on my part. Is that I think that it was poor judgment because I don’t believe now, when I look back on it — I know that there was — did nothing wrong at all. However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is … a swamp in — in — in many ways? Yeah. … I gave a hook to some very unethical people to act in illegal ways to try to do some harm to my father. That’s where I made the mistake. So I take full responsibility for that.”
In his November 2019 testimony in the public impeachment hearings, Morrison stated that Vindman’s bosses had been very much concerned about the manner in which Vindman was carrying out his duties. As the Daily Wire reports:
In a private deposition before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight Committees on October 17, 2019, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified that he had told Bill Taylor, the U.S. Charge d’affaires for Ukraine, that President Trump had sought “nothing” from Ukraine, and that there had been “no quid pro quo” during the president’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
But in a November 20, 2019 House Intelligence Committee hearing, Sondland, who was not part of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskyy, delivered a mixed message about what President Trump had wanted from Ukraine. As the Daily Signal reports:
In his opening statement, Sondland said he became certain there was a quid pro quo in which Zelenskyy would get a White House meeting with Trump by announcing formal investigations by Ukrainian law enforcement of Burisma—an energy company where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was a board member—and of meddling by Ukraine in the 2016 presidential election in the U.S.
One of Trump’s personal lawyers, Giuliani, communicated this point, Sondland testified. “I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’” Sondland said. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
He added: “Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and others that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelenskyy committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election. Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to the Ukranians, and Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to us. We all understood that these prerequisites [the investigations], the White House call, and the White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements.… My personal view—which I shared repeatedly with others—was that the White House meeting and security assistance should have proceeded without preconditions of any kind.”
However, Sondland told the committee that he had no direct knowledge of any conditions placed on the $391 million in military aid to Ukraine. “I don’t recall President Trump ever talking to me about any security assistance, ever,” he testified….
Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman pressed Sondland on whether it was reasonable to presume the military aid was being held until Ukraine’s announcement of the investigations. “President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on meetings,” Sondland replied. “The only thing we got from Giuliani was that the Burisma and the 2016 election [probes] were conditioned on the White House meeting. The aid was my own personal guess, based again on your analogy, 2 plus 2 equals 4.”
Goldman: “So you didn’t talk to President Trump?”
Sondland: “My testimony is that I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement.”
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, pointed to [Rep. Adam] Schiff’s remarks to reporters earlier Wednesday that there was proof of an impeachable offense, and to a new CNN headline that he read as “Sondland ties Trump to withholding aid.”
“I’ve said repeatedly I was presuming,” Sondland said, referring to why the administration put a hold on the aid.
Turner: “So no one told you, Giuliani didn’t tell you. [Acting White House chief of staff] Mick Mulvaney didn’t tell you, [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo didn’t tell you? Nobody else on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying aid to these investigations. Is that correct?”
Sondland: “I think I’ve already testified to that.”
Turner: “No, answer the question. Is it correct that no one on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying this aid to the investigations? Because if your answer is yes, then the chairman is wrong and the headline on CNN is wrong.”
Sondland finally answered, “Yes.”
Turner: “So, you really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations?”
Sondland: “Other than my own presumption.”
Turner: “Which is nothing.”
Notably, the statement that, according to Sondland, Trump wanted Zelensky to issue before Trump would agree to release U.S. military aid to Ukraine, was never made. Zelenskyy never issued any such statement, and the aid to Ukraine was released anyway.
Two additional key moments in Sondland’s testimony occurred when he twice acknowledged that Trump had never even hinted at wanting a quid-pro-quo in exchange for military aid to Ukraine. the Daily Signal reports:
Sondland said twice during his testimony that Trump explicitly told him that he didn’t want a quid pro quo with Ukraine. “I finally called the president. I believe I just asked him an open-ended question, Mr. Chairman,” Sondland told Schiff. Recalling the talk with Trump, he said he asked: “What do you want from Ukraine? I keep hearing all these different ideas and theories and this and that. What do you want?” Sondland continued, speaking of Trump: “It was a very short, abrupt conversation. He was not in a good mood. He said, ‘I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelenskyy to do the right thing.’ Something to that effect. So, I typed out a text to Ambassador [William] Taylor. The reason for telling him this was not to defend what the president was saying. Not to opine on whether the president was being truthful or untruthful, but simply to relay ‘I’ve gone as far as I can go.’”
Republican counsel Steve Castor followed up on Sondland’s Sept. 9 call with Trump, and Sondland gave the same recollection with a little more color. “Rather than ask the president nine different questions, ‘Is it this, is it this, is it that,” I just said, ‘What do you want from Ukraine?’ I may have even used a four-letter word,” Sondland testified. “And, he said: ‘I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I just want Zelenskyy to do the right thing and do what he ran on,’ or words to that effect.”
Jennifer Williams (testifying that while she had viewed the Trump-Zelensky phone call as “unusual” because it appeared to involve “a domestic political matter,” she “did not have enough information to draw any firm conclusions”; that she had never subsequently voiced any concerns about the phone call to any of her superiors in the Trump administration; and that Hunter Biden’s presence on the board of Burisma certainly had the potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest)
In her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on November 19, 2019, Jennifer Williams, special adviser on Europe and Russia for Vice President Mike Pence, said the following in her opening statement:
“On July 25th, along with several of my colleagues, I listened to a call between President Trump and President Zelensky, the content of which has since been publicly reported. Prior to July 25th, I had participated in roughly a dozen other presidential phone calls. During my closed door deposition members of the committee asked about my personal views and whether I had any concerns about the July 25th call. As I testified then, I found the July 25th phone call unusual because in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”
Later in the hearing, Williams said:
- “I thought that the references to specific individuals and investigations, such as former Vice President Biden and his son, struck me as political in nature, given that the former vice president is a political opponent of the president…. I can’t speak to what the president’s motivation was in referencing it, but I just noted that the reference to Biden sounded political to me.”
- “I was asked during the closed door testimony how I felt about the call, and in reflecting on what I was thinking in that moment, it was the first time I had heard internally, the President reference particular investigations that previously I had only heard about through Mr. Giuliani’s press interviews in press reporting. So in that moment, it was not clear whether there was a direct connection or linkage between the ongoing hold on security assistance and what the President may be asking President Zelinsky to undertake, in regard to investigations. So it was noteworthy in that regard. I did not have enough information to draw any firm conclusions.”
Also in the hearing, Williams had the following exchange with Steve Castor:
Castor: Is that correct? Ms. Williams, I want to turn to you for a moment. And you testified that you believed that transcript is complete and accurate other than the one issue you mentioned.
Williams: Substantively accurate, yes.
Castor: Now, did you express any concerns to anyone in your office about what you heard on the call?
Williams: My supervisor was listening on the call as well, so because he had heard the same information, I did not feel the need to have a further conversation with him about it.
Castor: And you never had any concerns with anyone else in the vice president’s office?
Williams: I did not discuss the call further with anyone in the vice president’s office.
Castor: So you didn’t flag it for the chief of staff or the vice president’s counsel or anyone of that sort?
Williams: Again, my immediate supervisor, Lieutenant General Kellogg was in the room with me.
Castor: Right. And after the call, did you in General Kellogg ever discussed the contents of the call?
Williams: We did not, no.
Castor: Okay. Now in the run up to the meeting in Warsaw, the vice president was meeting with President Zelensky September 1st in Warsaw. You were involved with the preparation of the vice president’s briefing materials?
Williams: I was.
Castor: And did you flag for the vice president parts of call that had concerned you?
Williams: No, we did not include the call transcript in the [inaudible] briefing book. We don’t normally include previous calls in [inaudible] briefing books.
Castor: So just wondering if the concerns were so significant, how come nobody on the vice president’s staff at least alerted him to the issue that President Zelensky might be on edge about something that had been mentioned on the 7/25 call?
Williams: Again, my supervisor had been in the call with me and I ensured that the vice president had access to the transcript in the moment on that day. As we were preparing for the September meeting with President Zelensky, the more immediate issue at hand was two days prior, the news had broken about the hold on the security assistance. So we were much more focused on the discussion that was likely to occur about the hold on security assistance for that meeting.
Castor: And to your recollection, you were in the meeting with President Zelensky and Vice President Pence?
Williams: I was.
Castor: And Burisma didn’t come up or the Bidens or any of these investigations?
Williams: No, it did not.
Also during the hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik asked both Jennifer Williams and Alexander Vindman about the potential for a conflict-of-interest in Hunter Biden’s presence on Burisma’s board:
Stefanik: Well, I know that my constituents in New York 21 have many concerns about the fact that Hunter Biden, the son of the vice president, sat on the board of a corrupt company like Burisma. The Obama administration state department was also concerned and yet Adam Schiff refuses to allow this committee to call Hunter Biden despite our requests. Every witness who has testified and has been asked this has answered, yes. Do you agree that Hunter Biden on the board of Burisma has the potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest?
Vindman: Certainly the potential, yes.
Stefanik: And Ms. Williams?
Keith Kellogg (testifying that he had heard nothing improper in the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Zelensky):
On November 19, 2019, Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg — Vice President Mike Pence’s National Security Adviser — released a statement saying that he was on President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and that he heard nothing improper in the conversation. Kellogg’s statement contradicted an October 2019 New York Times story indicating that Jennifer Williams, special adviser on Europe and Russia for Vice President Mike Pence, had: (a) “told lawmakers [in closed-door testimony] that she was taken aback by Mr. Trump’s insistence during the call that Mr. Zelensky open investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a candidate for president in 2020, and his son Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was in office; and (b) said that the conversation with Mr. Zelensky was ‘more political in nature’ than other calls with foreign leaders that she had listened to and that she felt it was ‘unusual and inappropriate.’” Kellogg’s statement also contradicted the testimony that Williams had provided that same day (November 19, 2019):
Wrote Kellogg in response to Ms. Williams’s remarks:
“I was on the much-reported July 25 call between President Donald Trump and President Zelensky. As an exceedingly proud member of President Trump’s Administration and as a 34-year highly experienced combat veteran who retired with the rank of Lieutenant General in the Army, I heard nothing wrong or improper on the call. I had and have no concerns. Ms. Williams was also on the call, and as she testified, she never reported any personal or professional concerns to me, her direct supervisor, regarding the call. In fact, she never reported any personal or professional concerns to any other member of the Vice President’s staff, including our Chief of Staff and the Vice President.
“Today, in her testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Ms. Williams also accurately testified regarding the Vice President’s [Pence’s] preparation for and conduct during his September 1 meeting in Poland with President Zelensky. In her testimony, she affirmed that the Vice President focused on President Zelensky’s anti-corruption efforts and the lack of European support and never mentioned former Vice President Joe Biden, Crowdstrike, Burisma, or investigations in any communication with Ukrainians.”
Kurt Volker (testifying that there had been no quid pro quo, no bribery, and no extortion in the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Zelensky)
On October 3, 2019, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, and who had not been in on the phone call between Trump and Zelenskyy, testified that there had been no quid pro quo, no bribery, and no extortion. As the Daily Wire reported:
[In] former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker’s closed-door testimony to congressmen on the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight committees,… Volker’s opening testimony makes it clear there was no quid pro quo for Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump did, however, need to be assured that Zelensky was committed to rooting out the corruption that has plagued the country and contributed to the Russian meddling claims from 2016 that have been investigated the past two years (Trump was absolved of collusion in that investigation).
Volker’s opening statement, obtained by The Daily Wire, stresses “five key points,” including that he was focused “on advancing U.S. foreign policy goals with respect to Ukraine” during his time as ambassador.
The third point Volker stresses is that “at no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.” He further states that in the text messages he provided, “Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion.”
Volker went on to say that he repeatedly “cautioned the Ukrainians to distinguish between highlighting their own efforts to fight corruption domestically, including investigating Ukrainian individuals (something we support as a matter of U.S. policy), and doing anything that could be seen as impacting U.S. elections (which is in neither the united States’ nor Ukraine’s own interests).”
Volker also said he was not on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky at the center of the Democrats’ latest impeachment inquiry and was not aware Biden’s name was dropped until the transcript was released on September 25.
Volker also repeatedly states there was a “negative narrative” regarding Ukraine’s assistance in providing Hillary Clinton’s campaign with damaging information on Trump. The past history of Ukraine’s corruption was at the center of Trump’s hold on military assistance to the country.
Volker says he “was confident the [hold] would not stand” so he “did not discuss the hold with my Ukrainian counterparts until the matter became public in late August.”
This is yet more evidence that Ukraine was not even aware of the hold at the time Trump was allegedly demanding something in return for the money.
Later in his testimony, Volker says that he and a group that included Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) met with Trump on May 23. The group, according to Volker, told Trump [that] Zelensky “represented the best chance for getting Ukraine out of the mire of corruption it had been in for over 20 years.” He said the group suggested the next 3-6 months would be telling and urged Trump to invite Zelensky to the White House.
“The President was very skeptical,” Volker says. “Given Ukraine’s history of corruption, that is understandable.”
Trump, according to Volker, said Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of “terrible people” who “tried to take me down.”
Volker became aware during this conversation that Trump’s negative feelings toward Ukraine were coming from his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Trump signed a congratulatory letter to Zelensky a few days later and invited him to the White House. The date wouldn’t be set, but Volker says he “believed that the President’s long-held negative view toward Ukraine was causing hesitation in actually scheduling the meeting.”
About a month later, Volker says he was surprised to learn Giuliani was coming around to the conclusion that Ukraine’s past was just that.
“He mentioned both the accusations about Vice President Biden and about interference in the 2016 election, and stressed that all he wanted to see was for Ukraine to investigate what happened in the past and apply its own laws,” Volker says in his testimony.
Volker later says that Giuliani met with Zelensky adviser Andrey Yermak and that both called him to give their impressions of the meeting. “Neither said anything about Vice President Biden,” Volker says. The two said they talked about past corruption. Yermak said the country already planned to conduct investigations into what happened in the past.
When Yermak spoke with the Trump officials about crafting a statement from Zelensky regarding corruption, the draft shared with Volker didn’t mention Biden. Giuliani wanted it to mention “Burisma,” the company that employed Biden’s son Hunter and was investigated for potential corruption, but the former vice president’s name never came up.
Volker says the hold on military assistance was going on at the same time he was trying to connect Yermak and Giuliani but that he “did not perceive these issues to be linked in any way.”
On November 19 as well, Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison, a top National Security Council official who was on President Trump’s Ukraine phone call with Zelensky, both testified that there had been no quid pro quo, no bribery, and no extortion. As the Daily Wire reports:
“I wanted to start between the July 25 call between President Trump and President Zelenskyy,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) began. “Mr. Morrison, you were on that call and there was no mention of withholding aid on the call, correct?”
“That is correct, Congresswoman,” Morrison responded.
“And there was no quid pro quo, correct?” Stefanik asked.
“Correct,” Morrison responded.
“No bribery?” Stefanik responded.
“Correct,” Morrison responded.
“No extortion?” Stefanik asked.
“Correct,” Morrison responded.
Stefanik proceeded to ask Volker all the same questions and Volker gave all the same answers.
To view a full transcript of both men’s testimony, click here.
David Holmes (In his testimony, Holmes stated that: [a] he had heard Gordon Sondland speak to President Trump in a July 26, 2019 phone call from a restaurant where Holmes and Sondland were dining together; and [b] he had gotten the impression, from what he could hear of that phone call, that both Trump and Sondland were in agreement that the goal was to extract a quid pro quo from Zelensky. But when pressed on this matter during his testimony, Holmes admitted that: [a] he had not been able to hear much of Trump’s side of the phone conversation; [b] he had not taken notes of what was said in the conversation; [c] he had been drinking wine with Sondland at the time when that phone call took place; and [d] he had subsequently told at least nine people about the Trump-Sondland conversation.)
On November 20, 2019, State Department staffer David Holmes, who was not on the July 25th call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, said in his opening statement: “Upon reading the transcript [of the July 25 phone call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky], I was deeply disappointed to see that the President raised none of what I understood to be our interagency agreed-upon foreign policy priorities in Ukraine and instead raised the Biden/Burisma investigation.” Holmes also testified that he had heard Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on a July 26 phone call with Trump at a restaurant in Kyiv after the Sondland had purchased a bottle of wine for everyone at the table to share. In that call, said Holmes, Sonldand had told Trump that President Zelensky “loves your ass” and would be willing to commit to the investigations.
Also in his testimony, Holmes claimed that he had heard Trump say “investigations,” and that in a subsequent conversation, Sondland had said that President Trump wanted to investigate the “Bidens.” Sondland, in his own testimony, disputed Holmes’s assertion, claiming that he recalled having said “Burisma,” and not “Bidens.”
In his November 20 testimony as well, Holmes said that he had a clear recollection of the conversation because of its unusual nature. But in previous closed-door testimony, Holmes admitted that he had not been able to hear the entire conversation between Sondland and Trump, and that he could only hear one side — Sondland’s — for much of the call.
Also on November 20, Holmes testified that: (a) he had not taken notes of what was said in the Trump-Sondland phone conversation about Ukraine, even though he typically took notes on almost every conversation he heard; (b) he had been drinking wine with Sondland at the time of the July 26 phone call; and (c) he had told six of his friends that he had heard President Trump speaking with Sondland. According to Breitbart.com writer Joel Pollack, Republican congressman Jim Jordan “counted at least nine people Holmes had spread the story to, despite its possible implications for U.S. national security and foreign policy.”
The Impeachment Effort Moves to the House Judiciary Committee
On December 4, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee convened its first hearing in the impeachment investigation into President Trump. The Committee brought in four constitutional lawyers to debate what, exactly, constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” and whether Trump had committed any of those offenses. Before initiating the first hearing, Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, in a closed-door session with Democrats, summed up what his approach to the hearings would be, as follows: “I’m not going to take any sh*t.”
Testimony from Noah Feldman, Pamela Karlan, Michael Gerhardt, and Jonathan Turley
The professors who testified before the House Judiciary Committee on December 4 were Noah Feldman (Harvard Law School), Pamela S. Karlan (Stanford Law School), Michael Gerhardt (University of North Carolina School of Law), and Jonathan Turley (George Washington University Law School). Three of the four experts called to testify were hand-picked by the Democrats; the Republicans’ single choice was Professor Turley, a Democrat himself. Professors Feldman, Karlan and Gerhardt concurred that President Trump had committed “the impeachable high crime and misdemeanor of abuse of power.” Professor Turley disagreed.
Professor Feldman interpreted the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” impeachable offense as meaning “abuse of the office of the presidency for personal advantage or to corrupt the electoral process or to subvert the national security of the United States.” He added that “if we cannot impeach a president who abuses his office for personal advantage, we no longer live in a democracy. We live in a monarchy or we live under a dictatorship.”
Then Professor Feldman jumped to the conclusion, based on “the testimony presented to the House” – virtually all of which was second, third or fourth hand – that President Trump had abused the official power of his office by seeking “a personal political and electoral advantage over his political rival, former vice president Joe Biden, and over the Democratic Party.” Professing to channel the Founding Fathers’ thoughts, and speculating about what James Madison and Alexander Hamilton would say to him in a conversation held in the afterlife, Feldman said that those Founders “would expect the House of Representatives to take action in the form of impeachment” against President Trump.
Professor Feldman claimed that President Trump’s actions constituted bribery under the Constitution. Trying to explain away the significance of the fact that Ukraine received, with no strings attached, the security assistance that had been temporarily placed on hold, Feldman asserted that even attempting to withhold aid from Ukraine was impeachable. President Trump’s legitimate concerns about lingering corruption in Ukraine, Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the failure of European nations to contribute their fair share to Ukraine’s defense, were clearly irrelevant to Feldman.
Professor Karlan, who donated $1000 to the presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in July 2019, also testified as to her understanding of the Founding Fathers’ intentions. She proceeded from the unproven claim that President Trump had “used the powers of his office to demand that a foreign government participate in undermining a competing candidate for the presidency,” to declare that the Founding Fathers would have been horrified.
Karlan also presented a “what-if” scenario designed to show the gravity of Trump’s wrongdoing:
“Imagine living in a part of Louisiana or Texas that’s prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding. What would you think if, when your governor asked the federal government for the disaster assistance that Congress has provided, the president responded, ‘I would like you to do us a favor. I’ll meet with you and send the disaster relief once you brand my opponent a criminal’? Wouldn’t you know in your gut that such a president had abused his office, betrayed the national interest, and tried to corrupt the electoral process? I believe the evidentiary record shows wrongful acts on that scale here. It shows a president who delayed meeting a foreign leader and providing assistance that Congress and his own advisers agreed served our national interest in promoting democracy and limiting Russian aggression.”
In the course of her testimony as well, Karlan sarcastically claimed that Trump’s decision to name his youngest (age 13) son “Barron” was a reflection of the president’s desire to have royal status for himself and his family. “The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. So, while the president can name his son Barron, he cannot make him a baron,” said Karlan.
The third constitutional expert to testify on behalf of the Democrats’ impeachment narrative was Professor Gerhardt. He claimed that President Trump’s behavior was “worse than the misconduct of any prior president.” In offering his views as to why President Trump should be impeached, Gergardt contradicted what he had said seven years earlier when defending then-President Barack Obama at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Obama administration’s abuse of power. “The fact that a president’s constitutional choices have political ramifications does not make them political or purely partisan acts,” Professor Gerhardt had said back then. “Nor should those ramifications be confused with the arguments that support, or oppose, the constitutional judgments in question…. For myself I think it is pretty obvious that there has been no abuse of power.”
Professor Gerhardt said of President Trump: “I just want to stress—if what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable. The record compiled thus far shows the president has committed several impeachable offenses, including bribery, abuse of power, and soliciting of personal favor from a foreign leader to benefit himself personally, obstructing justice, and obstructing Congress.” “I cannot help but conclude that this president has attacked each of the Constitution’s safeguards against establishing a monarchy in this country,” Gerhardt added. “If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning, and, along with that, our Constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil.”
Gerhardt wrongly stated that “the ‘favor’ [which Trump] requested from Ukraine’s president was to receive – in exchange for his release of the funds Ukraine desperately needed — Ukraine’s announcement of a criminal investigation of a political rival,” Joe Biden. But in fact, the “favor” mentioned in the call memo detailing President Trump’s July 25th phone call with President Zelensky had nothing to do with the Bidens. It was a request for the opening of an investigation into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election. There was no direct factual evidence that President Trump had tied the release of U.S. aid to Ukraine to any announcement of any investigation. The aid was not discussed at all during the July 25th call, according to the call memo. In fact, the Ukrainians did not even know about the hold on the aid until late August. The aid was released on September 11th without any conditions pertaining to an investigation announcement.
Finally, Professor Turley had his turn. Noting that he is not a Trump supporter and did not vote for him, Turley said: “I believe this impeachment not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments, but would create a dangerous precedent for future impeachments.” He added that “impeachments have to be based on proof” and not on “presumptions.”
Turley pointed out such obvious deficiencies in the Democrats’ case as a “lack of evidence of a corrupt intent.” As for the charge of obstructing Congress by not turning over requested materials, he said that President Trump had gone to the courts and “he’s allowed to do that. We have three branches, not two.” Turley told the committee members, “If you make a high crime and misdemeanor out of going to the courts, it’s an abuse of power, it’s your abuse of power.” And he criticized the Democrats’ rush to judgment on impeachment, remarking that “fast is not good.”
Additional noteworthy remarks from Turley included the following:
- “One can oppose President Trump’s policies or actions but still conclude that the current legal case for impeachment is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous, as the basis for the impeachment of an American president.”
- “If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president. That does not bode well for future presidents who are working in a country often sharply and, at times, bitterly divided.”
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz’s Dramatic “Raise Your Hand” Moment:
Perhaps the most dramatic moment in the December 4 hearing was when Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz said: “So let’s see if we can get into the fact. To all of the witnesses: If you have personal knowledge of a single material fact in the Schiff report, please raise your hand.” After none of the witnesses raised their hand, Gaetz said, “And let the record reflect: no personal knowledge of a single fact.”
Gaetz then continued: “And you know what, that continues on the tradition that we saw from [Intelligence Committee Chairman] Adam Schiff. Where Ambassador [William] Taylor could not identify an impeachable offense. Mr. [George] Kent never met with the president. Fiona Hill never heard the president reference anything regarding military aid [to Ukraine], Mr. [David] Hale was unaware of any nefarious activity with aid, Colonel [Alexander] Vindman even rejected the new Democrat talking point that ‘bribery’ was invoked here. Ambassador [Kurt] Volker denied that there was a ‘quid pro quo.’ Mr. [Tim] Morrison said there was nothing wrong on the call. The only direct evidence came from Gordon Sondland, who spoke to the President of the United States, and [reported that] the president said, ‘I want nothing, no quid pro quo.’”