Last week, as a part of the ongoing impeachment proceedings, the House of Representatives spent three grueling marathon sessions to lay out their case against President Donald Trump to the United States Senate.
The House brought two articles of impeachment against Trump, one for abusing power and the other for obstruction of Congress. Over the 24 session hours allotted to them, the House presented a multifaceted and comprehensive case that made heavy use of firsthand, eye-witness testimony from multiple high ranking U.S. officials and ambassadors.
The House’s reasoning for accusing Trump of abusing his power was based on evidence that he withheld $391 million in security aid and used the prospect of a White House visit to try and coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into interfering with the 2020 U.S. presidential election through the public announcement of investigations into Hunter Biden and an unfounded conspiracy theory.
According to the House, this so-called “Quid Pro Quo” began many months before the story initially broke with the removal of then Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. According to the House Impeachment Managers, Trump removed Yovanovitch from her position and publicly participated in a smear campaign against her in order to remove her as a roadblock in his attempts at coercing Zelensky.
In his first phone call with Zelenksy following Zelenksy’s election win back in 2019, Trump offered Zelensky a White House visit but failed to schedule a date for the visit. Later, according to documentation, text messages, and multiple testimonies from U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, and acting U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine at the time, William Taylor, Trump used that promised visit to try and coerce Zelensky into publicly announcing two investigations, refusing to schedule the visit until Zelensky did so.
The two investigations Trump wanted publicly announced were an investigation into the connections between Ukranian natural gas company Burisma and the Biden family and an investigation into the baseless conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election instead of Russia. According to the House, Trump wanted these investigations to be publicly announced in order to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by drawing negative attention to his political opponent Joe Biden, and casting doubt on the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
“Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified earlier, with regards to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.” said Sondland during his testimony before the House.
In their presentation, the House explained that a personal White House visit would have been a big deal for Zelensky and would have helped him massively in establishing himself on the world stage as a political leader.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, was brought up multiple times during the proceedings as a person of interest. According to testimony from U.S. ambassadors and documents obtained by the House, Giuliani was in direct contact and had meetings with Ukrainian officials. Giuliani, claiming to represent Trump, was directly involved in the communications between U.S. officials and Ukrainian officials. According to phone records he was also in constant contact with the White House during this time.
According to testimony given by ambassador Taylor, when he and others attempted to address concerns they had with the way Trump was handling relations with Ukraine, they were told to “talk to Rudy.” Taylor was openly upset about Giuliani’s involvement in U.S. foreign affairs as a private attorney.
Giuliani refused to cooperate with the House’s impeachment investigations, ignoring a subpoena issued in the process.
According to the House, after Zelensky and other Ukranian Officials were resistant to publicly announce the two specific investigations, Trump withheld $391 million in security aid to Ukraine.
Congress had already passed the bill for the aid with bipartisan support, and the Department of Defense had already determined that Ukraine had met the necessary requirements to receive the aid when Trump issued a hold on the money.
Documents and testimony collected by the House seemed to provide ample evidence that Trump withheld this aid in order to put further pressure on Zelensky to announce the investigations. Ukraine, who is currently involved in armed conflict with Russia over their eastern border, relies heavily on U.S. aid for self defense.
In a text message sent on Sept. 1 from ambassador Taylor to ambassador Sondland and former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, Taylor asked, “are we now saying that security assistance and (White House) meeting are conditioned on investigations?”
In response to this message Sondland told Taylor to call him, which he did.
In his testimony to the house Taylor said that Sondland, in that call, had told him that “President Trump… wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukranian interference in the 2016 election.”
“Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling Ukranian officials that only a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on the public announcement of the investigations. ‘In fact,’ Sondland said, ‘everything was dependent on a public announcement, including security assistance,’ ” said Taylor.
Later, on Sept. 9, in another text to Sondland and Volker, Taylor said that he “thought it was crazy to withhold security assistance for help in a political campaign.”
President Trump commanded the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to block the spending of the security aid, but did not give a reason for the block. There was no apparent legal reason for the block, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office later found the block to be illegal, and in direct violation of the Impoundment Control Act.
Trump did not release the hold on the aid until after the House announced its investigation into the matter.
Zelensky had also planned a public announcement to be made on CNN before the aid was released, however, following the announcement of the House’s investigation, this was canceled. Zelensky has also yet to visit the White House in person.
The House claims that what took place was a clear abuse of power by President Trump that jeopardized the integrity of the 2020 elections, damaged the U.S.’s relationship with Ukraine and their other allies, and, by holding back aid approved by Congress, threatened the balance of power between the branches of government.
The House also claimed that Trump threatened the balance of power between the branches of government when he obstructed Congress, specifically when he obstructed the House’s investigation.
According to the House, the obstruction first began when the memorandum of a call between Trump and Zelensky, in which it appears that Trump may have personally asked Zelensky to publicly announce the two investigations in exchange for the military aid to be released, was restricted and placed on a highly classified National Security server by National Security Council Legal Advisor and Deputy Counsel to the President for National Security Affairs, John Eisenburg. This was after Eisenburg received multiple complaints by US officials regarding the concerning exchange that occurred between Trump and Zelensky.
Later the next month, a whistleblower filed a formal complaint regarding the phone call to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, who came to the preliminary conclusion that the complaint was credible and urgent. Atkinson transmitted the report with his preliminary conclusion to the Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. However, instead of sending the complaint to Congress as required by federal law, Maguire notified the White House.
“We went to the White House first,” said Maguire in his testimony to the House.
The White House instructed Maguire to hold onto the complaint, keeping it from Congress due to the possibility that executive privilege could be invoked. However, according to the House, Trump never actually invoked executive privilege for the complaint and never informed Congress on the matter.
Congress was eventually able to review the complaint more than a month after it was initially filed.
Then, when all of this came to light and the House announced their investigation into the matter, Trump issued a command to all executive branch departments and executive branch employees to not cooperate with the House investigation.
As a result of this, according to House Impeachment Manager, Val Demings (D-FL), executive departments ignored 71 specific document requests including five subpoenas. The House has reportedly not received a single requested document from the executive branch during their investigation.
Trump also publicly attacked the credibility of those who testified in front of the House, and he directed 15 U.S. officials to ignore House subpoenas to testify, including Eisenburg.
Throughout the impeachment proceedings the House called on Congress to issue their own subpoenas for many of these individuals and documents by allowing more witnesses to be called, something the Republican controlled Senate will vote on later in the proceedings, possibly as soon as Friday.
The House argued, using the testimony of constitutional law experts and the precedent set by past impeachment proceedings, that if these attempts by Trump to obstruct Congress go unpunished, meaning he is not removed from office, then the House’s constitutional right to investigation will be crippled, as future presidents will not hesitate to use the same methods in order to block House investigations in the future.