Impeachment update: from the whistleblower to Sondland

Here’s what you need to know about the impeachment inquiry so far

The impeachment inquiry has taken over televisions and timelines in the past weeks, and students at ASU have been diligently keeping up.  Here's a quick overview of what's been happening.

Campus response

As the House's Thanksgiving recess draws near, Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and his committee are gearing up to finalize their reports on the recent hearings and advances made in the impeachment inquiry.  

In the interim, politically concerned students on ASU's campus have been drawing their own conclusions on the investigation. 

Jeremiah Willett, a senior studying political science and president of ASU College Republicans, believes that House Democrats are using the inquiry as a device to "undo" the 2016 presidential election.  

"I think it doesn’t even matter what their witnesses say," Willett said. "I think they’re already going to conclude that Trump’s actions are impeachable. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they move full steam ahead with the impeachment process.”

ASU College Libertarians president David Howman, a graduate justice studies major, has been discussing the inquiry with his organization at their weekly meetings. 

Howman believes that it’s the duty of the House to begin the impeachment process when it’s believed the President has done something wrong, but he doesn't think the Senate will see it through. 

On the other side of the aisle, Amber Rivera, a junior studying political science and a member of ASU Young Democrats, is looking forward to more information being revealed.

"I hope that an impeachment does happen," Rivera said. "I do not think that an impeachment will actually end up going all the way through, but I do think that it will really influence Trump’s ability to campaign to his full potential because he’ll be dealing with impeachment at the same time."

Young Democratic Socialists of America at ASU has aligned its views with its national parent organization, as noted by the chapter's president, Tanzil Chowdhury, a junior materials science and engineering major.

Kim Fridkin, a foundation professor at ASU’s School of Politics and Global Studies, is an expert in the areas of political science and American politics and has been following the hearings.

"It’s a historic event," Fridkin said. "My thoughts thus far is how people’s views about how the impeachment is going is dramatically colored by their partisan predispositions."

College Republicans United at ASU declined to comment. 

The latest

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland appeared in a public hearing to testify on Wednesday on his involvement in the Trump-Ukraine controversy. 

He told the committee that "it was contingent" that Trump intended to withhold U.S. military aid until Ukraine agreed to investigate Burisma and the 2016 election, although the president never told him so.

Sondland also testified that quid pro quo did occur with Ukraine.

"I know that members of this committee frequently frame 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 the White House meeting, the answer is yes."

Sondland told the committee that he only knew Trump and Giuliani wanted to look into Burisma with the help of Ukrainian President Zelensky — not that they were looking to investigate the Bidens.

"With 20/20 hindsight, now that we have the transcript of the call, the Bidens were clearly mentioned on the call," Sondland said. "But I wasn't making the connection with the Bidens."

Four other key witnesses testified in Congress on Tuesday, including Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Both diplomats listened in on the July 25 phone call that took place between Trump and Zelensky, making them the first two witnesses who listened in on the call to testify publicly.

Former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council, Tim Morrison, testified on Tuesday afternoon. 

Although their attendance was requested by Republicans, their testimonies are not entirely in Trump's favor. Both witnesses described their unease with Rudy Giuliani's involvement in Ukraine.

In Arizona

Arizona's House Reps. voted 5-4 down party lines in October to move forward with public impeachment hearings. 

All of the state's Democratic Reps., including Rep. Ruben Gallego and Rep. Tom O'Halleran, voted yes, while all of Arizona's Republican Reps., including Rep. Paul Gosar and Rep. Debbie Lesko, voted no.

Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) has publicly condemned the impeachment investigation, which has been largely led by House Democrats. In October, the senator signed on to a resolution produced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that urges the House to give Trump due process. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has been much more ambiguous about her stance on impeachment. 

"I agree with my Republican and Democratic Senate colleagues that Congress must be given complete access to the whistleblower’s report and transcript as required by law," Sinema said in a statement to The Arizona Republic. "Arizonans deserve a transparent and accountable government."

Public hearings began in Congress last week 

Public hearings began last week to further investigate whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden for political gain.

The first public witnesses were Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent and U.S. Diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor.

During his testimony, Taylor revealed that he was told that Trump was more concerned with investigations into Biden than he was about Ukraine. 

Taylor said some of his key staffers overheard the president speaking on the phone with Sondland on July 26, one day after the phone call that took place between President Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.  

Taylor told lawmakers on Wednesday that Sondland called Trump using his personal cell phone, and staff members could hear the president asking about the investigations. Taylor perceived this as "the investigations into the Bidens and the Burisma Group."


Marie Yovanovitch testifies 

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine who was ousted by a push from Giuliani, appeared at last week’s second public hearing. She described herself as a diplomat who only had U.S. priorities in mind. 

During the hearing, Yovanovitch told lawmakers she was not sure why she was targeted by Giuliani and that she was given no reason for her removal. 

Yovanovitch previously testified behind closed doors in October when she told investigators that she “felt threatened after the President used her name on a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.” 

“I thought the Ambassador’s testimony was compelling,” Fridkin said on the Yovanovitch hearing. “It showed the human consequences of the ‘shadow diplomacy’ by Rudy Giuliani.”

Regarding Trump’s comments during the hearing, Fridkin added, “I don’t think they were necessary and I think they could be potentially damaging as the tweet disparaged a credible and sympathetic witness.”

Should Trump testify?

In an interview that aired on CBS' "Face the Nation," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stated that Trump should testify before Congress.

“If he has information that is exculpatory, that means 'ex' — taking away — 'culpable' — blame — then we look forward to seeing it,” Pelosi said.  “(He) could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants, if he wants.”

Willet said he thinks Trump testifying is not a good idea.

"He’s just granting legitimacy to a proceeding that I think shouldn’t be taking place," Willett said. "We need to be focused on actual issues that matter to the American people, and if the Democrat party wants to get rid of President Trump, they should beat him in 2020."

Quid pro quo, bribery or something more? 

Toward the beginning of the investigation, many Democrats cited quid pro quo after it was made known that Trump’s request from Ukraine followed a freeze in military aid to the foreign country. 

Notable Democrats are now beginning to focus their attention on the possibility of bribery. Thursday, Pelosi began to argue during her weekly news conference that Trump’s actions constitute bribery. 

Pelosi was not the only elected official to bring up the possibility of bribery during the inquiry, with Schiff and Democratic staff lawyer Daniel Goldman echoing Pelosi.

"I still think that is a crime," Rivera said about Trump's potential obstruction of justice. "I don’t think that our president should use his position in power to influence political outcomes."

What next?

The House will be taking Thanksgiving recess, which will allow Schiff’s committee to finalize a report that will detail the findings of their investigation thus far.

The House Judiciary Committee may hold a public hearing of its own before voting on articles of impeachment. The vote itself could occur as early as the first week of December. 

Catch Up

If you're unsure of how the impeachment process even began, here's a quick recap. 

The whistleblower complaint

A whistleblower filed a complaint that was released by an anonymous member of U.S. Intelligence in September that detailed efforts by President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to urge Ukraine to investigate 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. 

The complaint also mentioned former executive director of the McCain Institute and then-U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker.

READ MORE: McCain Institute head Kurt Volker steps down as U.S. diplomat

The complaint raised concerns that the president might have broken the law by seeking foreign interference in the upcoming election. 

The complaint, which was released by the House Intelligence Committee, was released just days after it was reported that Trump had withheld a nearly $400 million military aid package from Ukraine.

Why the Bidens?

Trump has accused former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden of misemploying his role as vice president to protect his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma Holdings from 2014 to 2019. 

Trump has suggested that Biden exhorted Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma to defend his son during his time as vice president.

The call

On July 25, Trump held a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump asked the Ukrainian president for "a favor" and suggested the foreign country investigate his 2020 rival. 

During the call, Trump also urged Zelensky to speak with Giuliani, who had already been looking to investigate Hunter Biden. Trump has since stated there was no quid pro quo throughout the phone call.

The whistleblower complaint also named Giuliani.

Giuliani, who now serves as Trump’s personal lawyer, reportedly helped push Ukraine officials into publicly announcing an investigation into the Bidens.

Eight witnesses have testified behind closed doors within the last six weeks, and almost 3,000 pages of their transcripts were recently released. 


Reach the reporter at kdonohu2@asu.edu and follow @kellydonohue15 on Twitter.

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