When dealing with conflict, I like to focus in on the actual problem. Sometimes that means listening to all the noise and patiently picking out the important stuff. On matters of national importance, well, there’s a lot more noise and information to sift through. Maybe we can figure this out together.
Let’s pretend we’re all on one of the House committees. We’ll call it the Domestic Tranquility Committee. It is our job to sort through all the information and pick out if there is anything that would justify filing a motion against the President as a formal impeachment.
The United States has been supplying various aid (military, financial, etc.) in a variety of forms to Ukraine for many years. We specifically increased military aid starting in 2014 following the conflict between Ukraine and ethnic Russian Ukrainian citizens seeking separation from Ukraine.
Ukraine has been struggling with corruption since the fall of the Soviet Union. Other foreign governments have put pressure on Ukraine to reduce political corruption.
Burisma is a Ukrainian-based holding company, the parent company essentially, for certain energy and exploration companies. Burisma Holdings is one of the largest private natural gas producers in Ukraine. Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, was on Burisma’s board of directors until his father officially announced his candidacy for president in the upcoming 2020 elections.
May 2019 Ukraine elected a new president – Volodymyr Zelensky.
Two Ukrainian citizens have been arrested while trying to flee the country. Investigators have found evidence linking these two men to Rudy Giuliani.
Rudy Giuliani is under investigation.
Who is speaking?
As we get ready to listen to the witnesses I need to mention something. In a previous article I mislabeled a category of government workers as “bureaucrats” and have since learned that a more appropriate term is “civil servant” or “public servant”. I have updated the article to better reflect the categories and differences between political appointees, public servants, and politicians. It’s good to correct errors as we go.
That said, I also need to add a few more things that are important to note in this context.
ALL ambassadorships are politically appointed positions and subject to the will of the President. The President and his White House can change and replace ambassadors at will, for any reason. Across the board, for decades, presidents have reserved certain high profile positions for political favorites and big donors. The current administration has followed the same protocol.
Ambassadors are high enough ranking that the Senate must confirm these appointments. However, when an ambassador is not yet confirmed, a person is appointed as a Charge D’Affaires as an interim Chief of Mission. There are literally hundreds of politically appointed positions to fill, so some appointments are given to a pool of experienced career diplomats. While serving in a politically appointed capacity, they are to follow guidance determined by the White House. But, as civil servants it is their job to closely follow laws and policy. Career diplomats, civil servants, and general bureaucrats are all government employees who continue to work for the government regardless of which party or politician is in power.
Let’s move on to the witnesses and highlights from their testimony. I pulled from a variety of sources, watched clips of direct testimony and cross examination, as well as read the transcripts (not of everything, mind you). On certain testimony bullet points, I am closely quoting the opening statements. This is not an exhaustive list of all of the points made during the hearings. Some of the other statements are more relevant for context and will be mentioned in a separate post.
Gordon Sondland – Trump-appointed US ambassador to the EU, businessman
(Primary source: Sondland’s opening statement)
- Sondland notes in his opening testimony that he has not been allowed to access any of his records to create an accurate timeline of events.
- Sondland testifies that he and others were told to work with Rudy Giuliani as a representative of Trump’s interests.
- Sondland testifies that all of his diplomatic efforts were made in good faith, believing he was helping further public interest in that region of Europe.
- Rudy Giuliani’s requests were a clear quid pro quo, where the United States would grant certain requests only in exchange for the commitment to investigate Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election and Burisma, which would implicate Joe Biden’s son.
- When Sondland discovered that military aid was put on hold, he was opposed to the pause in aid. There was no credible explanation for the suspension of aid to Ukraine. It became clear that security aid would only resume if Ukraine provided a public statement committing to investigate the 2016 elections and Burisma.
Marie Yovanovitch – Former Ambassador to Ukraine (August 2016 to May 2019), career diplomat
- Yovanovitch testifies that her dismissal from her position as ambassador was sudden and caused instability with Ukraine-US relations as well as had a negative impact on civil servants working on the ground in Ukraine.
- While within his right, the President’s dismissal of the ambassador never included a clear explanation as to what she had done wrong.
- The President is quoted to have said at the time of Yovanovich’s testimony that she was “bad news” and that she was “going to go through some things.” The president did not elaborate on these comments.
William (Bill) Taylor – Acting US ambassador to Ukraine, former Army officer, diplomat
- Taylor reveals a questionable cell phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland, on an unsecured line. Taylor is not a direct witness to this phone call. For more on this phone call, see testimony of David Holmes.
- Taylor testifies that withholding military aid would signal to Russia that US support of Ukraine was weakening. Taylor’s testimony adds context to sentiments and behaviors of the Ukrainian President Zelesky.
- Taylor testifies that it was clear that military aid would be withheld until President Zelensky publicly committed to investigate Burisma.
George Kent – State Department oversight of Ukraine affairs, career diplomat
- Kent testifies no factual evidence has been found supporting the allegation that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election or that then VP Joe Biden acted improperly regarding Ukraine’s dismissal of a corrupt prosecutor. He also said there was sufficient evidence to conclude that Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections.
- Kent testifies that Rudy Giuliani said that any investigation conducted by Ukraine had to include “Burisma”, “Biden”, and “2016”.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman – Director of European Affairs for the National Security Council, US Army, military official (Primary Source: Vindman’s opening statement)
- Vindman testifies that there was a disruption in national security caused from false information coming from previous Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko (who served from May 2016 – Aug 2019 and currently under investigation) and Rudy Giuliani (President Trump’s personal lawyer).
- Vindman was present during an initial call between President Zelensky and President Trump on April 21, 2019 where President Trump extended an invitation to the White House.
- May 2019, another invitation to the White House extended to President Zelensky in the form of a letter from President Trump.
- Vindman was present during a July 10 meeting between Ukraine’s National Security Advisor and US National Security Advisor John Bolton. Also attending were Amb. Sondland, Secretary Perry, Amb. Volker, and Dr. Fiona Hill. Bolton cut the meeting short when Amb. Sondland brought up the requirements that Ukraine conduct an investigation before a White House visit could be arranged. Following the meeting, Amb. Sondland emphasised the importance of Ukraine delivering the investigations into the 2016 elections, Burisma, and the Bidens. NSC’s lead counsel John Eisenberg was notified of this conversation.
- Vindman listened in on the July 25th call between President Zelensky and President Trump. As a member of the National Security Council contents and implications of the call concerned him and he reported his concerns to Mr. Eisenberg as well.
Jennifer Williams – State Department staffer to VP Mike Pence, present on the July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky, civil servant
(Primary source: Williams’ opening statement)
- Williams testifies that July 3 she learned that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had placed a hold on some of Ukraine’s security assistance. The explanation she received for the hold was because OMB was reviewing whether funding was aligned with the Administration’s priorities. (Note that this is prior to the July 25th call with President Zelensky.)
- During meetings with various other representatives from the State and Defense departments, many advocated for removing the hold on aid to Ukraine. OMB said that White House Chief of Staff directed that the hold would remain in place.
- Williams testifies that the July 25th phone call with President Zelensky differed from other phone calls made by President Trump and involved a discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.
Kurt Volker – former US special representative for negotiations regarding the conflict in Ukraine, retired diplomat
- During a lunch meeting with Trump Volker was shocked at Trump’s negative stance towards Ukraine. During the Muller investigation, Ukraine had provided information implicating the Trump campaign. During the lunch meeting, Trump said he didn’t trust Ukraine and wasn’t interested in helping Ukraine.
- Volker testifies that his priority was to set up White House meeting with new President Zelensky to improve relations between the US and Ukraine.
- Volker met with Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani wanted a statement from Ukraine publically saying they would conduct an investigation. During that conversation, the Bidens were not mentioned, but Burisma was specifically mentioned.
- As public statements were drafted in which Ukraine would publically announce investigations, Giuliani had sent a draft back to the Ukrainians that included Burisma.
- Volker testifies that at the time he had not considered the Biden/Burisma connections, but now it makes sense.
Tim Morrison – former top US Advisor to President Trump on Russia and Europe as a member of the White House National Security Council (August 2019 – Oct 31, 2019) and Special Assistant to the President for National Security (July 9, 2018 – July 15, 2019), civil servant. (Okay, just a bunch more role shifting, but he is basically was an advisor on weapons and security.)
- Morrison clarifies that Amb. Sondland did not say that security aid would continue to be withheld from Ukraine until President Zelensky publicly agreed to investigate Burisma, but that if the new Prosecutor General committed to investigate.
- Morrison confirms transcripts from phone calls between President Zelensky and President Trump.
- Morrison testifies that he was not concerned with anything illegal regarding the call.
- Regarding withholding aid, Morrison testifies that President Trump believed Ukraine had a corruption problem. Morrison also testifies that President Trump believed that Europe was not lending enough aid to Ukraine. Morrison testifies that he believed the other advisors and secretaries would help convince President Trump to release the hold on security aid given that President Zelensky and his party are genuinely invested in an anti-corruption agenda.
Dr. Fiona Hill – Former top Russia specialist to the White House as a member of the National Security Council (April 2017 to Aug 2019 – replaced by Tim Morrison), civil servant
- In her opening statement, Hill confirms that Russia successfully interfered with our 2016 elections.
- Hill testifies that the idea that Ukraine somehow interfered in our 2016 election is not true.
- Hill testifies that the situation with Ukraine has become politicized (turned into a political issue).
Laura Cooper – Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia; civil servant
- Cooper testifies that it is in our interest to help Ukraine and deter Russian aggression.
- Cooper testifies that inter-agency officials unanimously recommended providing security aid to Ukraine. All requirements to receive security aid had been met.
- Cooper notes that on July 25, Ukraine were aware that there was some kind of “issue” with the security aid.
David Hale – Under Secretary to the State of Political Affairs; career foreign service officer
- Hale testifies that State Department leadership declined to publicly support former ambassador Marie Yovanovich during the smear campaign orchestrated by Rudy Giuliani and others working with him because they feared it would only “make matters worse”.
- Hale says Yovanovich should have been allowed to stay in her post as ambassador and continue to do the good work she was doing.
David Holmes – State Department official currently serving at a counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine (2017 to present), career foreign service officer
(Primary Source: Holmes’ opening statement)
- Holmes testifies that the United States operations and policies were impacted and influenced by Rudy Giuliani and a handful of other officials with a direct channel to the White House beginning in March 2019.
- Holmes testifies that efforts were made to discredit former Amb. Yovanovich through a series of smear campaigns conducted by Ukraine’s former prosecutor general and Rudy Giuliani.
- Holmes testifies that a Ukrainian official had been contacted by Giuliani and that Giuliani represented himself as an advisor to the President of the United States.
- Holmes overhead a cell phone conversation on July 26th between President Trump and Amb. Sondland in a public space. During that conversation Holmes heard Amb. Sondland confirm that Ukraine would be willing to do whatever the president asked, including conduct the investigations.
- Holmes testifies that through further conversations with Amb. Sondland, Amb. Sondland said that President Trump is only interested in things that personally benefit himself, like the Biden investigation.
- Holmes testifies that security assistance continued to be put on hold, without a clear explanation why and in spite of efforts on the part of US officials to convince the White House of its importance.
- Holmes testifies that the removal of Yovanovich as Ambassador sent a clear message to Ukrainian officials that legitimized Rudy Giuliani as representing the President of the United States.
Now to process and make sense of all of this information.