Politics

Here are the biggest moments in the Trump impeachment saga since the Ukraine call summary was released a month ago

Key Points
  • A month has passed since President Donald Trump released the transcript of a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the center of the House's impeachment inquiry. 
  • As Democratic House committees subpoena officials and interview witnesses to determine whether the president abused his power to influence the 2020 election, the White House is refusing to cooperate. 
  • As public support for impeachment grows and Trump faces political pitfalls elsewhere, Republicans have argued that the Democratic process is unfair.
President Donald Trump speaks to the media before departing the White House in Washington.
Mary F. Calvert | Reuters

One month ago, President Donald Trump released a summary of the July 25 call with Ukraine's president at the center of the House's impeachment inquiry into him.

Trump hoped to show transparency and quash concerns about the interaction with President Volodymyr Zelensky, which he called "perfect." Instead, dodging political pitfalls has only grown tougher for Trump.

Since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, a day before the White House released the reconstructed transcript of the call, House Democrats have looked into whether Trump abused his power in order to influence the 2020 election. Lawmakers have zeroed in on Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and whether officials tied a probe to the release of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

As House committees subpoena top administration officials and hear the at times explosive testimony of witnesses, the White House has refused to cooperate with the probe, calling it an illegitimate political exercise. Key figures, from Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have not complied with House subpoenas for documents.

At the same time, other aspects of Trump's foreign and domestic policy only increased the pressure he faced during the most politically dangerous month of his presidency. The president's decision to pull American forces from northern Syria sparked more criticism from Republican lawmakers than he has faced at any point during the impeachment probe. Trump also announced he would host the G-7 world leaders summit at his Florida country club next year — a decision he quickly reversed after he was widely accused of trying to enrich himself.

A flurry of events has taken place in Washington in the month since the Trump administration released the Ukraine call transcript. Here are some of the biggest moments so far in only the fourth serious impeachment inquiry into an American president.

The call and the complaint

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) address reporters during Pelosi's weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 2, 2019.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Reports about the content of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint about Trump's conduct helped to push more House Democrats to support impeachment proceedings. The call summary — which was not an official transcript — gave the first real glimpse into what Trump did.

Referencing the former Vice President Biden's efforts to remove a Ukrainian prosecutor whom the international community considered corrupt, Trump told Zelensky: "There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, what Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the [U.S. Attorney General William Barr] would be great."

On the next day, Sept. 26, the House Intelligence Committee released the whistleblower complaint. It raised concerns that Trump was "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election." It not only pointed to the president's call with his Ukrainian counterpart, but also alleged White House efforts to cover up records of the conversation. It also detailed efforts by Giuliani to push Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration had delayed about $400 million in key military aid to Ukraine, and lawmakers have questioned whether the White House did so in order to secure a probe into the Bidens. After the release of the call notes and the whistleblower complaint, Trump and his Republican allies pointed to the fact that the call did not confirm an obvious quid pro quo, or one action in return for the other.

White House refuses to cooperate

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The House Intelligence Committee, working with the Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees, has led the probe into Trump's conduct. The Democratic-held panels have been active in recent weeks.

House Democrats have issued 14 subpoenas for records since Pelosi announced the inquiry, according to an NBC News. The subpoena recipients include Pompeo, Mulvaney, Giuliani, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry — none of whom have sent the requested documents to lawmakers.

Earlier this month, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote a letter to the Democratic heads of the three House committees saying the administration would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. He called the proceedings "baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process," arguing the lawmakers want to undo the results of the 2016 election.

Despite the White House's stance, and the State Department's resistance to its officials testifying, the House has still heard from some key witnesses. Since Pelosi announced the inquiry, the committees have held six closed-door depositions and conducted two private transcribed interviews, according to NBC.

The House has spoken to officials including Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine; Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine; and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. The most explosive testimony so far came from Bill Taylor, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine.

Taylor said Sondland told him Trump had withheld military aid pending the public announcement of a probe into energy company Burisma Holdings, where Hunter Biden served as a board member, and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

The House temporarily delayed further interviews this week amid the funeral of House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died last week at age 68.

Republicans shield Trump

Sen. Lindsey Graham holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 24, 2019.
Siphiwe Sibeko | Reuters

The at-times scattered Republican defense of Trump has focused more on criticizing how Democrats have carried out the probe than on justifying the president's actions. The GOP has called for witnesses to testify in the open and urged the House to hold a vote to formally start impeachment proceedings.

Earlier this month, Pelosi said the House would not vote on officially beginning the probe.

Republican criticism of the process has only increased in recent days. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and vocal Trump ally, introduced a resolution Thursday alleging Democrats violated Trump's due process by holding interviews behind closed doors. At least 40 other GOP senators (out of 53 total) co-sponsored it.

On Monday, the House voted down a Republican measure to censure House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. The GOP accused him of misleading the public about the inquiry.

The most disruptive protest happened Wednesday, when more than two dozen House Republicans went into a secure room on Capitol Hill in a show of criticism of the impeachment process. Their actions delayed the testimony of Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. (A handful of the Republicans who marched into the secure room already had access to the depositions as members of the three relevant committees.)

Meanwhile, some of the White House efforts to defend against the probe have led to even more criticism against the administration. Trump called the probe a "lynching" on Monday — sparking backlash from Democrats and Republicans alike because the word invokes the country's history of racist killings. Even so, some Republicans defended his use of the term: Graham called the probe "a lynching in every sense."

Trump this week also labeled so-called Never Trump Republicans — people with GOP leanings who have consistently criticized the president — "human scum."

Mulvaney made another mess for the Trump administration to clean up on Oct. 17, when he seemingly admitted the White House held up military aid to Ukraine as it sought a probe into whether the country interfered in the 2016 election. It cut against the White House's denials of a quid pro quo.

Later that day, Mulvaney tried to walk back his comments, saying "there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election."

The tricky politics of impeachment

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, announces a formal impeachment inquiry of US President Donald Trump on September 24, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

As Democrats forge ahead with the impeachment inquiry, it has put some Democrats and Republicans alike in a political bind — depending in part on which areas of the country they represent.

All but seven House Democrats, including a handful of first-term lawmakers who won districts that voted for Trump in 2016, have backed the impeachment inquiry. No House Republicans have endorsed the probe, although Republican-turned-independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan has backed it.

Public support for the inquiry has climbed in the last month. About 53% of respondents to recent polls say they back the House starting proceedings, versus about 42% who do not, according to a FiveThirtyEight average of surveys. On Sept. 25, about half of those surveyed opposed an impeachment probe.

About 48% of respondents to recent surveys say they either support impeaching Trump or removing him from office — which the GOP-held Senate would have to decide whether to do if the House voted to effectively charge him with abuses of power.

But polls suggest impeachment could be tricky in the battleground states that will determine the 2020 election. The surveys explain why Pelosi has taken a deliberate pace in investigating the president.

Before she announced the impeachment inquiry, the House speaker repeatedly called the issue "divisive." Since the investigation started, she has said it is a "sad time for our country."

Trump has had to fight off even more political threats beyond the Ukraine scandal. On Oct. 3, he said "China should start an investigation into the Bidens," which brought rare criticism from a handful of Republicans, particularly Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.

Trump's decision to remove U.S. forces from northern Syria earlier this month brought as much Republican criticism as he has faced for just about any decision he has made in the White House. GOP lawmakers argued he opened Kurdish forces, with whom the U.S. fought the so-called Islamic State, to slaughter by Turkey.

On Wednesday, Trump said he would lift sanctions on Turkey imposed after the country launched its offensive in northern Syria, adding that a ceasefire in the area would be "permanent."

Trump also earned the ire of some GOP lawmakers when Mulvaney announced last week that the U.S. would host the G-7 world leaders summit at the president's Doral country club in Florida next year. The administration backtracked on the announcement only two days later, after mounting accusations of self-dealing or violations of the foreign emoluments clause.

Amid all of the issues for the White House, two foreign-born associates of Giuliani were arrested earlier this month on campaign finance charges. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman pleaded not guilty to the charges this week.

Even as he pushes to make a case for his 2020 reelection, Trump has publicly focused more on defending himself from the impeachment inquiry than on any policy issue. In a tweet Friday morning, the president shared what he said was a quote from Fox Business Network personality Lou Dobbs, which called Trump "historic" and alleged an "illegitimate effort to overthrow a President, not a formal impeachment inquiry."

"Thank you Lou," Trump wrote.

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