News coverage of House Democrats’ formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump is moving fast.
At the core of the investigation is a conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump pressed the foreign leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s possible opponent in the 2020 presidential election. Trump has acknowledged that at the same time he was withholding aid to the country.
This list of key players and terms you should know will be updated as the inquiry unfolds.
Is there another impeachment-related term or figure that you’re curious about? Tell us in the comments section.
Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States when he triumphed over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Scandals stemming from Trump’s insults, sexual assault allegations and policy work aside, one of the most noteworthy events to follow Trump’s election was his survival of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had improperly colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
The final report by Mueller, released in April, concluded that Trump’s aides had welcomed Russia’s help but did not conspire with Moscow.
Now, Trump faces a House-led impeachment inquiry into whether he improperly delayed congressionally mandated military aid to Ukraine while urging leaders there to help find dirt on one of his political opponents to boost his 2020 reelection bid.
Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president -- a key element of a whistleblower complaint and thus the inquiry -- took place one day after Mueller testified before Congress on the nearly two-year investigation he led into Russian election interference in 2016 and potential obstruction of justice.
Rudolph W. Giuliani
Rudolph W. Giuliani is Trump’s personal lawyer, although he is often entangled with national politics through the Trump administration. The former New York City mayor represented Trump during the Russia investigation and has advised him on other matters, including homelessness.
In May, Giuliani canceled a visit to Ukraine after Democrats denounced his effort to push the country to open investigations that he hoped would benefit Trump politically. Democrats said the plan signaled a clear attempt to recruit a foreign nation to influence a U.S. election.
In the White House memo detailing Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Zelensky, the president asked Zelensky at least five times to work with Giuliani.
Since the Ukraine scandal has emerged, Giuliani has appeared on numerous talk shows defending Trump.
Atty. Gen. William Barr
The Senate confirmed William P. Barr as U.S. attorney general in February. Barr, who had previously served as attorney general from 1991-93, succeeded Jeff Sessions, who was pushed out by Trump last year.
In light of the impeachment inquiry, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) accused Barr of orchestrating a “cover-up of the cover-up” of Trump’s efforts to solicit Ukraine’s help for his 2020 reelection campaign.
In the White House’s account of the president’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s leader, Trump asked Zelensky at least five times to work with Barr. The whistleblower’s complaint also alleged Barr “appears to be involved” in Trump’s efforts to enlist Ukraine’s help to investigate unfounded allegations against Biden and his son Hunter.
Democrats are likely to focus on whether the attorney general sought to protect the president rather than the law as the inquiry moves forward, escalating Democratic criticism that Barr acts more like a presidential fixer than the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky
The United States became one of Ukraine’s strongest allies in 2014 when President Obama’s administration began funneling millions of dollars in aid to the country after its president, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted in a 2014 revolution for backing separatists who supported Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Ukraine, which sits next door to Russia and has a population of about 45 million, is now led by 41-year-old political novice Zelensky. Before his landslide election victory in April, the comedian played a history teacher-turned-president on a hit Ukrainian sitcom. His campaign pledged to fight corruption and stop the bloodshed stemming from the country’s five-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists. After only a few months in office, the self-professed common man is still riding high in the country’s opinion polls.
The Ukrainian president was part of a July 25 phone call with Trump, which has emerged as a key element in House Democrats’ decision to move forward with an impeachment inquiry.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
San Francisco Democrat Pelosi is one of the most important leaders driving the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Pelosi had long been the voice of restraint in the House, but after numerous House Democrats voiced support for an impeachment inquiry, she announced the launch of a formal effort.
“The actions of the Trump presidency have revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said. “No one is above the law.”
Elected to Congress in 1987, Pelosi rose through the ranks in the House before being elected to leadership in 2001. Pelosi has a stellar legacy among Democrats, who praise the first woman to be speaker of the House for her handling of the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform in 2010.
She was speaker from 2007 until 2011, when Republicans took control of the House, and served as minority leader until she was elected as speaker earlier this year and became the first woman to hold the job twice.
She said she planned to retire after the 2016 election if Hillary Clinton defeated Trump. But now Pelosi is leading the Democrats’ charge to hold the president accountable.
“As long as [Trump’s] here, I’m here,” she told CNN shortly before the 2018 midterms.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Intelligence Committee chairman
Alongside Pelosi, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) is a leading figure in the impeachment inquiry. He is the head of the House Intelligence Committee, which oversees the country’s intelligence agencies, including parts of the Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State, Treasury and Energy departments.
Because the committee has jurisdiction over the whistleblower’s complaint and will spearhead the impeachment process, Schiff is going to be the public face of the investigation.
Schiff issued a subpoena for Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, to appear before the panel after Schiff said Maguire had not transmitted the whistleblower complaint to Congress within seven days, “in violation of the law.”
After the contentious three-hour committee hearing, led by Schiff, in which lawmakers questioned Maguire about the complaint, Trump called for the chairman’s resignation. Trump cited Schiff’s characterization of a White House memo describing the president’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader as cause for removal. Even so, Schiff has made it clear he will see the investigation through.
Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, was the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee when it first began looking into allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election.
Michael Atkinson, inspector general of the intelligence community
Michael Atkinson is the intelligence community’s inspector general. Inspectors general are considered watchdogs within the government and are considered one of the proper channels to which whistleblowers can report wrongdoing.
The whistleblower complaint was filed with him on Aug. 12. Atkinson, a Trump appointee, wrote in an Aug. 26 letter to Maguire that the allegations involved matters that could create “serious national security and counterintelligence risks.”
Atkinson determined that the complaint was an “urgent concern,” which by law required notifying Congress. Atkinson expressed concern that the president’s request for Ukraine to investigate Biden could violate campaign finance laws, which bar contributions of money or services from foreign nationals.
He referred the complaint to the Justice Department to determine whether the president had violated the law, although prosecutors there decided there was insufficient evidence of a crime.
On Sept. 9, Atkinson notified the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint.
He later testified at a closed-door meeting of the House Intelligence Committee about the situation, but it appeared he did not disclose details to lawmakers.
Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence
Joseph Maguire is the acting director of national intelligence, making him the country’s highest ranking intelligence official.
Maguire led the National Counterterrorism Center before Trump named him acting spy chief in August after Dan Coats, a former senator, abruptly resigned amid a series of policy clashes with Trump. In his role, Maguire oversees 17 U.S. spy agencies.
At a hearing before Congress, Maguire was grilled over the administration’s handling of the whistleblower complaint as the first witness in the Democrats’ formal impeachment inquiry of Trump.
Maguire, a retired Navy admiral, initially refused to share the complaint or the report of the independent inspector general, who deemed it credible and urgent, with congressional intelligence committees. Democrats said he was breaking the law by withholding the material.
Viktor Shokin was the Ukraine’s top prosecutor during the time that Vice President Biden represented U.S. interests in Ukraine on behalf of the Obama administration.
In 2015, the U.S. and its European allies pushed to remove Shokin as part of a crackdown on corruption — a longstanding problem in the country. As part of the maneuver, Biden threatened to withhold a $1-billion loan guarantee to Ukraine if Shokin didn’t resign.
Trump has suggested that Biden should be investigated for demanding the firing of Shokin to prevent him from investigating Hunter Biden. Shokin had led the investigation into Burisma Holdings, a private Ukrainian natural gas company in which Hunter Biden served on its board.
However, the inquiry was dormant at the time Biden pushed for the prosecutor’s ousting, according to the Washington Post. No evidence indicated Biden or his son acted improperly.
In March 2016, Ukrainian officials voted to oust Shokin. The same year, a Kyiv, Ukraine, district court found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Burisma’s owner, according to CNBC.
Yuri Lutsenko succeeded Shokin and served as prosecutor general from May 2016 until last month, when Zelensky had him replaced.
In a recent interview with The Times, Lutsenko said he repeatedly rebuffed demands by Trump’s personal lawyer, Giuliani, to investigate Biden and his son, insisting he had seen no evidence of wrongdoing that he could pursue.
Lutsenko said he urged Giuliani to launch a U.S. inquiry and go to court if he had any evidence but not to use Ukraine to conduct a political vendetta that could affect the U.S. election.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s possible general election opponent in the 2020 presidential election, oversaw the U.S.’s ally relationship with Ukraine during Obama’s administration. This included an effort to boost Ukrainian armed forces with U.S. funds in the face of Russia’s military involvement.
While Biden represented U.S. interests in Ukraine, the Obama administration and its European allies pushed to remove the country’s top prosecutor, Shokin, as part of a crackdown on corruption. Biden had threatened to withhold a $1-billion loan guarantee to Ukraine if Shokin didn’t resign.
Shokin had led the investigation into the owner of Burisma, where Biden’s son Hunter served on the company’s board, although the inquiry was dormant at the time Biden pushed for the prosecutor’s ousting, the Washington Post reported.
No evidence indicated Biden or his son acted improperly.
Since the impeachment inquiry has been set in motion, Biden has summed up events leading to the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump in one word: “bizarre.”
Months after Joe Biden assumed the role representing U.S. interests in Ukraine under the Obama administration, his son Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma Holdings, a private Ukrainian natural gas company — a position that has since raised some concerns about a potential conflict of interest.
It was during this period that Burisma’s owner was being investigated by Ukrainian prosecutors over possible financial abuses, although Hunter Biden was not accused of any wrongdoing.
White House officials pointed to Hunter Biden’s status as a private citizen, and the vice president said his son made his own business decisions.
In 2016, a Kyiv district court found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Burisma’s owner, according to CNBC.
Hunter Biden’s term on the Burisma board expired in April and he stepped down from the company, according to Reuters.
Terms to know
To impeach a public official is to charge them with or accuse them of misconduct in office. The act of “impeaching” can also mean “to challenge the credibility or validity of” the person or thing in question,” according to Merriam-Webster.
To impeach someone does not mean to remove them from office. Rather, it is a legal step in the process of removing an official from office.
The formal impeachment inquiry into Trump announced by Pelosi is an investigation that could lead to a vote on the articles of impeachment, which are formal written charges against the president, and whether Trump should be impeached. However, the investigation could also result in a decision not to pursue impeachment.
If a House vote on impeachment is successful, the articles would go to the Republican-controlled Senate, which would decide whether to hold a trial and whether Trump should be removed from office. Two-thirds support of the Senate is required to convict.
Quid pro quo
This Latin phrase means “something for something.” In a more contemporary sense, Merriam-Webster defines quid pro quo as “something given or received for something else.”
In the context of the impeachment inquiry, the term has been used to gauge whether Trump’s “favor” request of Zelensky qualifies as an implicit or explicit quid pro quo.
A whistleblower is an individual -- often an employee -- who discloses information that they reasonably believe is evidence of wrongdoing. Wrongdoing is considered “a violation of law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement; a gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety,” according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Once a federal employee discloses wrongdoing through proper channels to someone who can correct the wrongdoing (such as a government supervisor or supervising office), they are granted whistleblower protections. These protections are meant to shield whistleblowers from retaliation that could affect their job duties, responsibilities, working conditions and their “eligibility” for access to classified information.
The White House memo, which has misleadingly been called a ‘transcript’
A declassified memo released by the White House describes Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky -- a conversation at the center of House Democrats’ formal impeachment inquiry into the president.
It is important to note the five pages released by the White House are not a word-for-word transcript of the 30-minute conversation.
In the document, White House officials noted that memorandum “records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty Officers and NSC policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place.” That means the account was prepared using voice recognition software, along with note takers and experts listening in, according to senior White House officials.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Secretary of State Pompeo was also among the administration officials who listened in on the call.
CrowdStrike is a cybersecurity firm that did work for the Democrats in the 2016 election and was the focus of conspiracy theories.
The White House memo describing Trump’s call with Ukraine’s leader showed that in addition to his interest in the Bidens, Trump prodded for evidence that could tarnish the special counsel investigation.
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine — they say Crowdstrike.”
The technology company is based in Irvine, but Trump apparently believed it operated from Ukraine. The question came after Trump had long questioned the origins of the Russia investigation, particularly the analysis that CrowdStrike made to determine that operatives backed by Moscow hacked Democratic National Committee computer networks.
Treason is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the crime of trying to overthrow your country’s government or of helping your country’s enemies during war.”
In a more specific legal sense, this is worded in the Constitution as the following: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”
Although its application is debated at times, treason is understood as a betrayal of trust and is generally applied to Americans who in some way have betrayed the allegiance they are presumed to owe the U.S.
In the face of the impeachment inquiry, Trump has been accused of treason and has accused others of treason.