A whistleblower's complaint released in September describes efforts by President Donald Trump and associates to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The complaint sparked a House impeachment inquiry into Trump by Democrats. At its essence, the inquiry probes whether Trump and associates conducted a "shadow" foreign policy campaign, using U.S. aid as leverage, to try to damage a political rival. The main characters are:
An anonymous intelligence community worker filed a complaint saying multiple officials had concerns President Trump was using his office for his own personal political gain. The complaint centers on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and the efforts of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. The whistleblower also alleges the White House sought to “lock down” and cover up the verbatim conversation between Trump and Zelensky.
In the July 25 phone call, Trump said the United States had been “very good” to Ukraine and asked Zelensky to “do us a favor” and meet with Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to discuss alleged wrongdoing by former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and his son Hunter. Earlier in the month, Trump directed the Office of Management and Budget to withhold $400 million in security aid to Ukraine. Trump has admitted he asked Ukraine to investigate his potential political rival and has since asked China to do the same.
The whistleblower sent the complaint to Atkinson, the Intelligence Community Inspector General. He determined it was credible and of urgent concern, and said it should be released to congressional intelligence committees. When higher-ups balked, Atkinson notified House and Senate committees of the complaint.
Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, initially didn’t provide the complaint to Congress. Ultimately he did so, after being subpoenaed. He testified before the House Intelligence Committee in a Sept. 26 hearing. He said the whistleblower “did the right thing.” He didn’t say whether he believed the complaint was credible, but did say foreign interference in a U.S. election would be “bad for our nation.”
In April, the actor and comedian won election to become the sixth president of Ukraine, riding an anti-corruption theme to victory. During the July 25 phone call, he thanked Trump for U.S. aid, apparently not aware it was on hold. He reportedly was surprised by the investigation request, but told Trump his government had a policy of not intervening in Ukraine’s justice system.
Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney and former New York City mayor, met multiple times with Ukrainian officials to press them to investigate Biden and Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. The whistleblower said multiple officials were concerned Giuliani was circumventing U.S. diplomats and the “national security decision-making processes.” Giuliani said this wasn’t a national security issue.
Trump suggested Ukrainian officials meet with Barr, the U.S. attorney general, to discuss investigating the Bidens. According to reports, the Justice Department has said Barr was unaware Trump told Zelensky that Barr would contact him.
The House Speaker announced a formal impeachment inquiry just days after the whistleblower’s complaint was released. She called Trump’s actions “dishonorable.”
The vice president stood in for the president to go to Poland in September. While there, Pence met with Zelensky. Pence said they didn’t discuss the Bidens but did speak about U.S. aid and corruption issues. The Washington Post reported officials close to Pence said he wasn’t aware of Trump’s efforts to press Zelensky for information damaging the Bidens.
The former Ukrainian prosecutor general alleged Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to benefit Democrats. He also initially suggested a probe of the gas company was quashed, benefiting the Bidens — although he told Bloomberg News and The Washington Post that he concluded Hunter Biden did nothing wrong. He met with Giuliani multiple times.
She was the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. The whistleblower alleges that she was removed last spring after complaints by Lutsenko. In the phone call with Zelensky, Trump reportedly called her “bad news.” The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported that Trump ordered Yovanovitch's removal after his allies complained she was hindering his efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
He's a Trump inauguration donor whom the president named ambassador to the European Union and who worked to set up meetings with Ukrainian officials. He now is a key witness in the inquiry. He initially told investigators there were no strings attached to the financial aid the United States was expected to send to Ukraine. But later, Sondland reversed himself and amended his statement to say that the $400 million in aid hinged on Ukraine pledging to investigate the Bidens and that he'd discussed linkage with a Ukrainian official. “I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland wrote.
The secretary of state has admitted he was on the July 25 phone call, after initially saying he had been unaware of the substance of the whistleblower complaint. Giuliani has said the State Department helped arrange meetings with Zelensky. Pompeo has been subpoenaed by Congress.
A career diplomat under Democrat and Republican presidents and the U.S. top envoy to Ukraine, Taylor says Sondland told him about Trump's desire to link aid to Ukraine's commitment to investigating the Bidens. Taylor expressed alarm in a text: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland replied, saying Taylor shouldn't text but instead call him. In written testimony to Congress, Taylor said he believed the tie between aid and an investigation originated with Giuliani.