A Quick Guide to the Major Players in the Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Scandal
By now, I think that most people are familiar with the contours of the impeachment scandal and know most of the names involved. This has been a long-time coming, but I thought it would also be useful to have a quick guide to the major players in the impeachment scandal, if only to serve as a reference point when reading other stories about the impeachment. It also means I can link to this instead of explaining who Gordon Sondland and William Taylor are every time I mention them! This is obviously not a full accounting of everyone involved, nor a detailed description of their involvement. It’s more of a primer.
Donald Trump — The President of the United States. He stands accused of tying both a White House visit and $400 million of aid to Ukraine to a promise by Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate both Burisma — and its relationship with Hunter Biden — and a baseless conspiracy theory that Crowdstrike, a cloud-based American server, which Trump believes hid a DNC server in Ukraine in 2016 that would prove that Ukraine — and not Russia — was behind the 2016 election interference.
Volodymyr Zelensky — The newly elected President of Ukraine, who — despite efforts to stay out of American partisan politics — was drawn into them when the US President insisted that Zelensky publicly announce an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden in exchange for much-needed American military aid. The aid was approved on a bipartisan basis by the United States Congress but was being held up by Donald Trump pending Zelensky both agreeing to investigate the Bidens and announcing as much publicly in a press conference or in an interview with CNN. Zelensky reluctantly acquiesced to Trump’s demands and, in fact, set a date to make the announcement on CNN on September 13th with Fareed Zakaria. Two days before the interview, the White House released the aid after a complaint from a whistleblower, alleging foreign interference, surfaced.
Rudy Guiliani — Former Mayor of New York City, personal attorney to Donald Trump, and the scandal’s Chief of the Keystone Cops. Guiliani is basically the guy who convinced Donald Trump of the various conspiracy theories surrounding Ukraine, and ultimately ran a shadow campaign in Ukraine with an eye toward using the country’s new government to further the personal political interests of President Trump (as well as Giuliani’s own financial interests, as he is also going through a very expensive and bitter divorce).
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — Business partners and associates of Rudy Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman are currently under indictment for making illegal donations to Republican candidates, in large part to help grease the wheels for the removal of the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was thwarting Giuliani’s efforts to run a shadow government in Ukraine. The effort to remove Yovanovitch ultimately was successful. Parnas and Furman also arranged meetings between Giuliani and former Ukrainian prosecutors Yuriy Lutsenko and Viktor Shokin. Lev Parnas has agreed to flip on Rudy Giuliani and speak to House impeachment investigators because, he claimed, President Trump refused to acknowledge that he knew who Parnas was.
Marie Yovanovitch — The former Ambassador to Ukraine and buzzkill to all of Giuliani and Donald Trump’s plans. Thanks to an illegal effort by Parnas and Fruman, and a smear campaign by a number of Trump allies, Yovanovitch was recalled from her position for doing her job. During Congressional testimony, Yovanovitch described the State Department under Trump as “attacked and hollowed out from within.”
Gordon Sondland — A businessman who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and, in exchange, was appointed the Ambassador of the EU. Sondland was essentially Trump’s point man in his and Giuliani’s dealing with Ukraine, in spite of the fact that Ukraine is not even in the EU. Sondland originally testified in front of the House that when Ambassador William Taylor told him that it looked like military aid was being tied to political favors, Trump told Sondland to tell Taylor that there was “no quid pro quo.” Sondland has recently revised his testimony and admits there was quid pro quo (Lindsey Graham, by the way, now believes that Sondland — who donated extensively to Trump’s campaign — is a Democratic operative).
Ambassador William Taylor — A lifelong public servant and career diplomat, Taylor reluctantly accepted a position as what was essentially interim ambassador to Ukraine after the ouster of Yovanovitch. Taylor pushed back on Sondland and Trump’s efforts to tie military aid to political favors, texting Gordon Sondland at one point, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Taylor has directly implicated Trump in a coordinated effort to solicit a political quid pro quo from Ukrainian President Zelensky.
Kurt Volker — Volker was the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine until he resigned from that position before testifying in front of House impeachment investigators. I think the best way to describe Volker was as a middle man between Giuliani and the Ukranian government who tried to help Zelensky navigate a challenging situation. He facilitated meetings and phone calls between Giuliani’s people and Zelensky’s people, but he also tried to help Zelensky’s people figure out how to get military aid while pushing back against Giuliani, whom he knew to be spreading conspiracy theories.
Mike Pompeo The Secretary of State, who was both involved in efforts to pressure Ukraine and remove Yovanovitch. He also ignored State Department officials who raised red flags. Most damning, perhaps, has been Pompeo’s repeated efforts to throw his own State Department employees under the bus in order to protect the President.
Attorney General William Barr — During efforts to persuade Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, Trump asked Zelensky to coordinate with Barr. Barr has made almost every effort to use the Department of Justice to provide cover for the President, although he did stop short of giving a press conference specifically announcing that Trump did not form a quid pro quo.
Alexander Vindman — Vindman is the Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council. He was on the July 25th call between Zelensky and Trump. He has not only testified that there was quid pro quo in the July 25th phone call, but that during a July 10th meeting, Gordon Sondland attempted to pressure Ukranian officials to launch investigations into the Bidens in order to get a meeting with President Trump. Vindman reported his concerns at the time to the NSC lead counsel.
George Kent Kent is the current Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. He testified to Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to smear Yovanovitch and have her removed as Ambassador to Ukraine.
John Bolton — The former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump. Bolton has not yet testified, but it appears that he knew broadly about the effort to pressure the Ukrainian government into investigating the Bidens, calling it a “drug deal” cooked up by Giuliani and Mulvaney. Bolton, however, does not appear to have made any direct effort to put a stop to the quid pro quo, only asking his advisors to alert Mike Pompeo (who ignored their warnings and concerns).
Fiona Hill — Hill is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs (she’s an advisor to Trump). She resigned in August. She raised several red flags concerning the Giuliani shadow campaign to John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, the latter of whom ignored her.
Rick Perry The Secretary of Energy, a boob, and the guy who Trump at one point seemed to want to scapegoat, saying that Perry had urged Trump to call Zelensky (Perry conceded as much, but stated it was to talk about energy policy). He is scheduled to leave his position by the end of the year.
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