How We Arrived at a Formal Impeachment Inquiry Into President Trump

With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, it's crucial to understand what predicated this move, from the whistleblower complaint to the subsequent fallout.

THE WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINT

We begin with a complaint filed by a whistleblower with Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who was appointed to that position by President Trump. After reviewing the complaint, Atkinson determined that it was of "urgent concern." In a letter dated September 9, Atkinson stated that the complaint, which he found to be credible, consists of a "serious or flagrant problem, abuse or violation of the law" that involves classified information, but "does not include differences of opinion concerning public policy matters." That's important because the IG clearly states the complaint didn't involve someone just disagreeing with the president on a policy issue. The complaint centered around a possible problem with the law. 

Typically, the inspector general would proceed to turn the complaint over to Congress, as is required by law. However, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire prevented the IG from doing so, arguing the allegations in the complaint did not rise to the level of "urgent concern." After Maguire consulted with the Department of Justice, the reasoning given for not turning over the complaint to Congress wasn't about the substance of the complaint but rather who the complaint was about. The whistle was being blown on someone above the DNI and therefore not within the Maguire's purview. President Trump would fit that description since the DNI reports to him. 

In a letter dated September 17, the inspector general expressed his disagreement with this decision, believing the complaint should be turned over to Congress. Atkinson stated, "I set forth the reasons for my concluding that the subject matter involved in the Complainant's disclosure not only falls within the DNI's jurisdiction but relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI's responsibilities to the American people."

DETAILS OF THE COMPLAINT BEGIN TO EMERGE

As news began to break about the whistleblower complaint and the decision by the DNI and DOJ not to release it to Congress, we began to learn some of the potential substance of the complaint. First, it was reported by the Washington Post that the complaint centered around a call between the president and a foreign leader. Then, the NY Times reported that the complaint included multiple examples of concerning issues. 

Next, the Wall Street Journal reveals that one aspect of the complaint involves a phone conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The report states President Trump insisted multiple times that Ukraine cooperate with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on an investigation involving Joe Biden's son. This all took place at a time when Ukraine was supposed to receive a significant amount of aid appropriated to them by Congress, which was meant to help deter Russia. The latest reporting from the Washington Post suggests President Trump directed acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to withhold the military aid before he spoke to the Ukrainian president. 

At first, President Trump denied withholding aid, but he’s since offered a few different explanations. After the initial denial, he then said he did withhold aid because of corruption concerns within Ukraine. Later, the president said it was because he wanted Europe to contribute to the aid package. President Trump has been consistent in maintaining there was no quid pro quo, but he admitted bringing up the Biden investigation during his conversation with the Ukrainian president. 

ALLEGATIONS OF WRONGDOING LEVELED AGAINST JOE BIDEN & HIS SON

Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, then-Vice President Joe Biden took an active role in efforts to support the Ukrainian government. Right around that time, Biden’s son Hunter took a board position with a Ukrainian natural gas company that paid $50,000 a month. There were ethical questions at the time as to whether or not this was a conflict of interest. 

The owner of the natural gas company had been under scrutiny for a while. President Trump and Rudy Giuliani have alleged that Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor tasked with looking into the company to help his son. Biden did admit to threatening to withhold aid to Ukraine if they didn’t remove the prosecutor. However, many others, including the U.K., the EU, and the International Monetary Fund, also wanted the prosecutor removed. The belief at the time was that the prosecutor was dragging his feet on corruption investigations. Biden was also representing the official position of the U.S. government when he pushed that policy. 

Officials in Ukraine have stated that neither Joe nor Hunter Biden is accused of any wrongdoing. Also, the investigation into the company that Hunter Biden worked for was dormant at the time of the firing. 

FALLOUT FROM WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINT LEADS TO IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY

After a meeting with chairs of key Democratic committees and the full caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her support for a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. 

That followed seven freshman Democrats writing an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for impeachment if the allegations related to the president’s dealings with Ukraine are true. All seven representatives have a national security background and serve in swing districts. 

While a majority of House Democrats have supported a formal impeachment inquiry since June, these latest revelations were a game-changer for more cautious members of the caucus. Over the past 24 hours, support among House Democrats for an impeachment inquiry has risen considerably. Politico has put together an up-to-date tracker of which members are supportive of the move, and which oppose it.

WHAT COMES NEXT

The White House has released a memorandum of the telephone conversation between President Trump and the Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky. You can read the transcript of the call here. Since the announcement of the impeachment inquiry, the White House has also agreed to allow the whistleblower complaint to be turned over the Congress. There's also the possibility that the whistleblower will personally testify before Congress. 

On Thursday, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson are scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Maguire will also appear before the House Intelligence Committee. 

For more on how an impeachment inquiry works, check out this explainer from Axios.

Photo: Getty Images

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