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President Donald Trump. Photo by REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

Who’s who in the Trump impeachment inquiry?

The whistleblower complaint that helped spark the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has a dizzying cast of characters.
Here’s a guide to the major players in the forthcoming investigation:

The whistleblower

The identity of the whistleblower who rang the alarm on Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine is the biggest question in Washington — even for Trump and lawmakers. The New York Times reported it is an intelligence official, not part of the White House staff, who sent a complaint to the Inspector General of the Intelligence community. The complaint contains accounts and concerns reported to the whistleblower. Lawmakers have said this person may testify soon, which would make it hard to keep his or her identity secret for long.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president

Zelenksky is a comedian-turned-politician who was elected to be Ukraine’s president in April. On July 25, 2019, Trump and Zelensky had a phone call during which Trump said he needed a “favor” and asked him to look into former Vice President Joe Biden, his son and their involvement in Ukraine. The request came a week after Trump ordered a hold on nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Rudolph Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer

The name of the president’s personal lawyer is all over the whistleblower’s complaint. According to White House notes on the president’s July phone call with Zelensky, Trump asked him to meet or speak with Giuliani. According to the complaint, Giuliani met with Zelensky’s adviser Andriy Yermak in Madrid in early August and had met with former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko earlier this year. He had a skype call with former Prosecutor General Shokin in 2018. What is unclear is what role the president’s personal lawyer, who does not have a foreign policy or White House job, would have in these discussions.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, House speaker

Pelosi had major reservations about launching an impeachment inquiry, but mounting pressure made her and other hesitant Democrats change course. On Sept. 24, Pelosi directed the House committees to continue their investigations into the Ukraine matter and called it a formal impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee

Schiff’s committee is charged with leading the Ukraine investigation. The committee also investigated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but ended the probe earlier this year.

Joe Biden, former vice president & Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukraine’s Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas company, in 2014 while Joe Biden was vice president. The company faced allegations of corruption due to the owner’s close ties to Ukraine’s ousted president. Joe Biden was one of a number of western leaders calling on Ukraine to fight corruption. Trump has accused the former vice president of acting to protect his son.

William Barr, U.S. attorney general

The whistleblower complaint says Barr “appears to be involved” in the controversy as well. During Trump’s phone call with Zelensky, according to notes released by the White House, he offered to have Barr call Zelensky to “get to the bottom” of his suspicions about the Bidens. Though Barr is named in the complaint, he does not appear to be recusing himself from considering its merits.

Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine

Yovanovitch became a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine while Zelensky’s predecessor was in office. She became a vocal critic of Ukrainian officials, calling on them to fight corruption. Yuri Lutsenko, the country’s former prosecutor general, responded by accusing Yovanovitch of obstructing Ukrainian law enforcement in corruption cases, according to the complaint. In May, Yovanovitch was suddenly recalled from her post.

Kurt Volker, former U.S. special representative for Ukraine

A day after the Trump-Zelensky phone call, Volker met with the Ukrainian president to give “advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the president had made,” according to the whistleblower’s complaint. Volker also arranged a meeting between Giuliani and Yermak. Ahead of a closed-door testimony before members of three House committees, Volker provided text messages that reveal more details about the Trump administration’s contact with Ukraine.

Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union

Though his work does not involve U.S.-Ukraine relations, text messages show Sondland communicated regularly with Volker about the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son. Sondland was scheduled for a closed-door testimony before House committees on Oct. 8, but the Trump administration blocked the meeting.

Bill Taylor, charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev

In text messages, Taylor expressed concern about Trump’s intentions with Ukraine, at one point saying, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Yuri Lutsenko, former Ukrainian prosecutor general

The complaint states that during his call with Zelensky, Trump praised Lutsenko and suggested Zelensky keep him as prosecutor. Early this year, Lutsenko launched a probe into whether Ukrainian officials interfered in the U.S. 2016 presidential election to help Democrats. His investigation was sparked by claim raised by a member of the Ukrainian parliament. Lutsenko also accused Joe Biden of pressuring Ukraine to fire a different, former Ukrainian prosecutor in order to end an investigation into a natural gas company where his son Hunter Biden served as a board member. Lutsenko has since stated Hunter Biden did not violate any laws in this role.

Senate Republicans

Even if the House votes to impeach Trump, the Senate would be the body to ultimately remove him from office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will have no choice but to hold a trial if the House votes to forward articles of impeachment. But nothing yet suggests that Republicans will abandon Trump, so removal is unlikely.

The unknowns

The whistleblower complaint says there are a number of officials who were concerned about Trump’s call with Zelensky, any of whom could be asked to testify. Also likely to be questioned include individuals listening to the July 25 phone call. The whistleblower also claimed that the notes from the call were moved into an especially secure system generally reserved for national security secrets, and lawmakers are sure to want to speak to whoever was involved with that decision.

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