As the Trump impeachment inquiry moves ahead with speed, congressional committees continue to interview key witnesses in order to decipher whether U.S. President Donald Trump abused his oath of office and sought the help of foreign governments to improve his chances of re-election.
The inquiry centres around a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wherein Trump asked him to “look into” former vice-president and political rival Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his work on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice-president or his son.
In the days before the call, Trump allegedly ordered officials to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge but acknowledged that he blocked the funds, which were later released.
He has also rejected the notion that there was a quid pro quo and has repeatedly called the impeachment inquiry a “hoax.”
Now, weeks into the probe, a handful of witnesses, including both former and current White House employees, have testified and provided lawmakers with their account of what did or did not transpire between the Trump administration and Ukrainian officials.
Here’s a look at we have learned so far and what could be coming next:
Who has already testified?
Kurt Volker served as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine until September. He was the first witness to testify in the House impeachment inquiry.
During his Oct. 3 testimony, Volker revealed that he and Trump’s European Union ambassador, Gordon Sondland, had drafted a statement for Zelenskiy that would have committed Ukraine to an investigation of the Bidens.
Volker was a participant in a text message exchange released by the congressional intelligence panel that showed he, U.S. diplomat Bill Taylor and Sondland were working to persuade Zelenskiy to commit to investigating the Bidens.
“We have evidence of text messages between State Department officials expressing concern as early as May that there was a Giuliani-Biden thing going on that had concerned a State Department official,” California Rep. Eric Swalwell told reporters after Volker’s testimony.
On Oct. 17, Sondland told investigators that Trump had directed lawmakers to speak to his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in regards to U.S.-Ukraine policy.
Sondland said Trump told himself and other officials at a White House meeting to co-ordinate with Giuliani, who at the time was seeking to dig up dirt on Biden.
Sondland was also involved in the series of text messages with Volker and Taylor.
In the messages, the men discuss an arrangement that would see U.S. officials offer Zelenskiy a trip to the White House in exchange for making a public statement that Ukraine would investigate Burisma and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
However, after his 10-hour meeting, lawmakers said there were gaps in Sondland’s testimony and that he had responded “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” to their questions many times.
During his testimony, Sondland said he played no role in encouraging Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and that he thought it was improper to invite a foreign government to conduct criminal investigations.
During his testimony, Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat, told impeachment inquiry officials that Trump was holding back military aid from Ukraine until the country agreed to investigate the Biden family.
In a lengthy opening statement to House investigators obtained by the Associated Press, Taylor described Trump’s demand that “everything” Zelenskiy wanted, including vital aid to counter Russia, hinged on making a public vow that Ukraine would investigate Democrats going back to the 2016 U.S. election and Burisma.
Taylor said Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine until Zeleneskiy made a commitment.
Marie Yovanovitch served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until she was abruptly removed from Kyiv in May.
During her testimony, she told investigators she had come under attack by Giuliani and was removed from her post based on “unfounded and false claims.”
Giuliani accused Yovanovitch of blocking efforts to convince Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and suggested she was biased against Trump.
During her opening statement, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Post, Yovanovitch said the notion that she was disloyal to Trump was “fictitious.”
“I have heard the allegation in the media that I supposedly told the embassy team to ignore the president’s orders ‘since he was going to be impeached.’ That allegation is false,” she said, according to the statement. “I have never said such a thing to my embassy colleagues or to anyone else.”
During her testimony, lawmakers say Yovanovitch expressed alarm over damage to diplomacy under Trump and warned about “private interests” circumventing “professional diplomats for their own gain, not the public good.”
Fiona Hill, Trump’s former Russia adviser, told congressional investigators during her testimony on Oct. 14 that the president’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, had expressed concern over Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine and his efforts to press Zelenskiy to help Trump politically.
Hill also told investigators about a meeting in July that she attended with senior U.S. and Ukrainian officials, including Sondland, a person familiar with her testimony told Reuters.
According to Hill, Sondland raised the matter of the investigations, which she and others took as a reference to a probe into the Biden family.
Who is scheduled to testify next?
Not all of the witnesses named have been willing or eager to testify.
On Friday, former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to rule on whether or not he is obligated to testify before the congressional inquiry.
In the lawsuit, which was first reported by the New York Times, Kupperman’s attorney says he is faced with “irreconcilable commands by the legislative and executive branches of the government” and is seeking “declaratory judgment” from the court.
“Plaintiff obviously cannot satisfy the competing demands of both the legislative and executive branches, and he is aware of no controlling judicial authority definitively establishing which branch’s command should prevail,” the suit reads.
Kupperman, his lawyers say, met with and advised Trump on a regular basis and therefore cannot be compelled to testify.
He also worked closely with Bolton.
Kupperman was scheduled to appear before congressional committees on Monday but was a no-show.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Adam Schiff, who is chair of the House intelligence committee and is spearheading the impeachment inquiry, said Kupperman’s suit has “no basis in law” and speculated that the White House didn’t want him to testify because it could be incriminating.
“If this witness had something to say that would be helpful to the White House, they would’ve wanted him to come and testify,” Schiff said. “They plainly don’t.”
Alexander Vindman is an army lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq, later becoming the director for European affairs at the National Security Council (NSC).
He is scheduled to speak with congressional committees on Tuesday.
According to prepared testimony obtained by the Associated Press on Monday, Vindman is apparently prepared to tell lawmakers that he listened to the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy and that he had reported his concerns about it to the lead counsel of the NSC.
“I was concerned by the call,” the prepared testimony reads. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”
He is also expected to testify that he reported his concerns after an earlier meeting on July 10 in which Sondland stressed the importance of having Ukraine investigate the 2016 election as well as Burisma.
Vindman was also named in Sondland’s opening remarks.
Lawmakers say Sondland told them Vindman was one of the few U.S. officials who attended Zelenskiy’s inauguration ceremony.
Tim Morrison is a current top NSC official. He was named a number of times during the testimony of the Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat.
In his opening remarks, Taylor detailed phone calls he had with Morrison.
During one call, Taylor said Morrison told him that during a meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Sondland told a Ukrainian official that the security assistance money would not come until Zelenskiy committed to pursuing the Burisma investigation.
Congressional investigators are also hoping Morrison can corroborate Taylor’s testimony.
He is expected to testify on Thursday.
Speaking to ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Schiff said he would like Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, to testify.
According to Schiff, Bolton would be a “very important witness” with “very relevant information,” however, he said he expects the White House would “fight” the Democrats on his potential testimony.
Congressional investigators have not yet scheduled a meeting with Bolton.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Monday evening that the House would vote on Thursday to formalize the inquiry in an effort to “eliminate any doubt” about the impeachment process.
According to a CNN report, the resolution on which Congress members will vote is expected to outline rules for the public hearings, provide due process rights for the White House and allow information to be transferred to the committee that would ultimately consider the articles of impeachment.
This vote will mark the first time Congress will vote on the record about the probe.
So far, the hearings have been conducted behind closed doors.
While both Democrats and Republicans have been present during each testimony, the closed-door sessions have drawn ire from Republicans.
On Wednesday, Republicans temporarily halted the investigations by storming into the sensitive compartmented information facility where Pentagon official Laura Cooper’s deposition was being held.
Democrats deny that Republicans are being treated unfairly, noting they have had equal time to question witnesses and full access to the meetings.
Schiff says closed-door hearings are necessary to prevent witnesses from concealing the truth, and he has promised to release the transcripts when it will not affect the investigation.
“We will be doing public hearings,” Schiff told ABC’s This Week. “And I think we’ll be doing them soon.”
What has Trump said?
Trump has consistently denied there was any quid pro quo with Ukraine. He says the July 25 call with Zelenskiy was “perfect” and that “no pressure” was exerted on the Ukrainian president.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Trump called the impeachment inquiry a “hoax” and was critical of those upon whom the probe has called to testify.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters