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Who's who: The Americans at the center of the Trump-Ukraine uproar



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Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on Oct. 29 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

By Ryan Teague Beckwith and Gregory Korte
Bloomberg News


WASHINGTON – Democrats' argument for impeachment is straightforward: President Donald Trump ran a shadow foreign policy campaign to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations that would help him politically.
To make their case, House investigators have called a number of participants in the effort, including career diplomats and others who can provide firsthand accounts.

The list of key players can be daunting, so here's a guide:

THE SHADOW TEAM
The people who ran a shadow foreign policy on Ukraine.

Rudy Giuliani - Giuliani was the public face of the effort to draw attention to work done in Ukraine by former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter. The former New York City mayor and federal prosecutor, who joined Trump's personal legal team last year, regularly raised questions about Ukraine in cable TV appearances and newspaper interviews.

Behind the scenes, Giuliani was pursuing a back-channel lobbying effort to persuade Ukrainian prosecutors to reopen an investigation into a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, which had Hunter Biden on its board. Trump held up congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine and dangled a high-profile White House visit, allegedly in exchange for opening the investigation. Two of Giuliani's business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have been charged by federal prosecutors with funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. officials and a political action committee that backed Trump. They have pleaded not guilty.
In mid-October, Giuliani announced he wouldn't comply with a congressional subpoena, dismissing the impeachment proceedings as "unconstitutional, baseless and illegitimate."

Rick Perry - Perry was allegedly one of the "three amigos" charged with running Trump's policy on Ukraine, along with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, a top State Department official reportedly told lawmakers. The former Texas governor has otherwise kept a low profile as Trump's energy secretary.
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, testified in October that he was instructed by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to defer to Perry, Sondland and Volker on matters involving the country, lawmakers said. That month, the three attended the inauguration of Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The whistle-blower complaint that helped spur the impeachment inquiry suggested that the purpose of sending Perry was to feel out whether Zelenskiy planned to "play ball" with the Biden investigation. But Perry told the Christian Broadcasting Network that he never mentioned the Bidens to Ukraine officials and spoke only about the "relatively vague term" of corruption.

Gordon Sondland - Sondland is a Trump inauguration donor who was later tapped as his envoy to the European Union, where he allegedly played a role in the Ukraine shadow campaign. Four companies connected to Sondland donated a combined $1 million to Trump's 2017 inaugural committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The whistleblower complaint identifies Sondland and Volker as a team that bridged the gap between the State Department and Giuliani. Beginning in May, the anonymous intelligence officer says, Volker and Sondland "sought to help Ukrainian leaders understand and respond to the differing messages they were receiving from official U.S. channels on the one hand, and from Mr. Giuliani on the other." Sondland's testimony before House investigators was contradicted by other witnesses, raising questions about his credibility.

Kurt Volker - A career U.S. diplomat who served under former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Volker has been Trump's special envoy to Ukraine, a volunteer position in which he also allegedly played a role in the shadow campaign. He abruptly resigned in late September after the whistle-blower complaint surfaced.
According to the whistleblower, Volker visited the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv the day after Trump's phone call with Zelenskiy, providing advice about how to "navigate" Trump's request for an investigation. Volker was working in concert with Giuliani, who has tweeted out text messages from Volker in arguing that the Ukrainian outreach was sanctioned by the State Department.

THE OFFICIAL TEAM
The career diplomats charged with running official U.S. policy on Ukraine.

Marie Yovanovitch - The career diplomat served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2016 until 2019, when she was recalled by Trump after what she described was a "concerted campaign" by Giuliani and others against her.
Yovanovitch was viewed with suspicion by Giuliani and Trump. After Trump asked for an investigation of Biden, Zelenskiy asked Trump for information on Yovanovitch. Trump called her "a bad ambassador" loyal to former President Barack Obama and said "she's going to go through some things." She testified that her departure came as a direct result of pressure from Trump on the State Department.

William Taylor - Taylor is the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine. A career diplomat, he took over as acting ambassador after Yovanovitch left.

He testified that Sondland told him in early September that Trump had made aid to Ukraine entirely dependent on a public promise to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 election because he wanted Zelenskiy "in a public box." In September, Taylor also sent texts to Sondland that have been publicly released: "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?" and "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Sondland responded by telling Taylor to call him and not text about the matter any more, adding that Trump assured him there was "no quid pro quo."

Alexander Vindman - Vindman is a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who handles European affairs for the National Security Council. He immigrated from Ukraine, then a part of the Soviet Union, at age 3 and is fluent in Ukrainian. He received a Purple Heart after he was wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

He told House investigators that the partial transcript the White House released of a July phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy omitted key words and phrases that he had attempted to have restored. But he said that two omissions – Zelenskiy mentioning "Burisma" and Trump saying that there were tapes of Biden _ weren't fixed. Vindman also testified that he raised objections with the top National Security Council lawyer twice about Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, saying he "did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen." His opening statement contradicted some of Sondland's testimony as well. Trump attacked him on Twitter as a "Never Trumper," offering no evidence for that claim, while some of the president's allies questioned his patriotism, sparking a backlash among some Republicans.

George Kent - The career diplomat was the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine. He has served in the State Department's foreign service since 1992.
Kent reportedly testified that he was told to "lay low" on Ukraine policy and let Perry, Sondland and Volker handle the country. He also reportedly told lawmakers that Giuliani and a Ukrainian prosecutor spread disinformation to undermine Yovanovitch.

Fiona Hill - Hill served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, reporting directly to then-National Security Advisor John Bolton. She left the NSC over the summer.
She reportedly told House investigators that she confronted Sondland about Giuliani's work in Ukraine, which she said wasn't coordinated with U.S. officials responsible for the region. She also reportedly testified that Bolton was angry about Giuliani's activities, referring to it as a "hand grenade" that's going to "blow everybody up" and a "drug deal" that Sondland and Mulvaney were "cooking up," and that he instructed her to raise concerns about the operation with White House lawyers.

T. Ulrich Brechbuhl - Brechbuhl is a senior adviser to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, providing guidance on foreign policy and handling special assignments. Brechbuhl and Pompeo were classmates at West Point.
Brechbuhl was a guest at a June 4 dinner in Brussels, attended by Sondland, Zelenskiy and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to photos released from the U.S. mission to the EU. He is one of several people to whom Kent sent his concerns about the campaign against Yovanovitch.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
These are the executive branch officials whose names have also come up.

Mike Pence - The vice president was directly involved in Ukraine discussions at times.
He was slated to attend Zelenskiy's inauguration in May, but Trump reportedly instructed him not to go, sending the lower-profile Perry instead. One of Pence's top advisers was on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy, and Pence was given a readout of the conversation. On Sept. 1, Pence met with Zelenskiy in Warsaw, telling him that hundreds of millions of dollars in aid wouldn't be distributed to Ukraine until it did more to fight corruption, which House Democrats argue would have been understood as investigating the Bidens.

Mick Mulvaney - Mulvaney currently serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget and as acting White House chief of staff.

Mulvaney's dual roles put him in a central position in the Ukraine scandal because the OMB was the agency that delayed the military aid to Ukraine. In a White House press conference on Oct. 17, he undercut the White House argument that there was "no quid pro quo" when he said that the aid was tied to Trump's demand for an investigation into the 2016 election. "Get over it," he said. "There's going to be political influence in foreign policy." Amid criticism, Mulvaney tried to reframe his remarks, saying in a statement that "there was absolutely no quid pro quo." Despite the walk-back, the Trump campaign was soon selling "Get Over It" T-shirts.

William Barr - The attorney general has ordered an investigation into the genesis of the Russian collusion investigation headed by former special counsel Robert Mueller. Barr has said Trump's campaign may have been the victim of "spying."

It's unclear how involved Barr is in the Ukraine investigation, but in his phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump twice brings up Giuliani and Barr in the same breath: "I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it," he told the Ukrainian president. "I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call." The whistle-blower also wrote that Barr "appears to be involved." The Justice Department, which Barr oversees, notably declined to open an investigation into the whistle-blower's allegations after a referral from the CIA's top lawyer.

THE WATCHDOGS
The officials who raised concerns about the Trump administration's approach to Ukraine.

The Whistleblower - The whistleblower, whose identity hasn't been revealed, works in the intelligence community, currently outside the White House. The whistleblower said he or she was "not a direct witness" to most of the events but had access to top officials who were.

The whistleblower filed a complaint Aug. 12 saying that he or she had "received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election." Despite laws protecting whistleblowers, Trump has repeatedly called for the whistleblower to be unmasked, arguing that the complaint is "a fraud," although details from it have been confirmed by the White House's own write-up of the July 25 call and by congressional testimony.

Michael Atkinson - Atkinson is the inspector general for the intelligence community, an internal watchdog. A former private attorney, Atkinson joined the Justice Department after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, working on fraud and national security.

After receiving the whistleblower complaint, Atkinson interviewed several government officials and determined it to be "credible" and "of urgent concern," forwarding it to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Acting on Justice Department guidance, Maguire declined to forward the complaint to the Senate and House intelligence committees, as required by law. The department argued that the complaint concerned the president, who isn't under the jurisdiction of the intelligence watchdog. Atkinson notified Congress of the situation, and the Trump administration eventually released the complaint along with a write-up of the July 25 call, sparking the impeachment inquiry.

Courtney Simmons Elwood - Elwood is the top lawyer for the CIA, appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate on a 67-33 vote.

Before filing the complaint, the whistleblower reportedly shared information about the Ukraine dealings with Elwood through an anonymous internal process. She concluded that a potential crime had been committed and participated in an Aug. 14 conference call with a White House lawyer and a Justice Department official that she considered to be a criminal referral. The Justice Department declined to investigate, and officials said they didn't consider the call a referral because it wasn't in writing.

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