Five Impeachment Witnesses to Watch
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because we’re about to meet some new — and old — TV stars.
By Daniel Malloy
The impeachment train has left the station. While Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s declaration last week that the House would move forward on an impeachment inquiry lacked legislative substance, it served to set in motion a targeted inquiry into whether President Donald Trump abused the power of his office in trying to get the government of Ukraine to help his campaign.
Thursday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Robert Maguire was just the start. No one is sure where this process will go in the coming months, but here are five people we’d be interested to see in the witness chair — and what they might offer.
The former federal prosecutor became the tough-on-crime mayor who cleaned up New York City in the 1990s, then “America’s Mayor” for his poised handling of the 9/11 attacks. He ran for president in 2008, but the campaign flopped, and he was memorably skewered by none other than Joe Biden, who said Giuliani’s campaign was nothing more than “a noun, a verb and 9/11.”
Today Giuliani, 75, is ubiquitous on TV as Trump’s personal lawyer and has the confidence of the president — but he’s also the one who lit the fuse on l’affaire Ukraine. It was Giuliani who first started blabbing to the press about visiting Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Biden family, and the phone call transcript shows Trump asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Giuliani, while a complaint by a government whistleblower outlines his extensive involvement.
“In fact, I’m the legitimate whistleblower that I have uncovered corruption that the swamp has been covering up effectively for years and the State Department, you know, asked me to do this,” Giuliani told Fox News last week.
Michael Gerhardt, a leading constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina, says Giuliani could be a “hostile witness,” not unlike former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, whose recent testimony in the House Judiciary Committee was a certified circus. But Giuliani could still be valuable: “He might reveal things, even unwittingly,” Gerhardt says. And there’s much more to be learned about whether and how the official resources of the U.S. government were put to use for campaign purposes.
On Thursday, in one of Giuliani’s most memorable recent TV appearances, he showed off a text message from Volker, the special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, saying he’d enjoyed their breakfast and connecting Giuliani with top Zelensky adviser Andriy Yermak. The text was dated July 19, six days before Trump’s infamous telephone call.
By Friday, Volker, 54, had resigned his post as special envoy. The longtime diplomat was a specialist in European policy, and President George W. Bush appointed Volker as U.S. ambassador to NATO in 2008. He left government to get into lobbying, while also serving as head of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, a Washington-based outpost of Arizona State University.
In 2017, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reeled him in to work on Ukraine policy as a part-time special envoy, an unusual arrangement that allowed Volker to keep his other positions and made him effectively a volunteer for the U.S. government. He worked on brokering peace in the simmering war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists, but to no avail.
According to the whistleblower complaint, Volker met with Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv the day after Trump’s phone call to advise them how to “navigate” Trump’s requests — including an investigation into the Biden family. House Democrats are interested to learn more about those conversations.
The woman who Trump described to Zelensky as “bad news” was recalled as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine abruptly in May — two months before the infamous phone call.
Yovanovitch, 60, was a career foreign service officer appointed to the job at the tail end of the Obama administration in 2016. She became the subject of a conservative media firestorm this spring after she publicly urged Ukraine to do more to fight corruption … this after former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had been tossed in jail in part for concealing the millions he earned from lobbying in Ukraine.
Yovanovitch, who grew up in Connecticut and had served as ambassador to Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, reportedly ran afoul of Ukraine’s new government by pressing for more investigations, so it started a campaign against her, painting her as partisan. It worked, as Donald Trump Jr. at one point called Yovanovitch a “joker” on Twitter. Now she’s one of a handful of key State Department figures set to be deposed for the impeachment investigation, and could help shed light on U.S.–Ukraine policy at a critical moment.
So far, via The New York Times, we know this person is a male CIA officer who at one point was detailed to the White House. From the complaint, we know he’s a strong writer. And we know he almost single-handedly set impeachment in motion by filing this complaint. So will we ever hear from him in public?
Michael German, a former FBI whistleblower who now is at the Brennan Center for Justice and has worked with other government whistleblowers, says the convoluted process means the person’s identity is almost certainly well-known within the intelligence community. That means the effort to smear him will be well underway.
“We’re already seeing it,” German says, pointing to Trump and others labeling the whistleblower as a partisan and challenging his credibility by pointing out that he wasn’t even on the infamous phone call (even though the White House transcript of the call neatly matches the whistleblower’s report). “There’s a saying in the FBI: ‘Nobody’s administratively pure,’” German says. “Everybody has made some kind of mistake that normally would be ignored or received just a light sanctioning that now will be amplified into some major misconduct.”
The former national security adviser has been mostly silent since he was forced out on Sept. 10. By then the whistleblower complaint was already roiling the White House. Bolton is someone well-placed to know about all of this as head of the National Security Council and a well-trained bureaucratic operator.
“These folks might have a lot to share,” Gerhardt says of Bolton and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who left in August. “And the president no doubt will order them not to speak, but … it’s fairly clear to me he can’t do that.”
Bolton, 70, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush and the hawk to end all hawks, clashed with Trump on any number of issues. The reported last straw was Trump’s attempt to invite the Taliban to Camp David.
Now Bolton is in position, if he so chooses, to strike back.