House Republicans requested Saturday that several people, including Hunter Biden and the anonymous whistleblower, testify before select committees as a part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
The request came as lawmakers prepare to hold public inquiry hearings beginning Wednesday. Three House committees have been privately questioning witnesses for the last several weeks.
A resolution outlining the process of the impeachment inquiry that passed the House in late October affords Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee the right to request certain witnesses be brought to testify. Those requests can only be granted by the chair of that committee, Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, or through the approval of the majority of the committee’s members.
Saturday, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, sent a letter to Schiff that both requested a number of witnesses be called and complaining that House Democrats’ “sham impeachment process” unfairly inhibits Republicans from fully participating in the hearings due to the rules around such requests.
These rules, as Vox’s Li Zhou notes, align with the procedures followed in past impeachment inquiries, but have nevertheless become a point of contention for Republicans.
The witnesses in the request also reflect Republican disdain for the inquiry. The list includes many President Donald Trump has accused of wrongdoing, including the whistleblower whose complaint kicked off the impeachment inquiry and Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, as well as figures the president and his allies have derided as partisan players like the whistleblower’s sources and a former DNC staffer.
Following the release of the letter, Trump gave his two cents, arguing the list ought to be expanded to include “Nervous Nancy Pelosi” and “Sleepy Joe Biden.”
I recommend that Nervous Nancy Pelosi (who backed up Schiff’s lie), Shifty Adam Schiff, Sleepy Joe Biden, the Whistleblower (who miraculously disappeared after I released the transcript of the call), the 2nd Whistleblower (who also disappeared), & the I.G., be part of the list!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2019
Schiff told NBC Saturday that he does not intend to call Biden to testify: “This inquiry is not and will not serve, however, as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit,” Schiff said.
Democrats haven’t announced all of the people they will call to testify, but William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine; George Kent, an assistant secretary in the State Department; and former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch are among them.
Who’s on the Republicans’ list
Republicans called for a number of people to be brought before the House as a part of the impeachment inquiry. They included several people who have already testified to committees privately, political strategists, and both major and minor players in the unfolding story of Trump’s relationship with Ukraine.
The anonymous whistleblower — and everyone who informed his complaint
The whistleblower is an intelligence official who wrote a 9-page complaint outlining how Trump “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
The centerpiece of his complaint was a call between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky during which Trump appears to offer a military aid in exchange for Ukrainian officials investigating Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The White House has released a memo summarizing the contents of this call that reflects this request, and the whistleblower’s allegation has been supported by the sworn testimony of a number of current and former federal officials.
The whistleblower was scheduled to testify in a closed door session that was cancelled due to security concerns; he has worked to keep his identity secret in the face of threats from the president. This has led Trump and his allies to demand more information be made public about the whistleblower — and, given he complied his complaint from a variety of sources, that those who gave the whistleblower information be brought forward as well.
Republicans want to hear from both the whistleblower and his sources in open hearings. Schiff has made clear he wants to protect the anonymity of the whistleblower and his sources. Republicans should not expect this request to be granted.
Hunter Biden and his longtime business partner, Devon Archer
Both Biden and Archer had at one point been board members of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop reported, “Archer was Hunter’s business partner for his overseas work and helped made the connection that got him and later Hunter on the board of the Ukrainian gas company.” (Archer is also, apparently, a former Abercrombie and Fitch model, Yale student, and Citibank employee.)
As far as Biden is concerned, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias and Prokop explain:
Hunter Biden is the ne’er-do-well son of the former vice president, whose questionable ethical choices have been the subject of media scrutiny for decades. Hunter has accepted large payments from several foreign sources, and he was well compensated for serving on the board of a scandal-plagued Ukrainian natural gas company called Burisma, despite having no evident qualifications for the post. Trump has claimed that Joe Biden intervened in Ukraine policy to help his son, but there’s no evidence that that’s true.
Trump’s unsubstantiated belief that Joe Biden improperly used the power of the vice presidency to aid his son is a key piece of what led him to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation. In his letter, Nunes claims Biden’s testimony is necessary to illuminate “President Trump’s longstanding and deeply-held skepticism” of Ukraine.
In his statement Saturday, Schiff made it clear he sees this request as an attempt to get Biden in front of television cameras so that the president’s allies can ask him questions that could damage his father’s presidential bid. These requests won’t be granted, either.
Alexandra Chalupa, former Democratic National Committee contractor
In Trump’s July call with Zelensky, he mentioned another conservative conspiracy theory: that Ukrainian officials tried to help Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. And Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate what he described as a Democratic National Committee server — presumably containing evidence of this assistance — that he believes is hidden in Ukraine.
As Vox’s Alex Ward has explained, these theories are untrue (and the server issue is technologically nonsensical).
However, they persist, and Republicans want to call a former DNC contractor who is at the heart of conspiracy theories about a Clinton-Ukraine connection, Alexandra Chalupa.
As Gabriela Resto-Montero has explained for Vox:
Accusations that Ukraine worked on behalf of Clinton have been floated, particularly on the right, following a 2017 report that a Ukrainian American contractor with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) passed along information about [former Trump campaign manager Paul] Manafort from Ukrainian officials to members of the Clinton campaign. That contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, told CNN she did give the DNC information about Manafort, but only what she knew about the man from her work as an activist.
Chalupa’s concerns about Manafort do not appear to be unfounded, given his business dealings with Ukraine led to a prison sentence early this year.
Chalupa, Nunes writes, can shed light on “the facts and circumstances surrounding Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.”
However, there was no Ukrainian involvement in that election, and as Vox’s Alex Ward has written, officials have brought evidence proving this to Trump. Given she has little involvement in the matter at hand, and that the conspiracy theory to which she is attached has been disproved, it is difficult to see House Democrats calling Chalupa to testify.
Nellie Ohr, former contractor for research firm Fusion GPS
Like Chalupa, Nellie Ohr is a figure in the conspiracy theory that promotes a Ukraine-Clinton connection.
Ohr worked for Fusion GPS, the company that hired Christopher Steele to put together a dossier on Trump that included several sensational claims that were later found to be false. Fusion GPS has been used by Democratic campaigns in the past to do opposition research; in 2016, a Democratic operative hired it on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC to research Trump.
According to Nunes, Ohr told committees in 2018 that Fusion GPS sources included high ranking Ukrainians. And Ohr, the lawmaker claims, can help illuminate “the facts and circumstances surrounding Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.”
Again, it is known Ukraine did not meddle in the 2016 election. Like Chalupa, Ohr is highly unlikely to be called to testify.
Tim Morrison, former top White House aide for Europe and Russia policy
Unlike some of the other figures on the list, Tim Morrison is an important figure in the impeachment inquiry.
He told House committee members last week that, during a meeting between US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and Ukrainian officials, Sondland told the Ukrainians “it could be sufficient if the new Ukrainian prosecutor general, not President Zelensky, would commit to pursue the Burisma investigation” in exchange for the release of military aid.
Essentially, he told lawmakers there was quid pro quo: military aid in exchange for an investigation into the Bidens.
Nunes notes in the request that Morrison was on the July call during which Trump asked Ukrainians to investigate Biden in exchange for him stopping withholding military aid. Morrison’s testimony followed Taylor’s (who will testify again publicly) and corroborated much of what Taylor said. It isn’t clear whether the public testimonies of both men are needed, but unlike Biden, he may be called for the next phase of testimony.
David Hale, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
Hale is the third-ranking official in the State Department. He spoke privately before House committees, where he was expected to say, among other things, that political machinations were a part of the agency’s decision not to defend Yovanovitch during the period leading up to her recall from Ukraine. He was also believed to have described pressure his department received from Rudy Giuliani related to removing her from her post.
Nunes writes Hale should be called because of this knowledge; however, Taylor, Kent, and Yovanovitch’s public testimonies will likely explore this territory as well.
Kurt Volker, former US special representative to Ukraine
Volker was the envoy to Ukraine between 2017 and earlier this year, when he resigned after he was named in the whistleblower report and mentioned on television by Giuliani. The whistleblower complaint describes Volker as a part of the exchange between Giuliani and the Ukrainians.
Volker gave lawmakers texts he exchanged with other officials that, as Vox’s Andrew Prokop writes, “show him as a willing participant in the effort to press Ukraine to launch the investigations Trump wanted.”
Nunes argues that if other officials like Taylor and Kent are being called for public hearings, Volker ought to be as well. Given his role, he just might be.