Trump-Ukraine scandal: All the key players

Just as he was trying to move on from allegations his campaign colluded with Russians against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Trump was ramping up efforts to get Ukraine to stir up trouble for his prospective 2020 challenger Biden. He used official channels to ask the Ukrainian President to look into the Biden family, openly asking Zelensky for a favor during a phone call on July 25 and then suggested his attorney meet with Ukrainian officials. In the July 25 phone call, the Ukrainian President mentioned plans to buy US-made Javelin missiles — which he needs to help guard against potential Russian provocations. At the very same time, Trump was sitting on nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, which he has argued was on hold while he leaned on European countries to give more to Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine

A comedian turned politician, Zelensky’s job before being elected the President of Ukraine was playing the President of Ukraine on television. His country is in the midst of a years-long standoff with Russia over Crimea, an area Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. Zelensky is also dealing with a war against pro-Russian separatists. But his intentions — and whether he is pro-Russian or pro-West — have been something both sides have been trying to determine. His desire for military aid from the US is unquestioned. He flattered Trump during their phone call in July and promised a fair look at the Biden family after Trump asked for an investigation. But Zelensky clearly does not want to get involved in US politics, and said after the White House released its transcript of the July 25 call that he didn’t think his side would be included.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump attorney

Giuliani drove Trump's focus on Ukraine and the Bidens.
The former New York mayor, now the President’s personal attorney and staunch defender on cable news, is at the center of the Ukraine scandal. He has said he went to Ukraine because was trying to undermine the beginnings of the Russia investigation and protect Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is currently in prison for tax fraud linked to his business dealings in Ukraine. Giuliani has said he then pivoted after learning about claims concerning Joe Biden’s actions as Vice President, including his public calls in 2016 for a prosecutor in Ukraine to be fired. Giuliani claims that was improper because, at the time, Biden’s son sat on the board of a Ukrainian company that had once been under investigation in Ukraine. After pushing the story about Biden for months, Giuliani ultimately met with a top aide to Zelensky in Madrid, days after the July 25 phone call where Trump asked Zelensky to hear Giuliani out.

William Barr, US attorney general

Barr has remained quiet on the Ukraine scandal, but he was mentioned repeatedly by Trump in the July 25 phone call with Zelensky.
Barr took over as head of the Department of Justice in February 2019, and oversaw the official release of the Mueller report summing up the government’s investigation into claims that Russia engaged with the Trump campaign to tamper with the 2016 election. Trump asked the Ukrainian President to talk with Barr as part of an investigation he said Barr was conducting. Barr has remained quiet about any involvement in Ukraine, but Democrats have said they expect him to be called to testify.

Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of state

Mike Pompeo is not mentioned by name in the whistleblower complaint, but he has been subpoenaed by House Democrats.
The former Kansas congressman and CIA chief has emerged as one of Trump’s most trusted advisers. While Pompeo is not mentioned by name in the whistleblower complaint, Giuliani has said the State Department helped set up his meetings with Zelensky aides. Pompeo was subpoenaed by House committees as part of the impeachment inquiry on September 27.

Mike Pence, vice president of the US

When Trump could not attend a meeting with Zelensky in September, he sent Pence instead.

When Trump canceled a September trip to Poland during which he was supposed to meet with Zelensky, Pence went instead. The vice president told reporters after the meeting that he did not discuss Biden, but that he talked to Zelensky in great detail about Trump’s interest in rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and also about US aid to Ukraine.

Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire faced scrutiny about the whistleblower complaint on Capitol Hill.

A retired vice admiral and former Navy SEAL, Maguire stepped into his role when former DNI Dan Coats resigned in August. Maguire initially withheld the whistleblower complaint from Congress because his attorneys counseled him that Trump was not part of the intelligence community. Weeks into the job, he’s already been called to testify before Congress over the Ukraine scandal. In that congressional testimony he defended the whistleblower for coming forward.

Pat Cipollone, White House counsel

Pat Cipollone has been White House counsel since 2018.
Alongside the allegations about Trump’s effort to influence the Ukrainian President against Biden are the whistleblower’s allegation that White House lawyers sought to cover things up by burying the transcript of the call in a server reserved for highly classified information. Cipollone, as White House counsel, was also involved in the recommendation that Maguire should withhold the whistleblower complaint from Congress, according to the Washington Post.

Adam Schiff, House Intelligence Committee Chairman

Schiff's intelligence committee will likely lead the most visible impeachment inquiry.

A former federal prosecutor, Schiff is a confidant of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She has designated the California congressman to take the lead in the Democrats’ inquiry into the whistleblower complaint. He is a frequent target of Trump, who refers to him as “liddle” Adam Schiff.

Devin Nunes, House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member

Nunes has been one of Trump's most vocal supporters.

If Schiff is the prosecutor, Nunes — also from California — will play the role of Trump’s defender. Long an apologist for the President on the Russia investigation, Nunes has pivoted to defending Trump on Ukraine. With his seat next to Schiff, he will play an important role.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives

Pelosi had been cool to pursuing impeachment until the whistleblower story broke.
Pelosi is in her second stint as the top elected Democrat in the country, and nothing will move forward on impeachment without her support. After months of slowing calls by Democrats for impeachment proceedings over the findings of the Mueller report, Pelosi quickly moved to change course and begin official impeachment proceedings after the substance of Trump’s Ukraine actions as detailed in the whistleblower complaint became clear.

Yuriy Lutsenko, former Ukrainian General Prosecutor

The former top prosecutor in Ukraine, Lustenko had complained about the US ambassador.

A holdover from the administration that preceded Zelensky in Ukraine, Lutsenko was Giuliani’s original target to influence toward an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma. Lutsenko said in May he had looked to reanimate the investigation, but also that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by Hunter Biden. His comments to a reporter for The Hill that there should be an investigation into whether Ukrainians had meddled in the 2016 US election may have helped fuel Giuliani’s focus on Ukraine. He resigned in August.

Viktor Shokin, former Ukraine prosecutor general

Biden, along with other Western officials, wanted Shokin fired back in 2016.
Shokin was named Ukraine’s top prosecutor under former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2015 and began facing criticism for what was seen as an unwillingness to prosecute elite corruption. Biden, who handled Ukraine issues for the Obama administration, put public and private pressure on the Ukraine government to fire Shokin. The Obama administration threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees unless Poroshenko took action. Trump has seized on this to accuse Biden of wrongdoing — despite no evidence of this — and the international calls for Shokin’s firing at the time. The Ukraine legislature voted to oust Shokin in March 2016. Biden’s last visit to Ukraine before Shokin’s firing was in December 2015, though he held a phone call with Poroshenko before the dismissal.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas (second and third from left) are associates of Rudy Giuliani and were charged with violating campaign finance laws.
Soviet-born American associates of Giuliani who helped him in Ukraine but also had business interests there, Fruman and Parnas were arrested on campaign finance violation allegations in the US. It has since been reported by CNN that federal authorities are scrutinizing their business ties to Giuliani. Their alleged campaign finance misdeeds include making campaign contributions using so-called “straw donors.” They donated $325,000 to a Trump-aligned super PAC in 2018 and have put pictures of themselves with the President on social media. The super PAC, America First ACTION, said in a statement it never spent the money.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia

Putin's Russia annexed Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine, in 2014.

Putin is not directly related to the whistleblower complaint, but his shadow looms over this entire story and generally over Trump’s presidency. The reason Zelensky and Ukraine want the military aid is their standoff with Russia over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Andriy Yermak, aide to Ukrainian President

A top adviser to Zelensky, Yermak met with Giuliani in Madrid a week after Trump’s call with Zelensky. According to the whistleblower complaint, various US officials said this meeting was a “direct follow-up” to the July 25th call.

T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, State Department Counselor

A West Point classmate and business partner of Pompeo, Brechbuhl is mentioned in the complaint as having listened to Trump’s call with Zelensky as it occurred. The State Department has denied he listened in.

Kurt Volker, US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations

Kurt Volker is the administration's point person on Ukraine.
Formerly the administration’s point person on Ukraine, Volker is a key figure in this story. He’s mentioned in the whistleblower complaint as trying to advise Ukrainian officials on how to deal with Trump and Giuliani. It was Volker who apparently set up the meeting between Giuliani and Yerkmak, Zelensky’s aide. He was essentially a volunteer, however, and still works for BGR group, a Washington lobbying firm that has represented the government of Ukraine. Volker resigned his position and was the first witness called by House investigators in their impeachment probe. Text messages he gave three House committees showed concern among diplomats that the Trump administration was withholding funding over Trump’s demands for an investigation of his political rivals.

Gordon Sondland, United States Ambassador to the EU

Sonland is mentioned in the Whistleblower complaint alongside Volker.
Mentioned in the complaint alongside Volker, the two were said by the whistleblower to be advising the Ukrainian leadership about how to deal with Trump and Giuliani. In text messages released by Volker, Sondland tells a US diplomat concerned the President is withholding funding in exchange for an investigation that he is mistaken about the President’s intentions.

William B. Taylor, chargé d’affaires for US Embassy in Ukraine

Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, was intimately involved in talks between Volker, Sondland and aides of Zelensky. He repeatedly raised concerns in text messages that the administration was withholding funding in exchange for an investigation of Trump’s political rivals. He was ambassador to Ukraine during the George W. Bush administration and was brought back as the top official there after the recall of Yovanovitch. In congressional testimony, he detailed for impeachment investigators how he came to feel that Trump was holding up security aid to force the Ukrainians to launch investigations into the beginnings of the Mueller probe and also Burisma.

Marie Yovanovitch, former US Ambassador to Ukraine

Trump said the former ambassador to Ukraine, whom his administration recalled, was "bad news."
After complaints by Lutsenko, the Ukrainian prosecutor, and Republicans in the US, Yovanovitch was recalled from her post. A career member of the foreign service who has served in ambassadorships under three presidents, she was sworn in as ambassador to Ukraine in August 2016 and recalled in May 2019, prompting Democrats to accuse the White House of a “political hit job.” In the phone call with Zelensky, Trump disparaged her, calling her “bad news” and saying, “she’s going to go through some things.” In damning testimony on Capitol Hill, Yovanovitch said it was her understanding she was targeted by Giuliani and she issued a dire warning about diplomacy during the Trump administration.

George Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

A career foreign service officer, Kent is now the top policy official for Eurasia, including Ukraine. He was number two in the US embassy to Ukraine from 2015 to 2018, so his experience there spans time under Trump, as well as when then-Vice President Joe Biden was pressuring Ukraine to do more to combat corruption. He told impeachment investigators that Trump associates made baseless claims against Yovanovitch. He also said he raised some concerns in 2015 about Hunter Biden’s position on the Burisma board.

Fiona Hill, former top White House Russia adviser

A notable critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hill officially resigned from her position with the National Security Council as Trump’s top Russia policy adviser in August. She is mentioned in text messages given to House Democrats as part of the impeachment inquiry by former US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker. She told investigators that former National Security Adviser John Bolton was suspicious of why aid was being held up and that he referred to shadow diplomacy being conducted in Ukraine as a kind of “drug deal.”

Tim Morrison and Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, National Security Council officials

Morrison is Hill’s successor at the NSC and Vindman is the NSC’s Ukraine expert. Both are mentioned in testimony from Taylor and elsewhere. They could provide detail about why and how Ukraine aid was delayed.

Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense

A top Pentagon career official overseeing Ukraine policy, Cooper has been a vocal advocate for US support for Ukraine in the face of the threat from Russia. She’s expected to be asked for her understanding of why the security funding was delayed.

John Durham, US Attorney for District of Connecticut

US attorney John Durham was brought in by Barr to lead an after-action probe of the Russia investigation.

Mentioned in the whistleblower complaint because he was tapped by Barr to lead a probe into the beginnings of the Russia investigation and, according to the DOJ, was investigating Ukraine.

Michael Atkinson, Inspector General of the Intelligence Community

The whistleblower complaint was originally delivered to Michael Atkinson.
As ICIG, Atkinson was the first to receive the whistleblower complaint. He informed Congress that it was initially being withheld from the House Intelligence committee despite his determination that it represented an “urgent concern.” He told the committee he was at an “impasse” with Maguire over the complaint and whether Congress should be informed about its existence or its contents. He was appointed to his position by Trump after many years at the Department of Justice.

Stephen Engel, Director, Office of Legal Counsel

A top attorney at the Department of Justice, it was Engel’s job to review whether the whistleblower complaint was an “urgent concern” from the perspective of the DOJ. He recommended keeping the complaint at the DOJ for a possible criminal probe instead of sending to Congress, as the law would seem to require. That set up the showdown between Atkinson, the inspector general and Maguire, the acting DNI.

General counsel at an intelligence agency

Even before the whistleblower filed the complaint, the White House was aware of the whistleblower’s concerns because an intelligence agency’s general counsel notified lawyers at the Justice Department and the White House after the whistleblower flagged them through an anonymous process, according to The New York Times.

John Eisenberg, a deputy White House counsel

The first person at the White House notified about concerns ultimately raised by the whistleblower. He and the intelligence agency’s general counsel contacted the Justice Department together, according to The Times.

John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division; Jeffrey Rosen, deputy attorney general; Brian Benczkowski, head of DOJ criminal division

Demers was the first attorney at the DOJ notified of concerns about Trump’s conduct raised by the whistleblower and discussed it with colleagues Rosen and Benczkowski at Department of Justice, according to The New York Times. It’s not clear when or how Barr was notified.

Andrew Bakaj and Mark Zaid, attorneys for the whistleblower

Bakaj worked in the CIA inspector general’s office before being forced out in 2014. A subsequent report by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general cleared him of any wrongdoing, according to Yahoo News. Now in private practice, Bakaj and Zaid, who work together on whistleblower and security clearance cases, are representing the whistleblower.

This story has been updated.

CNN’s Allison Malloy, Will Mullery, Daniel Dale and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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