US President Donald Trump waits to speak on September 11, 2017 in Washington.
House GOP lays out defense strategy for Trump
02:06 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Thousands of pages of transcripts are piling up, and top minds from both political parties are preparing their best strategy as the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump moves into a new phase Wednesday with the first public hearings.

A clearer picture of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine has finally emerged after weeks of testimony from key witnesses. At the heart of the inquiry is whether Trump used the powers of his office to pressure Ukraine to help his reelection by announcing investigations into his political opponents.

Trump could become the third president in American history to be impeached. The United States Constitution says the sitting President “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Democrats and Republicans will fight in the coming weeks over whether Trump crossed that threshold.

CNN spoke to legal experts and analysts from both sides of the political spectrum to break down all the evidence, and to tally up the strongest points for and against impeaching Trump.

The case for impeaching Trump:

Trump solicited election meddling from Ukraine

Democrats believe this might be the slam dunk against Trump. The whistleblower said it first, and it has been corroborated by multiple witnesses: “The President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election.”

Trump made the request directly to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. This is clear from the rough transcript of their July 25 phone call, which was released by the White House.

After an exchange of pleasantries, Trump said the US had been “very good to Ukraine” but the relationship was not “reciprocal.” Zelensky thanked Trump for providing Ukraine with military assistance and said he was almost ready to purchase additional anti-tank missiles from the US.

Trump responded, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” and asked Zelensky to investigate a conspiracy theory that would help him undermine the Russia investigation. Later in the call, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 rival.

Diplomats appointed by Trump later told Ukrainian officials that Zelensky needed to publicly announce the probes, which is very rarely done in legitimate criminal investigations. This strongly suggests the plan was designed to maximize political damage to Biden’s presidential campaign and was not motivated a by a sincere effort to root out corruption, as Trump claimed.

“The Ukraine situation encapsulates almost exactly what impeachment was created to address,” said CNN legal analyst Michael Gerhardt, who was called as a nonpartisan expert witness on impeachment during the Clinton hearings. “When the Framers talked about impeachable offenses, they mentioned the President engaging in a corrupt relationship with a foreign power.”

There was a quid pro quo for a White House invite

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a quid pro quo as “something given or received for something else.” Multiple witnesses have testified that the Trump administration tried to establish a quid pro quo with Ukraine to secure investigations into Biden and the Democrats.

“I think it’s very likely that the Democrats will be able to show that there were conditions to presidential actions on Ukraine,” said CNN legal analyst Ross Garber, a leading expert on impeachment. “Then the question becomes, were those conditions legitimate or illegitimate?”

One element of the allegedly improper arrangement included withholding a White House invitation from Zelensky. The clearest evidence of this comes from a text message sent by Kurt Volker, who was Trump’s handpicked envoy for Ukraine, to top Zelensky aide Andrey Yermak.

Volker texted Yermak right before Trump called Zelensky. He said: “Heard from White House — assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck! See you tomorrow.”

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the White House’s National Security Council, listened in on the Trump-Zelensky call. He later testified that based on the “vast” power disparity between the two leaders, Trump’s request would have been interpreted as “a demand” and that Zelensky would need to “fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting.”

There was a quid pro quo for US military aid

In addition to dangling the White House visit, the Trump administration froze $391 million in military and security assistance to Ukraine, which is still at w