Media outlets on Friday published excerpts from messages between several Trump administration officials regarding the president’s interactions with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. The excerpts, when the prevailing media narrative is included, seem to show that Trump did, in fact, seek a “quid pro quo” agreement with Zelensky.
Former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker’s closed-door testimony to congressmen on the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight committees, however, paint a different picture. Volker’s opening testimony makes it clear there was no quid pro quo for Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump did, however, need to be assured that Zelensky was committed to rooting out the corruption that has plagued the country and contributed to the Russian meddling claims from 2016 that have been investigated the past two years (Trump was absolved of collusion in that investigation).
Volker’s opening statement, obtained by The Daily Wire, stresses “five key points,” including that he was focused “on advancing U.S. foreign policy goals with respect to Ukraine” during his time as ambassador.
The third point Volker stresses is that “at no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.” He further states that in the text messages he provided, “Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion.”
Volker went on to say that he repeatedly “cautioned the Ukrainians to distinguish between highlighting their own efforts to fight corruption domestically, including investigating Ukrainian individuals (something we support as a matter of U.S. policy), and doing anything that could be seen as impacting U.S. elections (which is in neither the united States’ nor Ukraine’s own interests).”
Volker also said he was not on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky at the center of the Democrats’ latest impeachment inquiry and was not aware Biden’s name was dropped until the transcript was released on September 25.
Volker also repeatedly states there was a “negative narrative” regarding Ukraine’s assistance in providing Hillary Clinton’s campaign with damaging information on Trump. The past history of Ukraine’s corruption was at the center of Trump’s hold on military assistance to the country.
Volker says he “was confident the [hold] would not stand” so he “did not discuss the hold with my Ukrainian counterparts until the matter became public in late August.”
This is yet more evidence that Ukraine was not even aware of the hold at the time Trump was allegedly demanding something in return for the money.
Later in his testimony, Volker says that he and a group that included Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) met with Trump on May 23. The group, according to Volker, told Trump the Zelensky “represented the best chance for getting Ukraine out of the mire of corruption it had been in for over 20 years.” He said the group suggested the next 3-6 months would be telling and urged Trump to invite Zelensky to the White House.
“The President was very skeptical,” Volker says. “Given Ukraine’s history of corruption, that is understandable.”
Trump, according to Volker, said Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of “terrible people” who “tried to take me down.”
Volker became aware during this conversation that Trump’s negative feelings toward Ukraine were coming from his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Trump signed a congratulatory letter to Zelensky a few days later and invited him to the White House. The date wouldn’t be set, but Volker says he “believed that the President’s long-held negative view toward Ukraine was causing hesitation in actually scheduling the meeting.”
About a month later, Volker says he was surprised to learn Giuliani was coming around to the conclusion that Ukraine’s past was just that.
“He mentioned both the accusations about Vice President Biden and about interference in the 2016 election, and stressed that all he wanted to see was for Ukraine to investigate what happened in the past and apply its own laws,” Volker says in his testimony.
Volker later says that Giuliani met with Zelensky adviser Andrey Yermak and that both called him to give their impressions of the meeting. “Neither said anything about Vice President Biden,” Volker says. The two said they talked about past corruption. Yermak said the country already planned to conduct investigations into what happened in the past.
When Yermak spoke with the Trump officials about crafting a statement from Zelensky regarding corruption, the draft shared with Volker didn’t mention Biden. Giuliani wanted it to mention “Burisma,” the company that employed Biden’s son Hunter and was investigated for potential corruption, but the former vice president’s name never came up.
Volker says the hold on military assistance was going on at the same time he was trying to connect Yermak and Giuliani but that he “did not perceive these issues to be linked in any way.”