The Trump administration’s former top envoy to Ukraine warned the Ukrainian President at a meeting in Toronto this summer that U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was undermining relations between the two countries.
The details of the private meeting between Kurt Volker, who resigned as special envoy to Ukraine last month, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, were revealed in Mr. Volker’s testimony this week to a Congressional committee, part of which was released publicly on Friday.
Mr. Volker’s testimony, and text messages he gave to Congressional investigators, capped a turbulent week for the Trump administration as it seeks to fend off an impeachment inquiry into whether the President pressed foreign leaders to investigate his political rivals.
On Friday, Mr. Trump said the White House would tell the Democrats in a letter that the administration would not comply with requests to turn over documents to Congressional investigators until the House of Representatives votes to authorize the impeachment process. He said that Democrats would “pay a tremendous price at the polls” for attempting to impeach him.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters in Atlanta she didn’t require a formal vote in Congress to proceed with the inquiry, but didn’t rule it out. “We may decide to do it, but it has nothing to do with the President saying what he’s saying,” she said. Three Democratic-controlled committees conducting impeachment investigations this week requested documents related to Ukraine from the State Department and Vice-President Mike Pence.
Mr. Volker testified on Thursday that he had grown increasingly concerned that inquiries Mr. Giuliani was pursuing in Ukraine were turning Mr. Trump against Mr. Zelensky’s new government at a time when U.S. diplomats in the region strongly felt the United States should increase its support for the country.
Mr. Giuliani has repeatedly accused former Vice-President Joe Biden of being influenced by his son Hunter Biden’s position on the board of an energy company that had been under investigation in Ukraine. The former New York mayor has also publicly claimed that Ukrainian citizens interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign in support of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Volker told Congressional investigators he warned Mr. Zelensky at the Ukraine Reform Conference in Toronto in early July about Mr. Giuliani’s actions. “I explained that I believed that Mayor Giuliani continues to have a negative view of Ukraine based on assertions of actions that happened in 2016, and that this viewpoint is likely making its way to [Mr. Trump],” Mr. Volker said in his opening remarks to the committee, which were published online on Friday.
The former special envoy said he didn’t believe the Trump administration’s decision to withhold US$400-million in aid to Ukraine was linked to Mr. Trump’s request for an investigation into Mr. Biden.
But he added that he had repeatedly told Mr. Giuliani and others close to the President that he believed the allegations against Mr. Biden were baseless, and were standing in the way of a closer relationship between Ukrainian and U.S. leaders.
“I have known former vice-president Biden for 24 years, and the suggestion that he would be influenced in his duties as vice-president by money for his son simply has no credibility to me,” Mr. Volker said.
Mr. Trump on Friday walked back his public calls earlier in the week for China and Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden, saying he was solely focused on securing a trade deal with China and rooting out corruption.
“I’m only interested in corruption. I don’t care about politics,” he said on the lawn of the White House.
However, a slew of text messages Mr. Volker turned over to Congress appears to show that several Trump advisers attempted to negotiate a meeting between the U.S. President and Mr. Zelensky in exchange for an investigation into Mr. Biden.
In a text to a senior Zelensky aide, Mr. Volker said Mr. Zelensky would get “a visit to Washington” if he told Mr. Trump he would do the investigation.
In the texts, William Taylor, a top diplomat in the U.S. embassy in Kiev, repeatedly raised concerns that the Trump administration was withholding military aid to Ukraine to push Kiev on the probe. “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” he wrote on Sept. 9.
“I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, wrote back. He told Mr. Taylor to “stop the back and forth by text” and switch to a phone call.