EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, drafted a statement in August for Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky that would have committed the country to pursuing investigations of Donald Trump’s political rivals.
That’s according to text messages presented to lawmakers and the accounts of three sources who spoke to The New York Times for one of several bombshell stories that broke on Thursday evening in rapid succession.
Volker, who resigned late last week, spent the day on Capitol Hill briefing lawmakers as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry.
Mike Pompeo pushed back when House Democrats informed the state department of their intent to schedule depositions for Volker, George Kent, Ulrich Brechbuhl, Sondland and Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who Trump maligned on the phone call with Zelensky, and who featured prominently in the whistle-blower complaint.
While speaking to lawmakers on Thursday, Volker “disclosed a set of texts in September in which Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, alluded to Trump’s decision earlier in the summer to freeze a military aid package to the country”, the Times wrote. Importantly, Taylor told Sondland and Volker that if you ask him, “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign”.
Sondland then spoke to Trump and texted back. “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind”, he said, adding that “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text”.
(Note: Adam Schiff has released the texts – they are embedded in full below)
As to whether lawmakers were informed about all the details of the statement Volker and Sondland drafted, that’s not entirely clear, but the texts spell out quite a bit.
“The statement would have committed Ukraine to investigating the energy company Burisma, which had employed Hunter Biden… and it would have called for the Ukrainian government to look into what Mr. Trump and his allies believe was interference by Ukrainians in the 2016 election in the United States to benefit Hillary Clinton”, the Times says.
In other words, it would have committed Ukraine to doing precisely what Trump asked them to do on the July 25 call with Zelensky.
In a separate series of texts between Sondland and Volker on August 13, the two were clearly drafting language for Ukrainian officials, who would have then announced an investigation. Here are some excerpts:
“Andrey” is a reference to a Zelensky aide, Andrey Yermak, who was in contact with Giuliani.
Meanwhile, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke to Dow Jones, Trump personally ordered Yovanovitch removed from her post on the advice of Giuliani, who insisted the seasoned diplomat was undercutting Rudy’s quest to convince Ukraine to investigate Biden.
State department officials, sources say, were told during the spring that Yovanovitch’s removal was paramount for the president.
That is precisely what the whistle-blower complaint alleges and is in keeping with Trump’s rather derisive tone when discussing Yovanovitch on the call with Zelensky.
“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that”, the president told his Ukrainian counterpart, just before asking about Biden’s son.
The compliant tied the termination of Yovanovitch’s assignment in Ukraine to the allegations of the country’s then top prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko, who met with Rudy Giuliani on a number of occasions this year. Lutsenko has since told several American media outlets that he never had any hard evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. During an interview with the LA Times, he described Giuliani has “obsessed” with the former vice president and his son.
Giuliani had spent “months” complaining about Yovanovitch, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday evening. The ambassador, Rudy told Trump, “was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate Biden”.
On Thursday evening, Senator Bob Menendez – who sent letters to Mike Pence and Rick Perry earlier this week – asked the state department’s inspector general (who spoke to lawmakers and turned over what was described as a “packet of propaganda” on Wednesday) to investigate the Trump administration’s efforts to delay congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine.
Specifically, Menendez implored the IG to examine Mike Pompeo’s role, and any participation by other top officials. “[Pompeo] may have inappropriately and unlawfully leveraged State Department resources”, Menendez said.
Also on Thursday evening, CNN reported that Trump spoke to Xi Jinping about Biden and Elizabeth Warren in a June 18 call which also found the US president pledging to stay quiet on pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
The account of that call, a pair of sources said, was sequestered on the same highly secure server as that which housed the Ukraine call.
Warren is furious. “The public must see the transcript”, she said, in a tweet. Trump, Warren remarked, can say what he wants about her, but it’s “outrageous that any president would sell out the people of Hong Kong behind closed doors”.621801458E982E9903839ABC7404A917.chairmen-letter-on-state-departmnent-texts-10-03-19