Inside The State Department’s Weird Role In Giuliani’s Ukraine Pressure Campaign

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani arrives to campaign for Republican Senate hopeful Mike Braun on November 3, 2018 in Franklin Township, Indiana. Braun is locked in a tight race with incumbent Democrat Sen. Jo... Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani arrives to campaign for Republican Senate hopeful Mike Braun on November 3, 2018 in Franklin Township, Indiana. Braun is locked in a tight race with incumbent Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images) MORE LESS
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

As President Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Ukraine to manufacture dirt on Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, they may have received help along the way.

But it’s not an outside fixer, but rather the U.S. State Department. Accounts differ, but the agency appears to have played a crucial role in connecting Giuliani with an aide of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

For his part, Giuliani has given the State Department a bear hug, claiming variously that the agency instructed him to go on a “mission” for the U.S. and that it had set up his meeting with the Zelensky aide. The Washington Post reported that U.S. diplomats stationed in Kyiv “expressed concerns” about the meetings, in part because it was unclear if Giuliani was speaking as a private citizen or as a representative of the State Department.

The State Department’s apparent involvement in the scandal focuses on Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who was appointed special representative for Ukraine by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in July 2017.

Giuliani met with top Zelensky foreign policy aide Andriy Yermak on Aug. 3 in a meeting that was facilitated by Volker. Giuliani reportedly debriefed State Department officials afterwards.

The question is, how deep did State get in Giuliani’s game?

The answer to that question is, in part, the focus of an inquiry by the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs Committee’s into Giuliani’s pressure campaign to extract dirt on Biden. It goes to the heart of what makes these allegations against President Trump different and what, in the words of one former Defense Department official, has broken new ground in U.S. political history: the use of the power of U.S. foreign policy to beat down a political opponent.

Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and longtime Ukraine-watcher, told TPM that “the request came from Ukraine because they understood that the person they needed to speak with was” Giuliani.

“Of course, it’s completely inappropriate,” Aslund said. “This was extortion.”

The State Department issued a statement on the matter Sept. 9, saying that Giuliani “does not speak on behalf of the U.S. Government.”

“We would refer you to Mr. Giuliani for information about the content of Mr. Giuliani’s conversations with Ukrainian officials,” the statement read.

In one telling, offered by Yermak himself, he approached Volker for an introduction to Giuliani as part of a bid to “clarify” Zelensky’s position after the former New York City mayor criticized him in May.

Giuliani had cancelled a planned mission to Kyiv in which he intended to dig up dirt on Biden and find information that would exonerate Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman whose financial misdeeds eventually landed him in prison.

At the time of the cancellation, Giuliani pinned his decision on the fact that Zelensky was “in hands of avowed enemies of Pres Trump. Useless meeting,” reported Politico, citing a text from the former mayor.

But in a Monday Russian-language interview with the Ukrainian press, Yermak said that Giuliani’s statement about “enemies” in Zelensky’s team led him to reach out.

“I was acquainted with Kurt Volker at that time, and so I told him about my idea to speak with Giuliani, in order to clarify the situation,” Yermak said. “He approved of the idea, and offered to introduce me.”

Yermak added that “Giuliani and I spoke over the phone, and after this met personally in Madrid.”

“[Giuliani] remarked, that for him it was important to hear that the new Ukrainian authorities would adhere to principles of openness and lawfulness, that we would fight corruption, and place a goal for ourselves of making Ukraine successful,” Yermak added.

This is the Madrid meeting on Aug. 3 where Giuliani reportedly pushed for Kyiv to open investigations into debunked allegations that Biden helped quash a criminal investigation into his son.

Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told TPM that Giuliani’s direct access to Trump would make him valuable.

“I understand if you get that request, given Giuliani’s position, it’s pretty hard to say no,” he said. “But what Giuliani is doing, I think, conflicts with what we’re trying to do with Ukraine, he’s party to something to accomplish the President’s re-election” – not the State Department’s mission.

“It sends conflicting messages to the Ukrainians,” he added.

Latest Muckraker

Notable Replies

  1. Let me just say, when this administration is over, there should be a whole-heck-of-a-lot of indictments. The biggest problem isn’t Trump, it’s the feculent nidus of the GOP that enabled him in the decomposition of our laws and norms. The fact that the State Department was involved in this Ukraine business just highlights how pervasive the rot is in the GOP. Thank goodness there are still some people like the whistle-blower who love this country. I realize people like Schumer and Pelosi want to keep working with their opponents on the “other side of the aisle” (a bizarre phrase for POS traitors, IMO), and they are going to give them cover to distance themselves from Trump. This is a huge mistake. One, however, that we will watch happen in slow-motion.

  2. Avatar for bodie1 bodie1 says:

    I really hope this country is able to wrap its minds around the depth and the breadth of this corruption. It is so overwhelming, we are in a daze. I’m not betting on the intelligence of most Americans to be able to do the necessary critical thinking.

  3. Drain the much enlarged swamp.

  4. If we do not end up declaring Drumph our Beloved, Dear Orange Diaper-Stain for Life, then he, his family, and practically every member of his administration, from his Cabinet, to those two stoners in the White House’s personnel office, are going to end up in jail. And everyone on his damned campaign. All of them. I cannot imagine a middle ground. If we keep our republic, then they’re all going to jail. And the GOP will be dead, unelectable. Everything Trump Touches Dies.

  5. Avatar for caltg caltg says:

    It is clearly time for heads to start rolling in the State Dept. as well as the White House. Pompeo? Volker? I envision a whole line of perp walks. The corruption of the Trump administration seems to know no end.

Continue the discussion at

69 more replies


Avatar for playitagainrowlf Avatar for bobatkinson Avatar for clemmers Avatar for teenlaqueefa Avatar for tomdibble Avatar for ionfreeman Avatar for kitty Avatar for dickweed Avatar for ted Avatar for gailefranz Avatar for bodie1 Avatar for edhedh Avatar for an_american Avatar for rickjones Avatar for capital2 Avatar for dannydorko Avatar for redhand Avatar for skeptical Avatar for karlwlewis Avatar for zillacop Avatar for c_stedman Avatar for spaceranger Avatar for kadymud Avatar for communistagronomist

Continue Discussion
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: