State Department officials were reportedly told in May that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was feeling pressured by President Donald Trump’s push for Ukraine to open an investigation into 2020 candidate Joe Biden.
Two unnamed sources told the Associated Press that after Zelensky held a meeting with several advisers on May 7 to express his anxiety over Trump’s request, an American who had attended the meeting informed then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and two other U.S. officials of Zelensky’s concerns.
The American, Amos Hochstein, participated in the meeting due to his position on the supervisory board of Ukraine’s natural gas company, Naftogaz.
According to the AP, Hochstein relayed details of the meeting to Yovanovitch and two U.S. Embassy officials in Kyiv, Suriya Jayanti and Joseph Pennington, both of whom took notes that later circulated within the State Department.
The AP previously reported last week that Jayanti, along with fellow embassy staffer and impeachment witness David Holmes, overheard a conversation between Sondland and Trump in which the President asked Sondland about the status of his desired investigation the day after the infamous call with Zelensky in July.
On July 25, Trump asked Zelensky to do him a “favor” and investigate Biden as the two leaders were discussing military aid to Ukraine, which Trump had been withholding. The call is now at the center of the House impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Trump and his Republican allies have insisted there was “no pressure” on Zelensky, pointing to Zelensky’s comment on September 25 saying that “nobody pushed me” during the call.
They also point to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko, who said last week that Ambassador Gordon Sondland “did not tell us, and certainly did not tell me, about a connection between the assistance and the investigations.”
However, Sondland himself amended his testimony to impeachment investigators in early November to confirm he had told Zelensky’s top adviser that Ukraine would not receive the aid until the Ukrainian government had announced an investigation into Biden.
Additionally, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who traveled to Ukraine with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in September to discuss the withheld aid, told CNN’s “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper on Sunday that Zelensky and Prystaiko were trying to appease Trump with their comments.
“The Ukrainians aren’t going to come out and accuse the President of extortion,” Murphy said. “Why? Because they are presently reliant on the goodwill of Donald Trump in order to keep that country safe.”
“They can’t take on the President, because, at any moment, he could stop the security aid once more,” he continued. “So nobody should be surprised when the Ukrainians are trying to put as good a spin on this as possible, are trying to stay in the President’s good graces, because, right now, the President still holds enormous leverage over that country’s independence and sovereignty.”