House Democrats released a series of new, explosive texts on Thursday evening, revealing the extent to which State Department officials worked with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
The texts indicate that the U.S. ambassador to the EU and the former State Department special envoy to Ukraine were actively working to persuade Ukraine to publicly commit to an investigation as an explicit condition for an in-person meeting between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The messages provide the clearest picture yet of how the State Department worked with Giuliani in order to advance President Trump’s political goals.
“Heard from White House – assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for a visit to Washington,” former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations Kurt Volker said in one exchange with a top Zelensky aide on July 25, just before the now-infamous call between Trump and Zelensky. That call formed the initial basis of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Volker — who resigned from the State Department on Sept. 27 and provided a deposition before Congress on Thursday — even worked to draft language for a potential Zelensky statement announcing the probe. Zelensky never made the announcement.
The texts show that Volker and Sondland — both Trump political appointees — repeatedly discussed the need to settle on the exact wording that Zelensky should use to announce a potential probe into the origins of allegations that were a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company that Hunter Biden joined the board of in 2014 while his father was vice president and overseeing the U.S.’s relations with Ukraine. Trump has repeatedly lobbed allegations of corruption in relation to the arrangement, but there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
The two ambassadors settled on the following language for the announcement that never transpired, according to the texts: “We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections.”
House Democrats released the text messages after completing an eight-hour deposition with Volker on Thursday. The texts are just one segment of a package of materials the House committees intend to make public, Democrats said in the letter.
According to a person familiar with Volker’s testimony Thursday who spoke to the the New York Times, Volker told House Democrats that Giuliani specifically requested that the statement include language about Burisma and the 2016 election. Volker reportedly told lawmakers that the Ukrainians had initially proposed a statement that would include a vow to investigate corruption, but Giuliani told Volker it was not sufficient and insisted on the Burisma and 2016 election mentions.
Eventually, Zelensky adviser Andrey Yermak told Volker that the government could not agree to the language Giuliani wanted and the “idea was dropped,” according to the Times.
The messages also show an alarmed Yermak contacting Volker in late August after Trump decided to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid from the country. Trump has claimed that he withheld the funds to try to force European countries to contribute more to Ukraine’s defense. But in the July call with Zelensky, Trump explicitly asks for a favor when the Ukrainian president asks about more military defense weapons.
The series of texts show U.S. Charges D’affaires for Ukraine Bill Taylor expressing discomfort with the developments. “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” he asked on Sept. 1.
“Call me,” Sondland replied.
On Sept. 9, Taylor texted Sondland again. “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
“Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” Sondland replied. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s (sic) of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.”
He continued, “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text If you still have concerns I recommend you give [Executive Secretary in the Office of the Secretary of State] Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly. Thanks.”
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff released the trove of explosive texts messages in a letter on Thursday evening.
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