WASHINGTON - The former State Department special envoy for Ukraine told congressional investigators that Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, demanded that Ukraine specifically commit to investigate involvement in the 2016 election and a firm tied to former Vice President Joe Biden.
During testimony behind closed doors Thursday, Kurt Volker, the special envoy, said Giuliani rejected a generic draft statement that Ukraine's government had agreed to issue committing to fighting corruption generally. Instead, Giuliani said the Ukrainians had to promise to pursue two specific investigations that could damage the president's political domestic adversaries.
While Giuliani's efforts to pressure Ukraine have been known, Volker's account to House committees conducting an impeachment inquiry provides new details about how the president's personal lawyer inserted himself into foreign policy to benefit Trump politically. Not only was Giuliani meeting with Ukrainian officials, he was effectively dictating the contents of a statement being negotiated by State Department officials with a foreign power.
Giuliani "said that in his view, the statement should include specific reference to 'Burisma' and '2016,'" Volker told House investigators, according to a copy of his prepared testimony provided by a person involved in the process who did not want to be named. "There was no mention of Vice President Biden in these conversations."
But Burisma was the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Biden's son Hunter Biden served for $50,000 a month, and the Ukrainians clearly understood that Giuliani's interest in an investigation into the firm was aimed at finding damaging information about the former vice president, who had led dealings with Ukraine while in office.
"I edited the draft statement by Mr. Yermak to include these points to see how it looked," Volker testified, referring to Andrey Yermak, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine. "I then discussed further with Mr. Yermak. He said that for a number of reasons" that "they do not want to mention Burisma and 2016."
"I agreed," Volker added, "and further said that I believe it is essential that Ukraine do nothing that could be seen as interfering in 2020 elections. It is bad enough that accusations have been made about 2016 - it is essential that Ukraine not be involved in anything relating to 2020. He agreed and the idea of putting out a statement was shelved."
Volker's testimony has attracted enormous interest as the first person to testify about the Ukraine matter since Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened a formal impeachment inquiry. An ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush, Volker was serving as special envoy part time without pay but abruptly resigned last week after revelations about the president's efforts to pressure Ukraine for an investigation into Biden.
Volker also plans to resign Friday as executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, a Washington-based research group affiliated with Arizona State University. The institute leadership has privately expressed discontent with his twin roles, complaining that he was not as forthcoming as they wished, and pressured Volker to step down.
A person familiar with Volker's views said he was planning to leave later this year and decided to go right away to avoid being a distraction for the institute as a result of the furor over the Ukraine matter and impeachment inquiry.
For Volker, it has been a week of many transitions. He is also scheduled to get married in Washington on Saturday.
In his testimony Thursday, Volker emphasized to congressional investigators that he was kept out of the loop on the president's efforts to prompt an investigation of Biden and was not on Trump's July 25 call with Zelenskiy that has sparked the impeachment inquiry.
Volker sought in his testimony to distance himself from the pressure campaign by the president and Giuliani. "At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden," he told investigators.
"Moreover," he added, "as I was aware of public accusations about the vice president, several times I cautioned the Ukrainians to distinguish between highlighting their own efforts to fight corruption domestically, including investigating Ukrainian individuals - something we support as a matter of U.S. policy - and doing anything that could be seen as impacting U.S. elections, which is in neither the United States' nor Ukraine's own interests."
Volker testified that he "became concerned that a negative narrative about Ukraine" was tainting Trump's view of the country and impeding efforts to bolster the country against Russian aggression.
"I therefore faced a choice - do nothing, and allow this situation to fester, or try to fix it," he testified. "I tried to fix it."
He agreed to connect Giuliani with senior Ukrainian officials at the request of the Ukrainians in hopes of convincing the former New York mayor that Zelenskiy and the new government were reformers worthy of U.S. support.
At a breakfast with Giuliani on July 19, Volker testified, he warned Giuliani against the political conspiracy theories the former mayor was pursuing related to Biden. He said he told Giuliani that "it is not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as vice president." While Ukrainians may have acted for corrupt motives, he said, he did not believe Biden had.
Volker said that he learned of Trump's decision to hold up $391 million in aid to Ukraine on July 18, the day before his breakfast with Giuliani and a week before the phone call between the two leaders, but he did not connect the issue to the pressure for investigations.
"I did not perceive these issues to be linked in any way," Volker said.
While he was not on the July 25 call, he was in Ukraine at the time and met with Zelenskiy the next day and received "a general readout" from U.S. and Ukrainian officials.
"All said it was a good, congratulatory call, that they discussed the importance of fighting corruption and promoting reform in Ukraine, and that President Trump reiterated his invitation to President Zelenskiy to visit the White House," Volker said. "I was not made aware of any references to Vice President Biden or his son."
He only learned about that when the White House released a rough transcript of the call last week. Two days later he resigned.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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