Kurt Volker’s Thursday testimony brought new details about diplomats’ involvement with Trump’s conspiracy theories, while a new report revealed the president brought up Biden to Xi Jinping in a phone call over the summer.
It’s only been slightly more than a week since Democrats first officially announced their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump over his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—and the news updates haven’t let up since. In recent days, there have been reports that Vice President Mike Pence was seemingly “unknowingly” involved in the Ukraine plan (and perhaps Rick Perry as well), and that Trump has also been hounding other leaders to discredit the Mueller report. Faced with impeachment, Trump has made new headlines by threatening civil war, working to (illegally) unmask the whistle-blower, and outright calling forforeign investigations into Joe Biden on camera—while Rudy Giuliani plots to somehow “sue The Swamp.” (Unsurprisingly, the official White House response to the whole impeachment affair has so far been characterized as a “disorganized mess.”) So it’s no surprise that Thursday night brought a slew of new headlines about the whole Ukrainian affair—and Trump’s determination to get China involved in his vortex of Biden corruption.
Former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker testified before House investigators on Thursday, during which he reportedly told lawmakers that he had personally told Giuliani that the Biden conspiracy theory at the heart of this whole thing should probably not be believed. (Indeed, the whole conspiracy, which ties Biden’s push for former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin to be fired with son Hunter Biden‘s role on the board of a Ukranian natural gas company, has been thoroughly debunked.) The Washington Post reports that Volker told Giuliani that the lawyer’s sources, including former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko, were “unreliable and that he should be careful about putting faith in the prosecutor’s theories.” Giuliani, of course, pressed on with the Biden conspiracy anyway, prompting Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky.
CNN reports that after the call took place, Volker testified Thursday that he urged Ukrainian officials “not to interfere with U.S. politics,” confirming the whistle-blower report alleging that Volker and another diplomat had “provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President made.” The Ukrainian government was concerned about why their U.S. military aid was being held up, Volker testified, claiming that he could not give them any answers because he was never given an explanation himself—something analysts cited by the Post called “striking.” Democrats came out of Volker’s testimony feeling that the former envoy, who resigned in the wake of the phone call becoming public, had confirmed Trump’s wrongdoing, while Republicans thought the testimony failed to provide the smoking gun needed to justify impeachment. “I do not believe that Volker’s testimony advanced Schiff’s impeachment agenda,” Republican Rep. Mike Turner said in a statement Thursday.
Separate to Volker’s testimony, the New York Times reportedThursday that Volker, along with U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon D. Sondland, had drafted in August a statement for new president Zelensky, which would have committed Ukraine to investigating Biden as Trump wanted, as well as whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton. The statement, which was never released publicly by Zelensky, was drafted with the awareness of Giuliani and an aide to Zelensky, and was meant to persuade Ukraine to follow through on its promises while making Trump more supportive of Zelensky’s government—though, as the Timesnotes, it also serves as evidence of how “Trump’s fixation with Ukraine began driving senior diplomats to bend American foreign policy to the president’s political agenda.” The news of the statement comes after ABC News reported earlier Thursday on text messages between Volker, Sondland, and Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, which Volker turned over to House investigators. Taylor remarks during the exchange that “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” to which Sondland responds, “I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind” and suggests they don’t discuss this over text. (Sondland’s text, the Times reports, was sent after a conversation with Trump.)