Oct 4, 2019

House committees release texts from former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker

The chairs of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform Committees released a batch of explosive text messages Thursday night provided by former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.

The state of play: The released messages feature conversations between Volker and other officials, including Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giulani, and Andrey Yermak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The big picture, via Axios' Orion Rummler: Volker and Sondland are both named in the whistleblower complaint that is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry into Trump. The revelations that have been reported out of Volker's testimony before the House committees, which lasted more than 9 hours and is the first of at least 5 depositions of current and former State Department officials, suggest there is much more to be learned.

One particularly explosive exchange was between Taylor and Sondland in September:

  • "I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor texted.
  • That message came after he said that "the message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. That's my nightmare scenario."
  • Sondland, a Trump political appointee and GOP donor, texted back: "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind." The New York Times reported that Sondland's response came after he spoke to the president.

Read the committee's letter and the texts:

Go deeper ... NYT: U.S. envoys drafted statement committing Ukraine president to Biden probe

Go deeper

NYT: U.S. envoys drafted statement committing Ukraine president to Biden probe

President Trump on Oct. 3 in The Villages, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland drafted a statement in August committing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigating the Ukrainian energy company for which Hunter Biden previously served on the board, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The statement, which also included a commitment to investigate Ukraine's alleged role in interfering in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton, appears to be documentary evidence of high-level diplomats shaping foreign policy to the tune of President Trump's political agenda, per the Times.

Go deeperArrowOct 4, 2019

Trump says he won’t let EU ambassador testify before House "kangaroo court"

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump said in a tweet Tuesday that he did not want the U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland to sit for a deposition in the Ukraine investigation because of the format House Democrats' impeachment inquiry has taken on.

I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see. Importantly, Ambassador Sondland’s tweet, which few report, stated, “I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” That says it ALL!
Go deeperArrowOct 8, 2019

Ron Johnson says Sondland told him of possible Ukraine quid pro quo

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Ron Johnson (R.-Wis.) told the Wall Street Journal that he learned of a possible quid pro quo between the Trump administration and Ukraine's government from EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland.

The big picture: Johnson said that he pressed President Trump on the issue, which allegedly linked the distribution of $400 million in U.S. military aid with a Ukrainian investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, in an Aug. 31 phone call. "He said ... 'No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?'" Johnson told the Journal of his conversation with the president.

Go deeperArrowOct 4, 2019