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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.

  • Volker and Sondland believed that the statement would help "pacify" Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who were fixated on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Ukraine, and "normalize relations between the two countries" as the new president assumed office.
  • Giuliani and a top aide to Zelensky were reportedly aware of the statement's drafting, but it's unclear if it was ever delivered to Ukraine.
Volker's testimony

In a closed-door deposition Thursday before House committees investigating Trump and Ukraine, Volker testified that the Ukrainian government had "a lot of questions" about why Trump had frozen military aid to Ukraine, and that he "did not have a good explanation," per CNN.

  • Volker disclosed September text messages from Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, to Volker and Sondland: "I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor said, after stating 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."
    • After reportedly speaking with Trump, "Sondland texted back that there was no quid pro quo, adding, 'I suggest we stop the back and forth by text,'" the NYT reports.
  • Volker testified that "he urged Ukraine's leadership not to interfere in US politics," CNN reports. He also said he warned Giuliani that he "was receiving untrustworthy information from Ukrainian political figures about former vice president Joe Biden and his son," the Washington Post reports.
  • It is not clear if the statement drafted for Zelensky came up during Volker's testimony.

The big picture: 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, 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.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 16 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.