Stories

Report: Putin and Hungary PM denigrated Ukraine to Trump

 Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a joint press conference on February 2, 2017 in Budapest.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán during a February press conference in Budapest.

Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán denigrated Ukraine during conversations with President Trump, the Washington Post first reported Monday. The New York Times reports Trump met with Orbán 10 days before a key Ukraine meeting, despite objections from then-national security adviser John Bolton.

Why it matters: Per the NYT, Trump’s concerns on U.S. ally Ukraine "set the stage for events that led to the impeachment inquiry against him." The May 13 meeting with fierce Ukraine critic Orbán and a May 3 phone call between Trump and Putin "are of intense interest to House investigators seeking to piece together the back story that led to the president’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats," the Times said.

  • Current and former U.S. officials told the WashPost that Putin's and Orbán's remarks bolstered Trump's views of Kiev as corrupt and "fed a dysfunctional dynamic in which White House officials struggled" to convince him to back the new Ukrainian government, rather than "exploiting it for political purposes."

The big picture: AP reports that George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, told House impeachment investigators during closed-door testimony that "Putin and Orban had soured Trump’s attitude toward Ukraine."

  • Trump’s talks with Orbán came as the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was urging the Ukrainian government "to provide damaging information about Democrats," NYT reports.

What they're saying: A former U.S. official familiar with the conversation details told the WashPost that during the May 3 call with Trump, Putin "did what he always does" — he cast aspersions on Ukraine. "He has always said Ukraine is just a den of corruption," the source said.

  • The Times reports that on May 23, 10 days after his meeting with Orbán, Trump met with his advisers who told him that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was a "reformer who deserved American support." But Trump was skeptical and insisted that Ukrainians were "terrible people" who "tried to take me down" in the 2016 election.
  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry; Kurt Volker, then special envoy for Ukraine; and Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, were among those trying to reassure Trump on Zelensky, according to the NYT.

Yes, but: Officials told the WashPost that neither Putin nor Orban encouraged Trump "to see Ukraine as a potential source of damaging information" on former Vice President Joe Biden or over unsubstantiated allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Go deeper: Trump-Ukraine scandal: All the key players, dates and documents

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout. It has been corrected to reflect that Trump met with his advisers on May 23 (not with Zelensky).