In a secret interview, Rep. Adam Schiff, leader of the House Democratic effort to impeach President Trump, pressed former United States special representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker to testify that Ukrainian officials felt pressured to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter as a result of Trump withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
Volker denied that was the case, noting that Ukrainian leaders did not even know the aid was being withheld and that they believed their relationship with the U.S. was moving along satisfactorily, without them having done anything Trump mentioned in his notorious July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
When Volker repeatedly declined to agree to Schiff’s characterization of events, Schiff said, “Ambassador, you’re making this much more complicated than it has to be.
“The interview took place Oct. 3 in a secure room in the U.S. Capitol. While the session covered several topics, the issue of an alleged quid pro quo — U.S. military aid in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens and a public announcement that such an investigation was underway — was a significant part of the discussion.
“[The Ukrainians] didn’t want to be drawn into investigating a Democratic candidate for president, which would mean only peril for Ukraine, is that fair to say?” Schiff asked Volker.”That may be true,” Volker said. “That may be true. They didn’t express that to me, and, of course, I didn’t know that was the context at the time.”
(Volker has said he did not know that Trump had mentioned the Bidens on the July 25 call with Zelensky until the rough transcript of the call was released on Sept. 25.)”Part of the other context is vital military support is being withheld from the Ukraine during this period, right?”
Schiff asked.”That was not part of the context at the time,” Volker said. “At least to my knowledge, they [Ukrainian leaders] were not aware of that.”Schiff asked whether Volker had discussed the withholding of aid with Ukrainian officials. Volker said he had not.
The first time he talked with the Ukrainians about that was when a story appeared in the press, an article in Politico, “Trump holds up Ukraine military aid meant to confront Russia,” on Aug. 28-29, well after the July 25 Trump-Zelensky phone call.
“The first conversation I had was when the diplomatic adviser to President Zelensky, Vadym Prystaiko, I believe it was, texted me a copy of the Politico article about the hold on assistance,” Volker testified. “So I had had many conversations with him in the months prior to that, and this did not come up from him to me, which makes me believe that this was not on his radar until that time when he saw the article.”
Volker said that he already knew about the suspension in aid, having learned on July 18, a week before the Trump-Zelensky call.
Volker testified that he asked around about the suspension — why was it being done? — but was not able to find out what was going on.Schiff began to push the quid pro quo allegation. He asked Volker whether he would agree that “no president of the United States should ever ask a foreign leader to help intervene in a U.S. election.””I agree with that,” said Volker.
“And that would be particularly egregious if it was done in the context of withholding foreign assistance?” Schiff continued.Volker balked. “We’re getting now into, you know, a conflation of these things that I didn’t think was actually there.”
Schiff wanted Volker to agree that “if it’s inappropriate for a president to seek foreign help in a U.S. election, it would be doubly so if a president was doing that at a time when the United States was withholding military support from the country.”
Again, Volker did not agree. “I can’t really speak to that,” he said. “My understanding of the security assistance issue is — “Schiff interrupted. “Why can’t you speak to that, ambassador?
You’re a career diplomat. You can understand the enormous leverage that a president would have while withholding military support from an ally at war with Russia. You can understand just how significant that would be, correct?”
Volker tried to go along without actually agreeing. “I can understand that that would be significant,” he said.Schiff persisted. “And when that suspension of aid became known to that country, to Ukraine, it would be all the more weighty to consider what the president had asked of them, wouldn’t it?”
“So again, congressman, I don’t believe — ” Volker began.”It’s a pretty straightforward question,” Schiff said.”But I don’t believe the Ukrainians were aware that the assistance was being held up — “”They became aware of it,” Schiff said.
“They became aware later, but I don’t believe they were aware at the time, so there was no leverage implied,” Volker said.The two men continued to argue about the chronology of events. B
By the time the Ukrainians learned about the withheld aid in late August, Volker said, all sides had dropped the idea of making a statement.