State Dept. Texts Show Trump Wanted Ukraine Probes Before Face-To-Face Meeting
The Washington Post reported Friday morning that House investigators released text message exchanges between State Department officials showing a clear quid pro quo with Ukraine: President Donald Trump withheld a desperately desired face-to-face meeting with the new president until the country agreed to investigations Trump desired.
The texts were provided by former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who testified before House committees for several hours on Thursday, and involve communications with two other officials — U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and U.S. Charges D’affaires in Ukraine William B. “Bill” Taylor.
Though former Vice President Joe Biden is not mentioned by name in the text messages, it is clear from context that Trump’s wish to see his potential 2020 political rival investigated was on the table.
Also on the table was an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, which the Trump team maintains involved a conspiracy between Democrats in the U.S. and officials in Ukraine.
In one text, Volker said to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s aide, Andrey Yermak, “heard from White House — assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”
That text was sent just hours before Trump’s now-infamous July 25 phone call with Zelensky.
When a face-to-face meeting still had not been scheduled two weeks after the phone call, Sondland texted to Volker: “I think potus really wants the deliverable.”
“To avoid misunderstandings, might be helpful to ask Andrey for a draft statement (embargoed) so that we can see exactly what they propose to cover,” he wrote, as part of the effort to “to convince the Ukrainians that Trump would need a public pledge before agreeing to the meeting,” The Post reported.
Yerkmak responded telling Volker that Ukrainian officials wanted a date set before announcing the investigations, texting on August 10: “Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations.”
Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, previously sat on the board of Burisma — an issue at the heart of Trump’s desire to see the pair investigated.
Still, Trump did not commit to a meeting with Zelensky, and “administration officials’ discussions suggest the White House was issuing an escalating series of demands,” The Post wrote.
“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor texted to Sondland on Sept. 1, which came after Trump decided to skip a planned visit to Poland, sending Vice President Mike Pence in his stead.
Sondland immediately switched from texting to a phone call to continue discussing the issue with Taylor.
A little more than a week later, Taylor texted Sondland again, appearing to reference the Sept. 1 phone call, writing: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland responded: “The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The president is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that president zelensky promised during his campaign I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”
This appeared to be the end of texting on the issue.
Other texts highlighted by The Post also painted the picture of a Ukraine desperate to “being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.”
But as a July message from Volker made clear, Trump was unwilling to meet this desire unless his wishes were granted: “Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help the investigation,” he texted Zondland in July.