President Donald Trump’s urging of Ukraine’s President to investigate political rivals coincided with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pushing a disparaging view of the country to Trump, The Washington Post reported on Monday.
Citing current and former US officials, the Post reported that Putin and Orban did not explicitly name Ukraine as a potential source of dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden or mentioned the country’s potential role in the 2016 US presidential election. However, the two leaders characterized Ukraine as corrupt and reinforced Trump’s views of the country.
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, described Putin and Orban’s influence during closed-door testimony to House investigators last week, US officials told the Post. Kent pointed to their efforts as a factor in turning Trump against Ukraine in the months leading up to his controversial call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted a whistleblower complaint and impeachment inquiry, the Post reported.
The full context of Kent’s remarks are not known because Democrats conducted the interview behind closed doors and have not released a full transcript of his testimony.
The leaders’ negative portrayals of Ukraine bolstered a chaotic White House environment where aides scrambled to convince Trump to back – instead of politically exploit – the Ukrainian government, according to the Post.
US officials stressed to the Post that while Putin and Orban slammed Ukraine in general, it was Trump’s own inclinations as well as his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s proffered conspiracy theories that largely propelled the President’s pursuit of dirt on Biden. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son, Hunter.
Trump spoke repeatedly with both Putin and Orban this spring and summer following Zelensky’s election in late April, according to the paper.
Putin “did what he always does” in looking to undermine the US-Ukraine relationship during his early May phone call with Trump, a former US official familiar with details of the conversation told the Post, adding that Putin “has always said Ukraine is just a den of corruption.”
When Trump asked Putin during the May call for his impressions of the new Ukrainian President, Putin said he had yet to speak with Zelensky but criticized him as a former comedian linked to a Kremlin-hated oligarch, a Western official familiar with the conversation told the Post. Trump and Putin also met during a June global summit and spoke days after Trump’s July call with Zelensky, per the Post.
Orban kicked off his visit to the White House, also in May, with an hour-long meeting with Trump that initially did not include any note-takers before Bolton and a Hungarian official joined, officials told the Post. One official noted to the paper that it became “clear that the meeting with Orban had solidified” Trump’s perceptions of the current situation in Ukraine.
“Basically, everyone agreed – no Orban meeting,” a former White House official involved in internal discussions told the paper. “We were against it because (we) knew there was a good chance that Trump and Orban would bond and get along.”
A key facilitator in Trump and Orban’s interactions was acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who overruled national security officials in approving the Hungarian leader’s visit, officials told the Post.