Two weeks before taking office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his team discussed the pressure they were already feeling from the Trump administration and President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to publicly launch investigations that would benefit the US leader, according to a source familiar with discussions at the meeting.
The source told CNN that Zelensky and his team specifically mentioned the pressure they were feeling to open “corruption” investigations into Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company on whose board former Vice President Joe Biden’s son sat.
The source said the meeting was originally scheduled to discuss energy issues but the meeting evolved into a discussion on how to handle the pressure from Trump’s orbit. Among those present in the May 7 meeting were Zelensky advisers Andriy Yermak and Andriy Bogdan. Also involved were an executive for the Ukrainian state-owned natural gas company and American Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat and energy expert.
The Associated Press first reported this story, citing three people familiar with the meeting.
The meeting happened about two weeks after Zelensky and Trump spoke for the first time. A White House readout of that call said the two leaders discussed working together to “root out corruption.” Trump has said he did not pressure Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
It is not clear whether the President specifically asked for investigations of Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election or the energy company that had hired Biden’s son, Hunter, to its board. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden in Ukraine.
The President has said the White House would release the call transcript but that has not happened to this point. The White House has released a transcript of a separate call that took place on July 25, in which Trump repeatedly pushed Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
The source said that even in those early weeks, Zelensky and his team realized Ukraine’s relationship with the US – including a potential face-to-face meeting with Trump – could be at stake if they did not support the continuation of investigations like Burisma.
The Ukrainians continued to be sensitive to the issue. Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, said during congressional testimony this week that a top Ukrainian official told him in July that “President Zelensky did not want to be used as a pawn in a US reelection campaign.”
During a press conference with Trump in September, Zelensky denied he felt any pressure, adding: “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be involved, to democratic, open elections of the USA.”
CNN has reached out to members of Zelensky’s transition team and government for comment.