Impeachment inquiry testimony transcripts released
Former US Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker rejected the conspiracy theories about Ukraine and Joe Biden that have been promoted by Rudy Giuliani, according to excerpts of his testimony to lawmakers.
Volker testified that he personally told Giuliani that the source of many of those theories was “not credible.”
Some background: Giuliani has spent much of this year spreading theories about former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democrats peddled by former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko.
The conspiracy theory alleges that Biden held up $1 billion in aid for Ukraine to pressure their government to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma, an energy company where Biden’s son had a high-paid board seat.
There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden or his son Hunter Biden.
Volker also testified that Biden didn’t do anything wrong by pushing for the ouster of that top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was dismissed in 2016. The US and other European allies sought Shokin’s removal because he was not doing enough to crack down on corruption in Ukraine.
“(Biden) was executing U.S. policy at the time and what was widely understood internationally to be the right policy,” Volker testified.
In an excerpt of his testimony, Kurt Volker — the former US special representative for Ukraine negotiations — described a May 23 meeting with President Trump when the President expressed deep skepticism of Ukraine and told officials to “talk to Rudy” about Ukrainian officials’ alleged wrongdoing.
In the meeting, Volker and other administration officials recommended Trump schedule an Oval Office meeting with the newly elected President Zelensky. But Trump was skeptical.
“They are all corrupt, they are all terrible people,” Volker recalled Trump saying. “I don’t want to spend any time with that.”
Volker also recalled Trump saying “they tried to take me down,” insisting that Volker and the other officials’ recommendation he cultivate Zelensky as a partner were misguided.
“He was skeptical. And he also said, that’s not what I hear. I hear, you know, he’s got some terrible people around him. And he referenced that he hears from Mr. Giuliani as part of that, Volker said, according to the excerpt.
Volker said Trump didn’t explicitly instruct the official to speak with Giuliani. But he did raise his personal attorney as having knowledge of the situation.
“I think he said, not as an instruction but just as a comment, talk to Rudy, you know. He knows all of these things, and they’ve got some bad people around him,” Volker said.
EUAmbassador Gordon Sondland, a key witness who spoke with the President about his intentions in Ukraine, told the House Committees he believed Rudy Giuliani's push for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was potentially illegal, according to excerpts of transcripts released Tuesday.
When asked if it was illegal, Sondland responded:
"I'm not a lawyer, but I assume so."
When asked a second time, Sondland again said he wasn't a lawyer, before adding, "I don’t know the law exactly. It doesn’t sound good."
Remember: Giuliani has not been charged with a crime but CNN has reported he is part of an ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
Here's the exchange, according to excerpts of Sondland's testimony obtained by CNN:
Q: When you said in your statement, on page 8 of your statement, you did not understand until much later that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians directly or indirectly in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign, why did you—why do you think that either of those activities are problematic? Sondland: Because I believe I testified that it would be improper to do that. Q: And illegal, right? Sondland: I’m not a lawyer, but I assume so. Q: Sir, one last question, which is: Do you believe that, with regard to Burisma, that the effort by Giuliani to investigate Burisma, now that we know that it was actually intended to go after Mr. Biden’s son Hunter, was ever a proper inquiry? Sondland: I mean, I think I testified to that at the beginning, that it would not be proper. Q: And illegal, correct? Sondland: Again, I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know the law exactly. It doesn’t sound good.
Former special representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker testified to the House Committees that while foreign aid routinely gets held up, he found the hold in assistance to Ukraine “unusual,” according to an excerpt of the transcript of his testimony.
“I agree with you in saying that assistance gets held up for a variety of reasons at various times. That is true,” Volker said. “In this case, here you had an instance where everyone that I spoke with in the policy side of the administration—you know, Pentagon, military, civilian, State Department, National Security Council—they all thought this is really important to provide this assistance.”
He continued: “And so, in that circumstance, for there to be a hold placed struck me as unusual. I didn’t know the reason. No reason was ever given as to why that was ... It came from OMB, so I immediately thought about budgetary issues, that, for whatever reason, there’s a hold placed. There was one report about a hold placed on all assistance because of a concern about end-of-year spending not being done efficiently.”
Volker said he became aware of the hold on July 18 – before the Trump-Zelensky call – but he did not find out the reason for the hold.
“Nobody ever gave a reason why,” Volker said.
Someone asked him: “(But) with something this serious and bipartisan and significant, there should be an explanation, right?”
“There should have been, but there wasn’t,” he replied.
Volker told the committees that he did not believe the hold would be “sustained” because it went against accepted, bipartisan policy.
“And I just didn’t believe that this hold would ever be sustained because the policy community in the administration was determined to see it go forward,” Volker said.
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said he discussed Rudy Giuliani with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but only in “general terms,” according to an excerpt of a transcript released by the committees today.
Here's part of the exchange:
Q: Did you ever discuss Rudy Giuliani with Secretary Pompeo?
Sondland: Only in general terms.
Q: And what did you discuss?
Sondland: That he’s involved in affairs. And Pompeo rolled his eyes and said: Yes, it’s something we have to deal with.
He also said the State Department was “fully aware of the issues” related to Giuliani.
Q: Yeah, but, I mean, he was causing serious issues in the U.S. relationship with Ukraine. Did you raise those concerns with—
Sondland: Listen, the State Department was fully aware of the issues, and there was very little they could do about it if the President decided he wanted his lawyer involved.
Q: And does that include Secretary Pompeo and his counselor, Ulrich Brechbuhl?
Sondland: My speculation is yes, that they hit a brick wall when it came to getting rid of Mr. Giuliani.
A senior adviser to Vice President Mike Pence is likely to comply with a request to testify on Thursday in front of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry, multiple sources say.
Why this matters: Jennifer Williams would be the first person on Pence's staff to appear and has knowledge of how much the vice president knew about the efforts by President Trump and those around him to push Ukraine to launch investigations into Joe Biden and his son, as well as 2016 election interference, according to a source familiar with her thinking.
Williams — along with other senior administration and national security officials — was listening to the phone call on July in which Trump asked for a "favor" of his newly-elected Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, a White House source says. Trump asked Zelensky to work with his attorney general, William Barr, and personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on investigations after Zelensky said he was ready to proceed with the transfer of US military aid to Ukraine.
Williams, a longtime State Department staffer, advises Pence on European and Russian affairs and was one of two Pence aides on the call. The other was Gen. Keith Kellogg, the vice president's national security adviser, who has not yet been called to testify.
Pence did not listen in, but a transcript of the call was put into Pence's daily briefing binder, an administration source says.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sen. Rand Paul calling on the media to “do your job” and name the whistleblower was “very responsible” because the statute was never meant to provide for anonymity and that the entire impeachment process was “generated based on an anonymous source.”
“The whistleblower statute was never meant to give you anonymity. It was meant to allow you to come forward without being fired. You can't use anonymity in a criminal process; you can't use anonymity in a civil process and you shouldn't be able to. This is a misuse of the statute. We need to know who this person is because without the complaint, there would be no impeachment inquiry.”
Asked if Paul's comments at a Trump rally yesterday calling on the media to name the whistleblower were responsible, Graham said, "Yeah, I think it's very responsible, I think it's irresponsible to allow an impeachment process to be generated based on an anonymous source."
GOP Rep. Mark Meadows said knowing the whistleblower’s identity would be “helpful” to understand his or her motivations and to ensure a “fair process."
He's the latest Republican to suggest identifying the whistleblower.
The three Democratic House committee chairs running the impeachment inquiry have requested that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney come in for a closed door deposition.
In a letter, the chairs write to Mulvaney that, based on the public reporting, they believe he has "substantial firsthand knowledge related to the House and impeachment inquiry."