Permanent musical accompaniment: When the walls come crumblin’ down.
Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine who resigned abruptly, testified before lawmakers behind closed doors for more than nine hours [last] Thursday. He provided messages he had exchanged with other diplomats, the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and a high-level adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, portions of which were released by House Democrats [last] Thursday night. U.S. diplomats spent weeks pushing Ukraine to open investigations, texts show:
Diplomats charged with managing the U.S. relationship with Ukraine spent weeks trying to persuade the Ukrainian government to commit to announcing it would open investigations that would help President Trump politically, according to documents released by the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry.
The excerpts show a concerted effort by Volker and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, to persuade the Ukrainians to open investigations into Burisma, an energy company that hired Joe Biden’s son Hunter in 2014, and the 2016 U.S. counterintelligence probe that would become the Mueller probe. The diplomats’ actions were taken in concert and aided by Giuliani, who spent months contacting Ukrainian officials to get them to open the investigations.
The Ukrainians were intent on securing a meeting between Zelensky and Mr. Trump at the White House, a dynamic that is evident in the texts released Thursday.
The documents show that Ukrainian officials were aware that the investigations Mr. Trump wanted could impact his political prospects.
The Washington Post editorialized, Trump’s Ukraine stone wall has begun to crack:
President Trump’s stone wall on Ukraine has already begun to crack. On Friday, the ambassador he ordered withdrawn from Kiev in May, Marie Yovanovitch, appeared before Congress despite the White House’s unconstitutional attempt to block witnesses and withhold documents from an impeachment inquiry.
In a blistering opening statement, Ms. Yovanovitch said she had fought “corrupt interests in Ukraine, who fought back by selling baseless conspiracy theories to anyone who would listen. Sadly, someone was listening.” That would be President Trump, who tried to coerce Ukraine’s new president into investigating the concocted charges about Joe Biden and the 2016 election.
Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump. Giuliani ran a shadow foreign policy to personally benefit Trump, ex-adviser testifies:
Hill testified Monday that [National Security Advisor] John Bolton was furious over Giuliani’s politically motivated activities in Ukraine, two officials familiar with her testimony said. She recounted how Bolton likened the former New York mayor to a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” one of these people said, after Bolton learned about Giuliani’s Ukraine campaign.
Bolton and Sondland met in early July with then-special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, Hill and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. During the meeting, Sondland’s agenda for Ukraine began to become clear, when he blurted out to the other officials present that there were “investigations that were dropped that need to be started up again,” according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter. The officials understood him to be referring to Burisma, the energy company, and Biden — something that made Bolton go “ballistic” after the meeting, the official said.
Hill told lawmakers that after the meeting, Bolton instructed her to go raise their concerns about the shadow Ukraine operations with White House lawyers. Bolton said he did not want to be part of any “drug deal” that was being cooked up on Ukraine, one person familiar with Hill’s testimony said.
Hill met with NSC lawyer John Eisenberg to express her concerns about Giuliani’s activities and how they were being carried out by Sondland and Volker, people familiar with the matter said. Trump’s former Russia aide met with White House lawyer over Giuliani.
Holy shit! John Bolton — John Bolton! — was the ethical one in the White House? That tell-all book he is currently writing is going to be a best seller.
Michael McKinley, a former top adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told House impeachment investigators on Wednesday that he abruptly resigned last week because of President Donald Trump’s attacks on the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and the State Department’s unwillingness to protect career diplomats from politically motivated pressure, according to people familiar with the testimony. Ex-Pompeo adviser tells Congress he resigned over Trump’s attacks on Yovanovitch:
Michael McKinley, a career foreign service officer with nearly 40 years of experience, had a front-row seat to Pompeo’s decision-making at the State Department. And like other current and former officials who have testified for the House’s impeachment inquiry, McKinley told investigators he was deeply alarmed by efforts by Trump and his allies to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president’s political rivals.
According to a former colleague familiar with his testimony, McKinley attributed his resignation to “what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives.”
McKinley also testified that he resigned in part due to “the failure, in my view, of the State Department to offer support to foreign service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry on Ukraine.”
McKinley, according to people familiar with his nearly five-hour closed-door testimony, said he resigned in part after learning that Trump blasted Yovanovitch during his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. McKinley also said the State Department was not doing enough to shield officials like Yovanovitch from partisan-driven criticisms and pressure, which he believed could undermine U.S. foreign policy objectives.
“I was disturbed by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents,” McKinley told Congress, according to the former colleague familiar with his testimony. “I was convinced that this would also have a serious impact on foreign service morale and the integrity of our work overseas.”
The actions of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney [uncanny doppelgänger to the Nazi SS agent in Indiana Jones in The Raiders of the Lost Ark] and National Security Adviser John Bolton attracted considerable attention after two witnesses testified that the acting White House chief of staff was involved in setting up a separate channel to handle diplomacy with Ukraine, which angered Bolton. House Democrats focus on Mulvaney, Bolton after key witness testimony in impeachment inquiry:
Despite stonewalling by the White House, investigators secured hours of testimony Tuesday from George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine.
[I]n testimony Tuesday, Kent said Mulvaney organized a meeting last spring where officials decided to take Ukraine policy out of the traditional channels, putting Energy Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and then-special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker in charge instead.
Kent told House investigators that he was instructed to “lay low,” focus on the five other countries in his portfolio, and defer to Volker, Sondland and Perry — who called themselves the “three amigos” — on matters related to Ukraine, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) told reporters Tuesday.
“Mulvaney has the inside understanding of why the money was withheld on the security assistance,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, who said the two men should testify.
BREAKING: “Mulvaney has the inside understanding of why the money was withheld on the security assistance.” Yes, he does. White House Chief of Staff Admits Trump Demanded Quid Pro Quo From Ukraine:
At a surprise press conference on Thursday, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted that Donald Trump withheld congressionally appropriated military aid from Ukraine this summer in part because he was upset that the country had not yet opened an investigation into the baseless right-wing theory that Ukraine helped the Democratic National Committee frame Russia for hacking Democratic email accounts in 2016.
Here are Mulvaney’s exact words:
MULVANEY: Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. That’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.
REPORTER: So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he was ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine?
MULVANEY: The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate.
(Trump appears to be operating under the deluded assumption that the DNC emails were hacked off of a single “server” that is now, physically, in Ukraine.)
The official Republican line had previously been that there was “no quid pro quo” involved in Trump’s request that Ukraine launch (unfounded) investigations into the server allegations and into the Biden family, while the Trump administration happened to be refusing to release military funds to Ukraine … Mulvaney’s admission is a sign that Trump’s new strategy, insofar as the word strategy can be applied to the behavior of the White House’s current occupants, is to argue that quid pro quos are fine and that it was completely normal and in the national interest of the United States to use military aid as leverage to ask a foreign country to prove that the Democratic National Committee framed Vladimir Putin.
Wow. Mulvaney just made a public admission against interest to a quid pro quo for extortion and bribery (bribery is specifically identified as an impeachable offense in the Constitution). A violation of the campaign finance laws only requires soliciting or receiving something of value from a foreign source. None of this is “normal” — it is criminal.
Gordon Sondland testified today as well. Politico reports, Gordon Sondland breaks with Trump in impeachment testimony:
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, broke sharply from President Donald Trump on Thursday, telling House impeachment investigators that he opposed the president’s request to run Ukraine policy through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
“We were also disappointed by the president’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland told congressional investigators, according to his opening statement, which was obtained by POLITICO.
Sondland testified that he contacted Giuliani anyway at Trump’s direction after a May 23 meeting at the White House, and that Giuliani drew a direct link between scheduling a White House visit for Ukraine’s newly elected president and demands that Ukraine prioritize investigations targeting Trump’s political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the president wanted a public statement from President [Volodymyr] Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anti-corruption issues,” Sondland said.
“Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anti-corruption investigatory topics of importance for the president,” he added.
Sondland told congressional investigators he did not realize “until much later” that Giuliani was seeking a Ukrainian-led investigation into Biden and his son — even though Trump himself and Giuliani had been calling publicly for such probes for weeks. He said any effort to solicit foreign assistance in an American election — an allegation central to the House’s impeachment inquiry — “would be wrong,” adding that he was “disappointed by” the May 23 meeting with Trump because he believed a Trump-Zelensky meeting “should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions.”
He also said military assistance to Ukraine “should not have been delayed for any reason” — a rebuke of the president’s decision to put a hold on those funds earlier this year — but added that Trump repeatedly told him there was “no quid pro quo” involving the aid or an investigation of Trump’s political rivals.
Sondland’s testimony has the potential to be the most devastating yet for Trump and his defenders, who say he did not apply inappropriate pressure on Zelensky to investigate a 2020 rival. It was Sondland’s text messages denying the existence of a quid pro quo, obtained by Congress earlier this month, that Trump pointed to as proof he did nothing untoward.
Sondland now says he only claimed there was no quid pro quo because Trump repeatedly assured him of it in a direct phone call — regardless of whether it was true.
“And I recall the president was in a bad mood,” Sondland said in his opening statement.
* * *
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told reporters that she was not sure whether lawmakers can trust Sondland’s testimony, saying his opening statement was “a lot of CYA.”
In a letter to House investigators, Sondland’s attorneys said their client has ample documentation to back up his testimony, but that the White House and State Department are blocking him from sharing it, claiming it could implicate executive privilege and other confidentiality restrictions.
“[Sondland] strongly believes that disclosure will lead to a more fulsome and accurate inquiry into the matters at issue and will corroborate the testimony that he will give in key respects,” Sondland’s attorneys wrote in a Thursday letter. “However, the choice is not his to make, and so we must regretfully decline to produce the documents that the committees have requested from Ambassador Sondland.”
Sondland also offered a strong defense of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted by Trump after a campaign by the president’s allies to recall her to Washington. In his opening statement, Sondland called her “an excellent diplomat with a deep command of Ukrainian internal dynamics, the U.S.-Ukraine relationship, and associated regional issues.”
* * *
Sondland’s testimony also underscores divisions within the upper ranks of the Trump administration over Ukraine. He said he was taken aback at testimony by Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top Russia aide, revealing that she and then-national security adviser John Bolton had criticized his involvement. Hill told congressional investigators that she met with a National Security Council lawyer twice over her concerns about Giuliani and Sondland.
Sondland defended his involvement, saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had given a full-throated endorsement of his efforts.
“I understand that all my actions involving Ukraine had the blessing of Secretary Pompeo as my work was consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives,” he said, “Indeed, very recently, Secretary Pompeo sent me a congratulatory note that I was doing great work, and he encouraged me to keep banging away.”
- Friday, Oct. 18, 8:00 am: Deputy Assistant Secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Laura Cooper (the request was sent on Oct. 11).
- Tuesday, Oct. 22, 9:30am: Acting Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor (the request was sent on Oct. 14).
- Wednesday, Oct. 23, 9:30am: Associate Director for National Security Programs at the Office of Management and Budget Michael Duffey (the request was sent on Oct. 11).
- Thursday, Oct. 24, 9:30am: Acting Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger (the request was sent on Oct. 11).
- Friday, Oct. 25, 9:30am: Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought (the request was sent on Oct. 11).
Finally, one of the “three amigos,” Rick “Oops!” Perry, informs Trump of his plans to resign as scrutiny over Ukraine heats up:
Asked about a Bloomberg report indicating that Perry notified the President of his impending resignation in writing while Trump was aboard Air Force One on Thursday, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told CNN: “Can’t wave you off.”
Perry’s resignation comes amid scrutiny over his role in the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine. White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed Thursday that the President asked Perry to work with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on policies related to Ukraine, but Mulvaney denied that their work was part of a “shadow foreign policy” effort. Perry was one of the “three amigos” leading US relations with the country, meeting three times with Zelensky.