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Giuliani was warned that Ukrainian claims of Bidens' misconduct were not credible, ex-envoy says

Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, arrives for a closed-door interview with House investigators, as House Democrats proceed with the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

By JOHN HUDSON, RACHAEL BADE AND KAROUN DEMIRJIAN | The Washington Post | Published: October 3, 2019

 

WASHINGTON — The former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine told House investigators on Thursday that he warned President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that Giuliani was receiving untrustworthy information from Ukrainian political figures about former vice president Joe Biden and his son, according to two people familiar with his testimony.

Giuliani was warned that Ukrainian claims of Bidens' misconduct were not credible, Trump's ex-envoy tells lawmakers that his sources, including Ukraine's former top prosecutor, were unreliable and that he should be careful about putting faith in the prosecutor's stories, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed door meeting.

Volker's testimony offers the first inside account of the Trump administration's efforts to press for a Ukrainian investigation into Trump's political rival.

At the heart of this effort is Giuliani's contention that, as vice president, Biden pushed for the firing of Ukraine's former prosector general, Viktor Shokin, as part of a corrupt plot to halt investigations into a Ukrainian natural gas company that employed Biden's son Hunter.

Joe Biden has denied the accusation, and foreign policy experts have pointed out that Biden's push to remove Shokin was part of a broader international effort that included the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, where leaders viewed Shokin as an inept.

Volker also said that he and other State Department officials cautioned the Ukrainians to steer clear of U.S. politics. Getting involved, he said he told them, would open the nation up to allegations that they were interfering in an election and could be detrimental to Ukraine long-term, according to these two individuals

Volker faced hours of questioning Thursday from members of the House committees leading an impeachment inquiry into Trump, the first of five former and current State Department officials to testify as part of the probe.

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, released a statement just before noon saying that, after attending the interview for an hour, he felt confident Volker's testimony would not advance House Democrats' "impeachment agenda."

Volker was named in the whistleblower complaint as the diplomat who set up a meeting between Giuliani and a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amid Trump's effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The State Department says Volker arranged the meeting between Giuliani and Andriy Yermak, but at Yermak's request.

As Giuliani faced a storm of accusations last week that he was conducting rogue U.S. foreign policy in his capacity as Trump's personal lawyer, the former New York mayor countered that he acted at the request of the State Department and posted a private text message from Volker in which the envoy offered to set up the meeting with the Ukrainians. Shortly afterward, Volker resigned and agreed to sit for an interview that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to block.

Turner's statement indicated that the questioning of Volker was being led by staff for Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is steering the Democrats' investigation alongside the heads of the Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees. Turner derided the process, calling Volker's interview a "show trial."

One of the president's closest allies in Congress, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, emerged from the hearing room and declared, "Nothing he has said supports the narrative you've been hearing from Mr. Schiff and the Democrats. Nothing."

He characterized Volker as an impressive, knowledgeable witness but declined to detail any specifics about what has been discussed thus far.

Neither Pompeo nor the State Department has offered an explanation for Volker's resignation. Lawmakers want answers about that and several other issues, including whether about $400 million in aid to Ukraine was withheld to pressure Kiev into investigating the Bidens.

In advance of his appearance Thursday, Volker had turned over a number of documents to congressional staffers including a chain of text messages with Giuliani, said a person familiar with the matter who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. Volker has also turned over physical documents, white papers and correspondence with other officials, the person said.

Volker started his job at the State Department in 2017 in an unusual part-time arrangement that allowed him to continue consulting at BGR, a powerful lobbying firm that represents Ukraine and Raytheon. During his tenure, Volker advocated for the U.S. to send Ukraine Raytheon-manufactured antitank Javelin missiles - a decision that made the missile firm millions of dollars. BGR has said Volker recused himself from all Ukraine-related matters in response to criticisms about conflicts of interest.

Volker also kept his job as executive director of the McCain Institute, an affiliation that may explain why Volker never penetrated Trump's inner circle, given the president's open disdain for the late Sen. John McCain.

Previously, he served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO during the George W. Bush administration.

The whistleblower complaint that led to Volker's resignation alleged that Trump abused his office to pressure a foreign country to damage a political opponent in the 2020 election. Among other things, it cited a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky in which Trump asks if Zelensky could get in touch with Giuliani.

A day after the call, the whistleblower says Volker and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, held a meeting with Zelensky and gave him advice about how to "navigate" Trump's request.

The White House denies the charge of a "quid pro quo" with Ukraine and says that Trump withheld aid to Ukraine out of frustration over Europe's lack of support for Ukraine and continued problems related to corruption in the country.

When asked whether he thought anything was improper on the phone call, Pompeo said Wednesday that everything the Trump administration has done related to Ukraine has been "remarkably consistent" and focused on confronting the "threat that Russia poses" and rooting out "corruption" in Ukraine.

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The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.
 

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