Former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker testified before House committees on Thursday as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, revealing new details about the State Department’s involvement in the Ukraine scandal. The texts that Volker turned over as part of that testimony, released Thursday night, were stunning and damning for the Trump administration.
But Republicans insisted that the texts were being misinterpreted and that overall, Volker’s testimony was actually good for the president. On Friday afternoon, PBS published Volker’s prepared testimony, which shed light on the disagreement.
One key point to realize is that the texts themselves deeply implicate Volker in Trump’s corrupt scheme, so he has every incentive to spin the story in the best light possible. So it’s unsurprising that Republicans took his claims as evidence that Democrats are blowing the matter out of proportion. But even if Volker’s statements are taken as entirely accurate and sincere, they don’t vindicate Trump himself — they just make the State Department envoy look like a patsy in the president’s scheme.
Here are five key details from his testimony:
1. Volker claims he was not aware of the president’s intentions to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
“[At] no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden. As you will see from the extensive text messages I am providing, which convey a sense of real-time dialogue with several different actors, Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion,” Volker claimed.
This is less exculpatory for Trump than Republicans seem to think. The president and Giuliani openly admit they were trying to get the country to investigate Biden — and it’s clear in the July 25 phone call — so Volker’s knowledge at the time isn’t dispositive, regardless.
2. However, he admits to working with Giuliani and knowing about the press reports of the former mayor’s efforts in Ukraine.
Volker said that he helped connect Giuliani with the Ukrainians on multiple occasions, but that he made clear to the Ukrainians that the former mayor was not a U.S. government employee. Instead, he was acting as the president’s lawyer.
He also said that he reached out to Giuliani before his planned trip in May 2019 to warn him that Yuriy Lutsenko, a prosecutor in Ukraine in contact with the former mayor, was not reliable. Volker continued:
I later read that [Giuliani] canceled his trip, and that he asserted that President-elect Zelenskyy was surrounded by “enemies of the United States” – something with which I fundamentally disagreed.
Giuliani canceled his trip to Ukraine after widespread outrage that he was openly pressuring the government to investigate Joe Biden. He was accused of meddling in an election on Trump’s behalf. If Volker read about the cancellation, it’s not reasonable to believe he didn’t know about Giuliani’s focus on the Bidens. So when he later worked with Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation into Burisma, the Ukrainian company Biden’s son worked for, it’s hard to believe he didn’t know what the president’s true purpose was.
3. Volker says the accusations against Joe Biden and Ambassador Marie Yovanoitch are baseless.
“I have known former Vice President Biden for 24 years, and the suggestion that he would be influenced in his duties as Vice President by money for his son simply has no credibility to me,” he said. “I know him as a man of integrity and dedication to our country.”
Similarly, he said of the former ambassador to Ukraine, who was removed from her assignment prematurely because Trump officials believed she was not sufficiently loyal:
I have known Ambassador Yovanovitch since we served together in London in 1988. Throughout our careers, we have worked together at various times. When I was serving as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, I recommended her strongly to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, which she did quite capably. I have always known her to be professional, capable, dedicated to the national interest, and of the highest integrity.
4. He advocated in favor of Ukraine military aid and assumed it would eventually be approved.
Volker said that on July 18, he was told the aid was put on hold — later reports confirmed the delay was ordered by Trump himself — but no explanation was given.
He also said: “The issue of a hold placed on security assistance to Ukraine also came up during this same time I was connecting Mr. Yermak and Mayor Giuliani. I did not perceive these issues to be linked in any way.”
However, as a key envoy to Ukraine, it’s suspicious that he would not have been in the loop on the reason for the delay if there were a legitimate justification behind it. And the texts show that another State Department employee, Bill Taylor, came to believe the stalled aid was an effort to pressure Ukraine to give Trump a boost in the 2020 election by launching his desired investigations against a potential opponent.
5. Volker claimed to have recused from conflicts of interest.
The former State Department employee actually has his own conflicts of interest that are entirely unrelated to the Biden and election matters.
“I did not want to accept a full-time, paid position in the Department of State,” Volker said. “Rather, I preferred to work on a part-time, voluntary, and noncompensated basis, which allowed me to continue with my other duties.”
This should be worrying. Employees of the U.S. government should be paid by the U.S. government, to ensure that they aren’t acting on duties to other entities. One of Volker’s other employers was BGR Group, a lobbying firm with ties to Raytheon. Raytheon produces Javelins, which the Ukrainians have sought to buy from the United States.
Volker claimed he avoided this conflict: “Upon becoming U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, I immediately notified the firm that I was recusing myself from all Ukraine-related activity.”
Nevertheless, despite supposedly recusing from the matter at BGR, Volker was still an open advocate of selling weapons to Ukraine within the United States government — something that would just happen to financially support a major funder of his employer.
If Trump is really concerned about “corruption,” as he claimed, he should start by looking within his own administration.