Trump officials' testimony shows astounding conflicts

Trump officials' testimony shows astounding conflicts
United States Institute of Peace

When Democrats vote on the next phase of the impeachment inquiry on Thursday, one of the things that will be set is the rules for the next round of hearings to be held in public, and the rules under which transcripts from the previous closed-door hearings will be released. But before that happens, we have opening statements available from several witnesses. Those statements alone show that Donald Trump’s actions merit impeachment—and that even some of those involved are struggling to put some space between their actions and what Trump demanded.

If you want to see a pair of particularly interesting dates, look at July 10, 2019, and Sept. 1, 2019.

July 13, 2018 

Sondland meets with Ukraine delegation at U.S. mission in Brussels. Sondland says that “corruption and rule of law were central topics of conversation,” but provides few details. Says that this conversation and the one on Feb. 26, 2019, included talk about Ukrainian national gas company Naftogaz.

Feb. 26, 2019

Sondland, Volker travel to Ukraine. Meet with Yovanovitch and then-Ukraine President Poroshenko aboard a U.S. naval ship in port of Odessa. Sondland describes this meeting in the same terms as the July 13 meeting, and says that the National Security Council praised the meeting.

Apr. 21, 2019

Volodymyr Zelensky elected president of Ukraine. Trump calls Zelensky.

Vindman: “I was one of several staff and officers who listened to the call. The call was positive and President Trump expressed his desire to work with President Zelenskyy and extended an invitation to visit the White House.”

May 20-21, 2019

U.S. delegation travels to Zelensky inauguration, led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Vindman: ”I was directed by Ambassador Bolton and Dr. Hill to join the delegation attending President Zelenskyy’s inauguration.”

Volker: “I do not recall any of the [Burisma-related] accusations coming up in the course of our meetings with Ukrainian officials. Instead, we had a very productive meeting with President Zelenskyy about his commitment to reform. He announced early Parliamentary elections that same day. We came away convinced that he was sincere about massive reform in Ukraine.”

Sondland: “I attended the inauguration of President Zelensky as part of the U.S. delegation led by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, along with Senator Ron Johnson, Special Envoy Volker, and Alex Vindman from the NSC.”

May 23, 2019

Pentagon completes review of military aid to Ukraine and gives full approval, saying that good steps have been made toward reducing corruption.

U.S. delegation returns from Ukraine and debriefs with Trump. Vindman does not participate in the debriefing.

Sondland: “We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns. It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President's mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani. It is my understanding that Energy Secretary Perry and Special Envoy Volker took the lead on reaching out to Mr. Giuliani, as the President had directed.” Sondland claims that he was “disappointed” by the White House debriefing, and by Trump’s direction to involve Giuliani. “Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President's personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President's direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President's concerns.”

Volker: “We stressed our finding that President Zelensky represented the best chance for getting Ukraine out of the mire of corruption it had been in for over 20 years. I argued that how the next 3-6 months played out would determine the future of Ukraine for the next 5 years. We urged him to invite President Zelensky to the White House. The President was very skeptical. Given Ukraine’s history of corruption, that is understandable. He said that Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of ‘terrible people.’ He said they ‘tried to take me down.’ In the course of that conversation, he referenced conversations with Mayor Giuliani. It was clear to me that despite the positive news and recommendations being conveyed by this official delegation about the new President, President Trump had a deeply rooted negative view on Ukraine rooted in the past. He was clearly receiving other information from other sources, including Mayor Giuliani, that was more negative, causing him to retain this negative view.”

May 28, 2019

Mike Pompeo asks Taylor to serve as U.S. chief of mission in Ukraine.

Taylor: “It was not an easy decision. The former ambassador, Masha Yovanovitch, had been treated poorly, caught in a web of political machinations both in Kyiv and in Washington. … I worried about what I had heard concerning the role of Rudolph Giuliani, who had made several high profile statements about Ukraine and U.S. policy in the country.”

June 18, 2019

Conference call between Volker, Perry, Sondland, Taylor, and acting Assistant Secretary of State Phil Reeker.

Taylor: “Volker and Sondland made it clear to me that the president ‘wanted to hear from Zelensky’ before scheduling the meeting in the Oval Office. It was not clear to me what this meant.”

June 27, 2019

Phone call between Sondland and Taylor.

Taylor: “Sondland told me … that President Zelensky needed to make it clear to President Trump that he, President Zelensky, was not standing in the way of ‘investigations.’”

June 28, 2019

Call between Sondland, Volker, Perry, Taylor, and Zelensky.

Taylor: “I found it odd when Ambassador Sondland told me that he did not want to include most or regular interagency participants in a call … Before President Zelensky joined the call, Ambassador Sondland said he wanted to make sure no one was transcribing or monitoring … Volker said that he would relay that President Trump wanted to see rule of law, transparency, but also specifically cooperation on investigations ‘to get to the bottom of things.’”

On the call, Sondland scheduled a separate meeting with Zelensky for July 2, 2019.

July 2, 2019

Volker meets with Zelensky and Ukrainian officials at a conference in Toronto.

Volker: “I had a private conversation with President Zelensky, in which I explained that I

believed that Mayor Giuliani continues to have a negative view of Ukraine based on assertions

of actions that happened in 2016, and that this viewpoint is likely making its way to the

President. I made clear that Mayor Giuliani does not speak for the U.S. government, but is a

private citizen and the President’s personal attorney.”

July 10, 2019

This was an amazing day, including several events and conflicting testimony.

Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksandr Danylyuk visits Washington, D.C., for a meeting with John Bolton, Volker, Sondland, and Perry. Vindman in attendance.

NOTE: Vindman and Sondland are completely at odds in their descriptions of this meeting.

Vindman: “The meeting proceeded well until the Ukrainians broached the subject of a meeting between the two presidents ... Amb. Sondland started to speak about delivering the specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short.”

Sondland: ”I joined White House meetings between representatives of Ukraine National Security and Defense with U.S. NSC officials, including Ambassador Bolton, along with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker. I understood following the meeting, as reflected in the summary of a phone call the next day between Secretary Perry and Ambassador Bolton, that there was a difference of opinion between Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself, on the one hand, and the NSC, on the other. We three favored promptly scheduling a call and meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky; the NSC did not.”

A post-meeting debriefing follows the initial meeting. And again, the descriptions here are 180 degrees apart.

Vindman: “Amb. Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.”

Sondland: “If Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, or others harbored any misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me, then or later. We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting; and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly. Furthermore, my boss Secretary Pompeo was very supportive of our Ukraine strategy.”

Following the debriefing:

Vindman: “I reported my concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel. Dr. Hill also reported the incident to the NSC’s lead counsel.”

Volker reports nothing of these meetings or debriefs. But he does say that on July 10 he spoke to Zelensky and Yermak about arranging a meeting with Giuliani.

July 10, 2019

Taylor meets with Zelensky’s chief of staff and top policy adviser in Kyiv.

Taylor: “They told me that they had heard from Mr. Giuliani that the phone call between the two presidents was unlikely to happen and they were alarmed and disappointed.”

July 18, 2019

Taylor learns on a secure conference call that military aid to Ukraine is on hold.

Taylor: “I and others sat in astonishment—the Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but the assurance of U.S. support.”

July 19, 2019

Volker meets with Giuliani.

Volker: “At that breakfast, Mr. Giuliani was accompanied by Ukrainian-Amercian businessman Lev

Parnas. We had a long conversation about Ukraine. To my surprise, Mr. Giuliani had already

come to the conclusion on his own that [former prosecutor] Lutsenko was not credible and acting in a self-serving capacity. He mentioned both the accusations about Vice President Biden and about

interference in the 2016 election, and stressed that all he wanted to see was for Ukraine to

investigate what happened in the past and apply its own laws. … I also said at that July 19 meeting that it is not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in anyway by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as Vice President.” Volker says he then arranged for Yermak to speak directly to Giuliani.

Phone call between Hill, Vindman, and Taylor.

Taylor: “[Hill and Vindman] did confirm that the hold on security assistance for Ukraine came from chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and that the chief of staff maintained a skeptical view of Ukraine.” Vindman and Hill describe July 10 meeting to Taylor. “They told me that Ambassador Sondland had connected ‘investigations,’ which so irritated Ambassador Bolton that he abruptly ended the meeting. Dr. Hill said that Ambassador Bolton described this as a ‘drug deal’ after the July 10 meeting.” Taylor mentions the series of texts that occurred later on July 19 and into the early hours of July 20.

Text messages:

Volker: Most important is for Zelensky to say he will help investigation—and address any specific personal issues—if there are any. ...

Sondland: Looks like POTUS call tomorrow. I spoke directly to Zelensky and gave him a full briefing. He’s got it.

Volker: Good. Had breakfast with Rudy this morning. Teeing up call with [Zelensky’s aide] Yermak Monday. Must have helped. Most important is for Zelensky to say he will help investigation—and address any specific personal issues—if there are any.

July 20, 2019

Phone call between Sondland and Taylor.

Taylor: “Ambassador Sondland told me that he had recommended that President Zelensky use the phrase ‘I will leave no stone unturned’ with regard to ‘investigations’ when President Zelensky spoke to President Trump.”

Phone call between Taylor and aide to Zelensky.

Taylor: “He conveyed to me that President Zelensky did not want to be used as a pawn in the U.S. re-election campaign.”

Text message

Taylor: … President Zelensky is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington, reelection politics.

July 21, 2019

Zelensky’s party achieves landslide victory in legislative elections, giving the new president a large working majority in parliament.

Vindman: “The NSC proposed that President Trump call President Zelenskyy to congratulate him.”

July 25, 2019

Trump calls Zelensky.

Vindman: “I listened in on the call in the Situation Room with colleagues from the NSC and the office of the Vice President. … I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.”

After the call:

Vindman: “Following the call, I again reported my concerns to NSC’s lead counsel.”

July 26, 2019

Zelensky visits with Volker, Sondland, and Taylor.

Taylor: “He said he was happy with the call but did not elaborate.”

Sondland: “During this July 26, 2019 meeting in Kiev, we were able to promote further engagement, including discussions about a future Zelensky visit to the White House. I do recall a brief discussion with President Trump before my visit to Kiev. That call was very short, nonsubstantive, and did not encompass any of the substance of the July 25, 2019 White House call with President Zelensky.”

Later, Taylor and Volker travel with Zelensky to the front lines of Ukraine’s conflict with Russia, where he is thanked by a military commander for U.S. assistance.

Taylor: “But I was aware that this assistance was on hold, which made me uncomfortable. Ambassador Volker and I could see the armed and hostile Russian forces on the other side of the damaged bridge ...”

Text message:

Volker: Heard from White House. Assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate / “get to the bottom of what happened in 2016,” we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck.

July 28, 2019

Taylor receives call from Fiona Hill’s replacement, Tim Morrison. Morrison gives Taylor first summary of July 25 call. Taylor does not see rough transcript until it is released to public.

Aug. 7, 2019

Giuliani calls Volker and Sondland.

Volker: “Mayor Giuliani then said he believed the Ukrainian President needed to make a statement

about fighting corruption, and that he had discussed this with Mr. Yermak. I said that I did not

think this would be a problem, since that is the government’s position anyway. I followed up with Mr. Yermak, and he said that they would indeed be prepared to make a statement. He said it would reference Burisma and 2016, in a wider context of rooting out corruption anyway. There was no mention of Vice President Biden. Rather, in referencing Burisma, it was clear he was only talking about whether any Ukrainians had acted inappropriately.”

Volker’s statement here attempting to disconnect Burisma from the Bidens is in conflict with every other statement.

Aug. 9, 2019

Text messages:

Sondland: I think POTUS really wants the deliverable.

Volker: But does Yermak know that?

Sondland: Yep. …

Sondland: To avoid misunderstandings, might be helpful to ask Audrey for a draft statement (embargoed) so that we can see exactly what they propose to cover. Even though Ze does a live presser, they can still summarize in a brief statement.

Text messages:

Volker: Hi, Mr Mayor! Had a good chat with Yermak last night. He was pleased with your phone call. Mentioned Z making a statement. Can we all get on the phone to make sure I advise Z correctly as to what he should be saying? We want to make sure we get this done right. Thanks!

Sonderland: Good idea, Kurt. I am on Pacific Time.

Giuliani: Yes, you can call me now.

Aug. 10, 2019

Text messages:

Yermak: I think it’s possible to make this declaration and mention all those things which we discussed yesterday. But it will be logic to do after we receive a confirmation of date.  ...

Volker: Let’s iron out statement, and then use that to get date and then Pres Z can go forward with it. …

Yermak: Once we have a date, we will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining visit for reboot of U.S.-Ukraine relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations.

Aug. 13, 2019

Text messages:

Volker: Special attention should be paid to interference in the political processes of the United States, especially with the alleged involvement of some Ukrainian politicians. I want to declare this is unacceptable. We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections, which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future.

Sondland: Perfect.

Aug. 16, 2019

Yermak provides Volker with a draft statement.

Volker: “Which I thought looked perfectly reasonable. It did not mention Burisma or 2016 elections, but was generic. I conveyed this draft to Amb. Sondland, who agreed it was an excellent statement. We had a further conversation with Mayor Giuliani, who said that in his view, the statement should include specific reference to ‘Burisma’ and ‘2016.’ Again, there was no mention of Vice President Biden in these conversations.”

Volker is intent on saying that these conversations did not mention Biden.

Volker: “Amb. Sondland and I discussed these points, and I edited the draft statement by Mr. Yermak to include these points to see how it looked. I then discussed further with Mr. Yermak. He said

that for a number of reasons – including the fact that Mr. Lutsenko was still officially the

Prosecutor General -- they do not want to mention Burisma and 2016.”

Sept. 1, 2019

Taylor informs Ukrainian officials that if security aid does not clear by Sept. 30, it will expire.

Later, there is a phone call between Morrison and Taylor.

Taylor: “[Morrison] went on to describe a conversation Ambassador Sondland had with Mr. Yermak at Warsaw. Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.”

Text messages:

Taylor: Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meetings are conditioned on investigations?

Sondland: Call me.

Phone call between Sondland and Taylor.

Taylor: “During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that they will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.” Taylor says he insisted Trump should have more respect for the leader of another country and told Sondland to “push back.”

Sept. 2, 2019

Morrison calls Taylor to let him know Ukrainians are concerned about the lack of any work on releasing strategic assistance. Taylor tells Morrison what Sondland has said.

Sept. 7, 2019

Morrison calls Taylor.

Taylor: “Mr. Morrison described a phone conversation earlier that day between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump. Mr. Morrison said he had a ‘sinking feeling’ after learning of this conversation from Ambassador Sondland. According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a ‘quid pro quo.’ But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go on a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.”

Sept. 8, 2019

Phone conversation between Sondland and Taylor.

Taylor: “He said … President Trump was adamant that President Zelensky ‘had to clear things up, and he had to do it in public.’”

Taylor says that Sondland had also told them that this “was not a quid pro quo,” but if they refused to make a public statement, there would be a “stalemate.”

Taylor warns that his “nightmare” scenario is that the Ukrainians do what Trump wants, but still do not get the assistance they need.

Sept. 9, 2019

Text messages:

Taylor: The message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. Thus my nightmare scenario.

[Sondland does not reply]

Taylor: Counting on you to be right about this.

Sondland: Bill, I never said I was “right.” I said we are where we are and believe we have identified the best pathway forward. Let’s hope it works.

Taylor: As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.

Sondland: “Acting [Charge d’Affaires]/Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President's 2020 reelection campaign.

“Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: ‘What do you want from Ukraine?’ The President responded, ‘Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.’ The President repeated: ‘no quid pro quo’ multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood.”

Text message (after phone call):

Sondland: Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quos of any kind.

Sondland: “I tried hard to address Ambassador Taylor's concerns because he is a valuable and effective diplomat and I took very seriously the issues he raised. I did not want Ambassador Taylor to leave his post and generate even more turnover in the Ukraine mission. I further encouraged Ambassador Taylor to contact Secretary Pompeo, as I followed up as far as I could go.”

Sept. 22, 2019

Volker says he exchanged texts with Giuliani and Pompeo “after the current news cycle broke.”

Sept. 25, 2019

Sondland attends a United Nations function at which Trump and Zelensky are present.

Sondland: “This was a positive meeting, and I am pleased that the leaders were able to meet for the first time face-to-face.”

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