WASHINGTON — U.S. diplomats linked a visit with President Donald Trump at the White House sought by Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky to Zelensky's commitment to open investigations of Trump’s political rival Joe Biden and of meddling in the 2016 election, the envoys’ text messages show.
The texts, released late Thursday by the House of Representatives, show discussions of how to push Ukraine's Zelensky to open the probes — before and after the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky that prompted House Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry.
Trump denied again Friday that he offered a “quid pro quo” when he asked Zelensky for “a favor” by agreeing to work with his attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani is seeking evidence that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election, and that Biden forced out a Ukrainian prosecutor to protect his son, Hunter, from an investigation into Burisma, a gas company that paid Hunter Biden to be on its board.
“This is not about politics. This is about corruption,” Trump said at the White House.
But the texts paint a more complicated picture.
Six days before the July 25 call, Kurt Volker, who last week quit as special envoy to Ukraine, wrote that he had met with Giuliani. Volker noted: “Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation … ”
On the morning of the call, Volker wrote Zelensky aide Andrey Yermak: “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.”
On Aug. 10, Yermak still didn’t have a date.
“Once we have a date we will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations,” Yermak wrote. Volker said, “Sounds great!”
Over the next few weeks, Volker and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, worked with Giuliani on exactly what Ukraine's statement should say.
Then, on Aug. 28, a news story about Trump holding up $391 million in military aid to Ukraine led Yermak to text Volker: “Need to talk to you.”
Two days later, Trump canceled his trip to Poland to monitor Hurricane Dorian, sending Pence in his place to meet with Zelensky.
And the next day, William “Bill” Taylor, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, asked Sondland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”
Sondland replied: “Call me.”
A week later Taylor wrote of his “nightmare scenario” — “they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)”
The next day, Taylor wrote Sondland, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland replied: “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”