Text messages shed further light on Trump relationship with Kiev

‘When I speak to foreign leaders I speak in an appropriate way. We’re proud of that call’

Kurt Volker, a former state department envoy to Ukraine, leaves a closed House meeting as part of an impeachment inquiry into US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Erin Schaff/New York Times

Kurt Volker, a former state department envoy to Ukraine, leaves a closed House meeting as part of an impeachment inquiry into US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Erin Schaff/New York Times

 

Text messages released by House Democrats show that US officials encouraged Ukraine to investigate electoral interference in the 2016 election as a condition for arranging a meeting with president Donald Trump at the White House.

Following 10 hours of questioning on Thursday, House Democrats released a batch of text messages shared with them by former special representative to Ukraine, Kurt Volker.

The messages suggest that US officials, including the US’s ambassador to the European Union, tried to encourage Ukraine to undertake investigations that would help Mr Trump politically.

“Heard from White House – assuming President Z[elenskiy] convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington,” read one message from Mr Volker to an adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25th, ahead of the now famous phone call between the US and Ukrainian leaders.

During the July 25th call, Mr Trump pressed Mr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into former vice-president Joe Biden and Mr Biden’s son.

In another text, the US charge d’affaires in Kiev said it would be “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign”.

Mr Volker also told politicians that he repeatedly warned Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani that the corruption charges he was levelling against Mr Biden and his son were unfounded.

Despite the emergence of the text messages, and the suggestion that US officials were involved in pressurising the Ukrainian government to carry out politically motivated investigations, Mr Trump remained defiant on Friday.

Campaign vs corruption

“I don’t care about Biden’s campaign. I care about corruption,” he said in comments to reporters at the White House. He repeatedly stressed that his intention in asking Ukraine’s president to investigate Mr Biden was to uncover corruption. “When I speak to foreign leaders I speak in an appropriate way,” he said, adding: “We’re very proud of that call”, a reference to the July 25th phone call.

While he did not reply to shouted questions about the text messages, he said “There is no quid pro quo.”

Also on Friday, US House Democrats asked vice-president Mike Pence to turn over documents relating to a meeting he held with Mr Zelenskiy and the July 25th call between Mr Zelenskiy and Mr Trump. The Democratic chairmen of the three House committees leading the impeachment investigation gave Mr Pence until October 15th to produce the records.

The fresh pressure on the Trump administration came as Ukraine’s new prosecutor announced on Friday that he would review a number of cases handled by his predecessor, including the case involving Burisma, the gas company that retained Joe Biden’s son as a board member. Ruslan Ryaboshapka said the new audits were not a result of any domestic or international political pressure.

‘Garbage heap’

Mr Trump also lashed out at the former vice-president, who is running as a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination next year. “I don’t think Biden is going to win . . . Biden is not the brightest person,” he said, adding that Barack Obama had taken him “off the garbage heap”.

On Friday, the inspector general of the intelligence community testified behind closed doors in Congress. Michael Atkinson is a key figure in the whistleblower controversy that prompted the White House to release an edited transcript of Mr Trump’s July 25th phone call with Mr Zelenskiy.

The anonymous whistleblower passed his complaint about the phone call to Mr Atkinson, who then passed it to the acting director of national intelligence. Ultimately the department of justice advised that the complaint should not be shared with Congress, a decision that has been roundly criticised by Democrats who say it is against the law.

Meanwhile, Republican senator Mitt Romney criticised Mr Trump on Twitter on Friday: “By all appearances, the president’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.” Additional reporting: Reuters