Damning text messages detail Trump pressure on Ukraine

Saul Loeb  Getty Images

Several days later on August 13 - one day after the whistleblower filed the complaint about the Ukraine call - Volker and Sondland had an exchange about the statement. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen leading the inquiry have consistently warned the White House that noncompliance with their requests will be viewed as obstruction of Congress, itself a potentially impeachable offense.

But the saga at the center of it all was quietly unfolding in Washington, where two top diplomats catered to the president's interests in a foreign investigation into a political rival.

Diplomats charged with managing the US relationship with Ukraine spent weeks trying to persuade the Ukrainian government to commit to announcing it would open investigations that would help President Trump politically, according to documents released by the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry.

The communications tell a story of diplomats striving to satisfy a president's unorthodox foreign policy whims even as another conveys misgivings about the whole plan.

In their messages, top United States diplomats discussed leveraging a potential summit between Trump and Ukraine's newly inaugurated President Volodymyr Zelensky on a pledge to investigate 2016 election interference and a company that employed the son of Joe Biden, the frontrunner in the Democrat race to challenge Trump in 2020.

Ahead of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, the text messages show how Giuliani was pushing for the call and for Zelensky to talk up the investigation.

Volcker also wrote a statement to be delivered by Zelensky announcing an investigation that Sondland responded was "perfect".

"Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation - and address any specific personnel issues - if there are any", Volker wrote. The diplomats' actions were taken in concert and aided by Giuliani, who spent months contacting Ukrainian officials to get them to open the investigations.

After conferring with Trump, Sondland texted a reply to Taylor.

"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".

Ukraine's top prosecutor said all cases involving a company that hired former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's son are being audited, though no one's sought to influence him on any investigations. Trump has repeatedly lobbed allegations of corruption in relation to the arrangement, but there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Now, though, we may be moving on to a question of more import, the question of quid pro quo. Both maintained the innocuous goal was cleaning up corruption in a scandal-plagued country known for it.

Biden responded by saying Trump was himself corrupt and was trying to intervene in the Democrats' process for choosing a presidential candidate, a race that Biden now leads. Taylor thus understood there to be a quid pro quo.

Just before the Trump-Zelensky call, Volker drops a key tip to 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".

Press secretaries for the White House and the vice president issued similar statements assailing the demands, but did not clearly indicate whether they would comply or not.

"This is their testimony if it is and not part of my role", he texted.

On July 19, Volker texted Giuliani to connect him with Yermak.

Volker then shares text of a draft Ukrainian statement with his USA colleagues on August 13. "Apart from the outstanding subpoena, we look forward to hearing from Ambassadors Sondland and Yovanovitch next week".

The 30-second ad, titled "Unhinged", focuses on Biden's response to Trump's public and private efforts to get foreign governments to investigate Biden and his son Hunter.

"I did so exclusively because I understood that the new Ukrainian leadership wanted to convince those, like Mayor Giuliani, who believed such a negative narrative about Ukraine, that times have changed and that, under President Zelensky, Ukraine is worthy of US support", Volker said.

Ukraine might appear to be bowing to pressure from Trump, who lifted his previously unannounced two-month hold on almost $400 million in security assistance for Ukraine on September 11.

One of those messages came from the top USA diplomat in Kyiv, chargé d'affaires Bill Taylor.

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