September 26, 2021

In texts, U.S. officials tied Ukraine White House meeting to help for Trump

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials pressured the Ukrainian government to launch investigations that might benefit President Donald Trump’s personal political agenda in exchange for a meeting of the two countries’ leaders, a cache of diplomatic texts showed.

The exchanges were released on Thursday by Democrats in the House of Representatives as part of an investigation to determine whether they should impeach Trump for pressing Ukraine to probe former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, in connection with Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

Biden is a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. His son was on the board of Burisma for a number of years.

Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, gave the messages to several House committees in a closed-door meeting on Thursday.

In July, Volker texted an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to tell him that a meeting between the countries’ two leaders was tied to Kiev’s agreement to investigate the 2016 U.S. election, according to the committees.

“Heard from the 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,” Volker wrote.

The mention of the 2016 election was a reference to a debunked conspiracy theory that evidence of Russian meddling in the campaign on Trump’s behalf was actually planted by anti-Russia Ukrainians.

The texts provide the first insider account of negotiations between Washington and Kiev over U.S. attempts to have Ukraine help Trump’s domestic political agenda, the issue which set off the impeachment inquiry against the president.

The impeachment investigation could lead to the approval of articles of impeachment – or formal charges – against Trump in the Democratic-controlled House. A trial on whether to remove him from office would then be held in the U.S. Senate. Republicans who control the Senate have shown little appetite for ousting him.

Democrats are focusing on a July 25 telephone call between Trump and Zelenskiy in which the Republican president urges his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Burisma and the Bidens.

Later messages between Volker and the Ukrainian aide, Andriy Yermak, showed dueling efforts to lock in a date for a Trump-Zelenskiy meeting and to issue a statement from Kiev announcing a “reboot” of relations along with the probes into Burisma and the 2016 election.

Trump on Friday denied that the United States had bargained with Ukraine to get it to investigate Biden.

“The text message that I saw from Ambassador Sondland, who’s highly respected, was there’s no quid pro quo. He said that,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

He was referring to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, who had told another U.S. diplomat in a text that Trump had not linked security assistance to Ukraine to whether Zelenskiy agreed to investigate the Bidens.

ROMNEY PUSHES BACK

Trump has said Biden and his son are “corrupt” but has shown no evidence to back that up. The president on Thursday went a step further in his attacks on Biden when he called on China to investigate the former vice president and Biden’s son who had business interests there.

U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question during a joint news conference with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto in East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

U.S. senator and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Friday it was “wrong and appalling” for Trump to push other nations to investigate Biden.

“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney said on Twitter.

Trump said on Friday he would not tie a much-anticipated trade deal with China to his desire for Beijing to investigate Joe Biden.

“One thing has nothing to do with the other,” he said.

Biden leads in most opinion polls among the 19 Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to take on Trump in the November 2020 election. His campaign has blasted Trump’s efforts as desperate.

In a signal of how Kiev will handle investigations being watched in Washington, Ukrainian prosecutors said they would review 15 old probes related to Burisma’s founder but added that they were unaware of any evidence of wrongdoing by Biden’s son.

The White House plans to argue that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, must have the full House vote to formally approve an impeachment inquiry, a source familiar with the effort said.

Without a vote, White House lawyers believe Trump, who has called the impeachment probe a “hoax,” can ignore lawmakers’ requests, the source said, meaning the federal courts would presumably have to render a decision and potentially slow the march toward impeachment.

A White House letter arguing Pelosi must hold a House vote will probably be sent to Capitol Hill next week, an administration official said. The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee plans to issue more subpoenas in coming days.

Slideshow (3 Images)

“Congress must not back down from our duty to defend the Constitution,” Pelosi tweeted early on Friday. She accused Trump of ignoring warnings from America’s founders about foreign interference.

House Democrats asked Vice President Mike Pence to turn over documents relating to a meeting he held with Ukraine’s Zelenskiy and the call between Zelenskiy and Trump.

The Democratic chairmen of the three House committees leading the investigation gave Pence until Oct. 15 to produce the records.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Karen Freifeld; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Howard Goller, Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis

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Steve Holland
Reuters

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