Lawmakers meet with envoy who connected Giuliani with Ukraine officials
The former State Department aide was deposed on Thursday in a special spy-proof room used by the House Intelligence Committee, which jointly oversaw the session with House Oversight and House Foreign Affairs committees. Congressional staffers and a few lawmakers were present.
A short stretch into the session, some Republicans briefly emerged to insist that Volker’s testimony so far was not harmful to the president.
“Not one thing [Volker] has said comports with any of the Democrats’ impeachment narrative, not one thing,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). He also complained that Democrats had refused to allow State Department lawyers to take part in the questioning.
In the late afternoon, another Republican pushed a similar narrative. Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York said Volker’s comments “blew a massive hole” through allegations that Trump sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine’s leader, without offering specifics.
Zeldin also praised Volker and asked Democrats release the transcript of his deposition as soon as possible.
Volker is mentioned in a whistleblower complaint that fueled the impeachment inquiry. The complaint notes that Zelensky met with Volker the day after his phone call with Trump and says the envoy tried to help Ukrainian officials figure out how to “navigate” Trump’s demands.
Giuliani has also pulled Volker into the incident, insisting that he met with Zelensky’s aides at the request of State Department officials, including Volker, and that he briefed the department about his discussions afterward.
On Thursday morning, Giuliani tweeted out screenshots of texts between him and Volker in which the envoy appeared to be arranging meeting times for Giuliani and a Ukrainian official.
The former New York mayor also railed against Democratic lawmakers pursuing impeachment, though he offered a kind word for Volker.
“Crooked Dems not letting Republicans subpoena witnesses and maybe even question witness,” Giuliani claimed in a tweet. “This is a Star Chamber, illicit and part of their conspiracy to violate constitutional rights condoned by their media lamb dogs. Kurt did nothing wrong.“
As the deposition was ongoing, various media outlets reported that Volker had given his own documentation to the investigators. They include a series of text messages involving him and two other top U.S. diplomats discussing concerns about why Trump was holding back hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine.
Bill Taylor, the diplomat in charge at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, wrote: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” according to the reports. Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, dismissed that, saying that Trump has been “crystal clear no quid pro quo of any kind”.
A House Intelligence Committee spokesman declined to comment on the reports.
Volker has said little publicly about the unfolding drama. But the State Department has defended him in the past, saying that a Ukrainian official had asked Volker to connect him with Giuliani, which he did.
The implication is that aides to Zelensky — a former comedian who won Ukraine’s presidency in April — were trying to establish a link to Giuliani given his close relationship with Trump.
It’s likely Giuliani got the new Ukrainian government’s attention in part because he spent much of this past spring talking about Ukraine and alleged wrongdoings by the Bidens.
Volker is a former career foreign service officer and ambassador to NATO who is respected among Democrats and Republicans in Washington.
Many foreign policy hands welcomed Volker’s appointment as envoy in 2017 because of his hawkish views on Russia.
Volker held the envoy position on an unpaid, part-time basis. He also works as an adviser to a lobbying firm and as executive director of a Washington think tank named for the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.