Report: US envoys pushed Ukraine to commit to investigations

Sources: Trump’s top envoys to Ukraine helped draft statement that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations against Biden.

Ben Ariel ,

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Two of US President Donald Trump’s top envoys to Ukraine helped draft a statement for the country’s new president in August that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations sought by Trump into his political rivals, three people briefed on the effort told The New York Times on Thursday.

The statement was worked on by Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, according to the three people who have been briefed on it.

The Ukrainians never released the statement, according to the report, but if they had, Trump’s aides would have effectively pressured a foreign government to give credence to allegations intended to undercut one of the Democratic Party’s leading 2020 president candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden — without leaving Trump’s fingerprints on it.

The statement was written with the awareness of a top aide to the Ukrainian president, as well as Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, said one of the people briefed on it.

The statement would have committed Ukraine to investigating the energy company Burisma Holdings, which had employed Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s younger son. And it would have called for the Ukrainian government to look into what Trump and his allies believe was interference by Ukrainians in the 2016 election in the United States to benefit Hillary Clinton.

The idea behind the statement was to break the Ukrainians of their habit of promising American diplomats and leaders behind closed doors that they would look into matters and never follow through, the people briefed on it told The New York Times.

It is unclear if the statement was delivered to Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, but no statement was released publicly under his name. Around that time, the Ukrainian officials indicated to the Americans that they wanted to avoid becoming more deeply enmeshed in American politics.

The development follows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement last week of formal impeachment proceedings against Trump over allegations that he threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine unless its government investigated actions by Biden.

Also last week, the White House released the full, unredacted transcript of Trump's phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump brought up the matter of allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Trump said. Zelensky responded that he would appoint a new prosecutor general who would look into the matter of the company Hunter Biden had been on the board of.

Responding to Thursday’s New York Times report, Giuliani said he was aware of the statement but that it was not written at his behest.

Giuliani said that the statement was being handled by Sondland and Volker, and that he was not sure if Mr. Trump was involved in it.

“I don’t have any information that would suggest that it was at his request, but I can’t tell you it wasn’t, either,” he said.

Giuliani added he thought that the statement was intended to be delivered as part of a series of announcements by Zelensky’s government about the confirmation of new prosecutors and other officials.

“He was supposed to do something, or say something, to assure everybody — meaning our people — that he was going to take serious action about corruption,” said Giuliani. “I know that the investigations — which would be the collusion, the Burisma investigation — would be included in it, but it would have been part of an overall statement about dealing with corruption in an aggressive way.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Aides to Zelensky did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent in the overnight in Ukraine.

Trump, meanwhile, commented on Thursday evening on the recent developments in the Ukraine affair.

“As the President of the United States, I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, CORRUPTION, and that would include asking, or suggesting, other Countries to help us out!” he tweeted.