House Republicans’ report of conclusions from the initial phases of the impeachment inquiry clearly outlined how U.S. military aid for Ukraine was never linked to investigations that President Donald Trump asked Ukraine to undertake of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and on Ukrainian company Burisma, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden.
In addition, the report showed that no senior Ukrainian government official knew of the freeze in military aid at the time of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy on July 25.
A central argument by Democrats is that the Ukrainian government was aware the aid was being withheld by the time of the July 25 phone call when Trump asked Zelensky to undertake the investigations — amounting to a “quid pro quo.” But Republicans have argued that if Zelensky had no idea the aid was frozen, then there was no pressure, and no “quid pro quo.”
Former U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker testified that he was aware of no quid pro quo and that the Ukrainian government never raised concerns to him about a quid pro quo.
Indeed, he told top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Amb. Bill Taylor, “there is no linkage here. I view this as an internal thing, and we are going to get it fixed.” He also testified that Ukrainians never mentioned any linkage to him and would have come to him with concerns about the security assistance.
Volker also testified that the president never talked to him about such a quid pro pro.
The report said Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent also testified that he did not “associate” the security assistant to the investigations. Kent said Taylor told him that then-senior National Security Official Tim Morrison and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said they did not believe the aid and investigations were linked.
Sondland also testified that he could not recall any discussions with the White House about holding the security assistance from Ukraine in exchange for help with Trump’s 2020 election campaign, and that he was “never ” aware of any preconditions on the delay of aid to Ukraine, or that it was tied to investigations.
Sondland testified that he “presumed” there was a link, and he conveyed that presumption to Zelensky’s aide Andrey Yermak on September 1, but Yermak said he did not remember any reference to military aid.
Sondland also testified that the president told him directly there was “no quid pro quo.” On September 9, Sondland texted Volker and Taylor with:
The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s [sic] of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.
The report also cites an interview with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the Wall Street Journal and a detailed written submission to the impeachment inquiry by Johnson, where he said he spoke to Trump on August 31, and that he was not prepared to lift the pause on security assistance to Ukraine, citing Ukrainian corruption and frustration that Europe did not share more of the burden.
Johnson also said when he raised the potential of a linkage between U.S. security assistance and investigations, Trump vehemently denied it. Johnson said that Trump even told him by the end of the phone call, “Ron, I understand your position. We’re reviewing it now, and you’ll probably like my final decision.”
The report also dismisses Democrats’ argument that Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed a quid pro quo during his October press briefing. “A careful reading of his statements shows otherwise,” the report said.
During the briefing, Mulvaney cited Trump’s concerns about Ukrainian corruption and foreign aid in general as the “driving factors” in the temporary pause on security assistance.” He also said, “the money held up had absolutely nothing to do with Biden,” the report pointed out.
Philip Reeker, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europeans Affairs, testified that he was unaware of any U.S. official conveying to a Ukrainian official that President Trump sought political investigations, the report noted.
And according to the report, OMB official Mark Sandy testified that he learned in early September 2019 that the pause was related “to the President’s concern about other countries contributing more to Ukraine.”
On the timing of when Ukraine knew about the freeze in military aid, the report argued that evidence suggests that the senior levels of the Ukrainian government did not know that the U.S. aid was delayed until some point after the July 25 phone call — in other words, Ukrainians would not have been aware of any quid pro quo at the time of the phone call.
The report said Taylor and Volker, the two U.S. diplomats closest to the Ukrainian government, testified that Ukraine did not know about the delay until the end of August, when it was reported publicly by Politico on August 28.
Volker testified that Ukraine did not raise the issue with him until after that article. Volker also testified that he did not feel the delay was significant:
In my view, this hold on security assistance was not significant. I don’t believe – in fact, I am quite sure that at least I, Secretary Pompeo, the official representatives of the U.S., never communicated to Ukrainians that it is being held for a reason. We never had a reason. And I tried to avoid talking to Ukrainians about it for as long as I could until it came out in Politico a month later because I was confident we were going to get it fixed internally.
When asked, “So, based on your knowledge, nobody in the Ukrainian government became aware of a hold on military aid until two days later, on August 29th?” Taylor responded, “That’s your understanding.”
The report said NSC official Lt. Col. Alex Vindman testified that the Ukrainian embassy made informal inquiries about the status of the security assistance in either early- or mid-August, but they were not definitive inquiries until September 1, also after the July 25 phone call.
The report said State Department official Catherine Croft testified that two individuals from the Ukrainian embassy approached her about a pause on security assistance at some point before August 28, but Croft told them she “was confident that any issues in process would get resolved.”
The report said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper testified publicly that her staff received inquiries from the Ukrainian embassy in July that “there was some kind of issue” with the security assistance; however, she did not know what the Ukrainian government knew at the time. The report said:
Although this evidence suggests that Ukrainian officials in Washington were vaguely aware of an issue with the security assistance before August 28, the evidence does not show that the senior leadership of Ukrainian government in Kyiv was aware of the pause until late August.
The report noted that a Bloomberg story detailed how Ukraine’s embassy in Washington — led by then Ambassador Valeriy Chaly, who had been appointed by President Zelensky’s predecessor — went “rogue” in the early months of the Zelensky administration.
According to the report, Yermak said Ukrainian embassy officials, who were loyal to the former President Poroshenko, did not inform President Zelensky that there was any issue with the U.S. security assistance.
The report said:
This information explains the conflicting testimony between witnesses like LTC Vindman and Deputy Assistant Secretary Cooper, who testified that the Ukrainian embassy raised questions about the security assistance, and Ambassador Volker and Ambassador Taylor, who testified that the Zelensky government did not know about any pause in security assistance.
The report noted that, according to the Ukrainian government, Zelensky and his senior advisers only learned of the pause on security assistance from Politico’s August 28 article.
The report also noted that the Ukrainian government denied any awareness of a linkage between U.S. security assistance and investigations. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Prystaiko has sai, according to public media reports:
I have never seen a direct relationship between investigations and security assistance. Yes, the investigations were mentioned, you know, in the conversation of the presidents. But there was no clear connection between these events.
A New York Times report on Tuesday said a former Deputy Foreign Minister, Olena Zerka, on July 30 saw a cable from Ukrainian officials in Washington about the aid freeze that was sent “the previous week,” but no specific date was mentioned.
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