On Thursday, former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker testified before members of Congress in a private session about the Trump administration’s communication with Ukrainian government officials. Today, BuzzFeed News obtained Voker’s opening statement to congressional investigators, in which Volker alleges that President Trump and Rudy Giuliani repeatedly pursued their personal priorities and conspiracy theories in Ukraine against his advice.
Volker resigned as special envoy last week. His statement, naturally, makes him look pretty good, when his larger role in the Ukraine clusterfuck is not entirely clear; some observers also seem skeptical about aspects of his testimony. On Thursday night, the House Intelligence Committee released a series of damning text messages, turned over by Volker, that show Trump officials dancing around the strange quid-pro-quo relationship between military aid to Ukraine and an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the country.
In his statement, however, Volker casts himself as a voice of reason in the chaotic negotiations, basically saying that he repeatedly told Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani that the Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko was not a reliable source. From his statement, emphasis mine:
In the early months of 2019, I was aware of an emerging, negative narrative about Ukraine in the United States, fueled by accusations made by the then-Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, that some Ukrainian citizens may have sought to influence the U.S. 2016 Presidential election, including by passing information they hoped would reach the Hillary Clinton campaign that was detrimental to the Donald Trump campaign.
There was a second narrative, also fueled by the then-Prosecutor General, that the company, Burisma, had sought to garner influence with then-Vice President Biden, by paying high fees to his son Hunter Biden.
Mr. Lutsenko made these allegations in conversations with U.S. media, which gave them wide circulation, particularly among conservative media viewers. I was well aware of the situation in Ukraine, and had met Mr. Lutsenko once, during one of my visits to Ukraine in 2018. Ukraine has a well-deserved reputation for rampant corruption.
Nonetheless, I believed that these accusations by Mr. Lutsenko were themselves self-serving, intended to make himself appear valuable to the United States, so that the United States might weigh in against his being removed from office by the new government.
In May, 2019, I learned that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani planned to travel to Ukraine to look into these accusations. I reached out to brief him before his visit – specifically, to tell him that Lutsenko is not credible and will be replaced once a new government takes office, and that I had met with President-elect Zelenskyy when he was a candidate, had subsequently been in touch with his advisors, and was convinced that he was sincerely committed to reform and to fighting corruption in Ukraine.
Giuliani allegedly ignored Volker’s advice, and continued to pursue Lutsenko’s “negative narrative” (read: conspiracy theory) that Ukrainians had interfered in the 2016 elections. And yep, that made its way back to the president, who then went off on Ukraine as a whole. Emphasis mine:
We met as a group with President Trump on May 23. We stressed our finding that President Zelenskyy represented the best chance for getting Ukraine out of the mire of corruption it had been in for over 20 years. I argued that how the next 3-6 months played out would determine the future of Ukraine for the next 5 years. We urged him to invite President Zelenskyy to the White House. The President was very skeptical. Given Ukraine’s history of corruption, that is understandable. He said that Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of “terrible people.” He said they “tried to take me down.” In the course of that conversation, he referenced conversations with Mayor Giuliani. It was clear to me that despite the positive news and recommendations being conveyed by this official delegation about the new President, President Trump had a deeply rooted negative view on Ukraine rooted in the past. He was clearly receiving other information from other sources, including Mayor Giuliani, that was more negative, causing him to retain this negative view.