Democratic House committee chairs from the Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs Committees on Thursday night released a cache of texts they’ve received concerning the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. The texts, shared by the former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, are now evidence in the House’s impeachment inquiry.
The messages include texts sent among career officials at the State Department, Trump appointees, and Ukrainian officials, and capture one diplomat raising alarms about the Trump administration’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid and include a statement, reportedly drafted by Rudy Giuliani, that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was expected to make announcing an official inquiry into the Bidens and the 2016 election, in exchange for the U.S. normalizing relations with the Eastern European nation menaced by Russia.
Zelensky never released the statement, but on Friday, Ukraine announced it was reviewing the closure of criminal investigations into the gas company Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, worked for.
Documents turned over to Congress show that on September 8th, Gordon Sondland, the Portland hotelier and Trump donor who was appointed ambassador to the E.U. last year, created a text-message group called “Ukraine” and added both Volker and Bill Taylor, the charge d’ affaires to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. “Guys, multiple convos with Ze,Potus. Let’s talk,” Sondland writes.
After a phone conversation, Taylor — a career foreign-service officer — expresses his concern about the Trump administration’s decision to withhold aid to Ukraine in exchange for a meeting, and says it would be his “nightmare scenario” if the meeting took place and Ukraine was not given the aid as promised.
Taylor: The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)
He reiterates this concern the next day.
Taylor: The message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. Thus my nightmare scenario.
In case there’s any ambiguity, Taylor spells out his concerns in the text chain Sondland has created.
Taylor: As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
At this point, it’s clear that Sondland has instantly regretted his decision to take notes on a criminal conspiracy, because call logs show that immediately after he receives the messages, he desperately tries to reach Volker separately — texting twice and calling four times — before Volker finally responds: “Need a few min still – chairing a discussion.”
Hours later, Sondland responds to Taylor on the group thread, a message that reads as if it was drafted after he realized how incriminating the previous texts were.
Sondland: Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s 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. I suggest we stop the back and forth by text. If you still have concerns, I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly. Thanks.