Kurt Volker, the former United States Representative for Ukraine negotiations, will testify Tuesday afternoon on the third day of public hearings in the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Volker’s October 3 closed-door testimony has been the most beneficial to Trump’s defense. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who was present for Volker’s testimony, said soon after that his comments “exonerated” Trump.
Volker excited Democrats when he resigned from his post in September after being mentioned in connection with what they allege was an effort to use U.S. aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential rival to Trump in the 2020 election.
However, Volker told a closed-door hearing last month that he had simply resigned because he could not continue his role in the shadow of the allegations — but not because the allegations were true.
In fact, he said that President Trump never wanted Ukraine to “dig up dirt” on Biden, and never mentioned the 2020 elections.
He also testified that Ukraine did not believe there had been a “quid pro quo” and that the Ukrainians were never aware that U.S. aid had been held up internally.
“I was never asked to do anything that I thought was wrong” by the president, he testified.
Volker was critical of the hold on U.S. aid to Ukraine. Separately, he was also skeptical of the idea of asking Ukraine to conduct investigations into interference in the 2016 election, and into Hunter Biden’s dealings with Burisma. He testified that he advised Ukraine not to interfere in U.S. politics.
However, he also understood President Trump’s concerns about perceptions that Ukraine had opposed him in 2016, and that it was still corrupt. He also thought U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland — one of the more controversial figures in the drama — was acting out of good motives and “took a strong interest” in having the E.U. do more for Ukraine.
Volker also praised Trump for giving Ukraine defensive weapons — something that President Barack Obama had not done.
In sum, Volker — a career diplomat praised by his colleagues, including former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in last Friday’s public hearing — comes across a conscientious public servant, doing his best to reconcile competing demands within the administration, in pursuit of the objective of helping Ukraine stand up to Russian aggression.
Key Democrat Talking Points
1. Democrats will hammer the point that Volker was very critical of the actions of President Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in Ukraine. Volker provided texts that show U.S. officials, and Giuliani, asking for investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election in exchange for a meeting with Trump.
- What Democrats don’t want you to know: Volker testified that he did not think it was “improper” to contact Giuliani, since he was seen as a useful conduit to the president. He also testified that he “made clear to the Ukrainians on a number of occasions that Mayor Gjuliani is a private citizen and the President’s personal lawyer and that he does not represent the United States Government.” He believed Giuliani had been poorly informed — for example, about Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch — but that he was acting on his own. He also said that he understood the president’s concerns about Yovanovitch, if he believed reports about her to be true.
2. Democrats will focus on Volker’s testimony that Giuliani wanted the Ukrainian government to issue a statement that mentioned they were investigating Burisma and the 2016 election — not just fighting corruption in general.
- What Democrats don’t want you to know: Volker rejected the idea that Trump had asked Ukraine to “dig up dirt” or “manufacture” information on the Bidens: “I think there’s a difference between the manufacture or dig up dirt versus finding out did anything happen in the 2016 campaign or did anything happen with Burisma I think — or even if he’s asking them to investigate the Bidens, it js to find out what facts there may be rather than to manufacture something.” He also said Trump was mainly interested in the 2016 election interference — and that there was never any mention of the 2020 presidential election in his discussions with Ukraine. He also observed that when Trump asked Zelensky to investigate in their phone call, he also referred him to Attorney General William Barr: “It was at least saying, you know, work in an official, legal channel.” He added that Trump had a “deep-rooted, skeptical view of Ukraine” that went back long before 2019.
3. Democrats will focus on text messages in which Sondland emphasized that President Trump “really wants the deliverable,” i.e. the investigations, suggesting that there was a quid pro quo imposed on the Ukrainians.
- What Democrats don’t want you to know: Volker testified that President Trump never withheld or delayed a meeting with Zelensky until Ukraine committed to an investigation. He also said that the U.S. held no “leverage” over Ukraine in the discussion of U.S. aid, because the Ukrainians had no idea it had been withheld until much later. And he thought the hold on U.S. aid was “not significant” in the long run.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.