The House impeachment inquiry began in earnest Thursday with Democrats interviewing a former U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, the first witness brought to speak under oath in their probe.
Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, abruptly resigned last week after being named repeatedly in the whistleblower complaint at the heart of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, which alleges that President Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s possible opponents in the 2020 presidential race. At the time, the White House was holding up hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid for the Ukrainian military.
Trump, including in public comments on Thursday, corroborated the complaint’s allegations, as did a White House account of the July 25 conversation between the men, though the president has said he withheld the aid for other reasons and not to pressure Ukraine to open the investigation.
Volker’s deposition to the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees lasted several hours, and while attended by multiple committee members, was largely conducted by committee staff. He is the first of five current and former State Department employees the committees intend to depose in the next 10 days despite allegations from Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo that the schedule is “not feasible.”
Republicans largely dismissed Volker’s testimony as adding nothing to Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
“Not one thing he has said comports any of the Democrats’ impeachment narrative. Not one thing,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking Republican on the Oversight Committee, told reporters a few hours into the deposition.
In his complaint, the whistleblower says that a day after the July 25 call between the U.S. and Ukrainian presidents, Volker and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, met with Zelensky and gave him advice about how to “navigate” Trump’s request.
The complaint also states that multiple U.S. officials had raised concerns in the spring about the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani circumventing the normal national security process to pass messages between Ukrainian officials and the president, and Volker and Sondland met with Giuliani in “an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security.”
Giuliani has said repeatedly in televised interviews that he was in frequent contact with Volker about his efforts, going so far as to show off text messages between the two men arranging meetings with Ukrainian officials in an effort to counter allegations he was conducting rogue foreign policy at the president’s behest.