Kurt Volker, the former envoy to Ukraine, told Congress that he believed it was “plausible” that individual Ukrainians had meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, bolstering one of the concerns that President Donald Trump and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have floated publicly about Ukraine.
But Volker poured cold water on another theory promoted by Trump and Giuliani, according to a copy of his opening remarks Thursday obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Volker said that he did not believe allegations that former Vice President Joe Biden pressured Ukrainian leaders in 2016 in an effort to shut down investigations of a Ukrainian energy company that employed Biden’s son, Hunter.
Volker, who resigned Sept. 27, said he told Giuliani at a July 19 meeting that he did not believe that Biden “would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as vice president.”
“I have known former Vice President Biden for 24 years, and the suggestion that he would be influenced in his duties as vice president by money for his son simply has no credibility to me,” Volker said in the opening statement.
Volker testified for 10 hours before three House committees as part of the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry against Trump. The inquiry was sparked by release last week of a CIA whistleblower complaint that accused Trump of exerting undue pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a July 25 phone call.
Trump has been fixated for months on Biden’s Ukraine-related activities, as well as whether the Ukrainian government tried to help Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
While Volker dismissed the Biden angle during his testimony, he did not rule out election meddling.
“A different issue is whether some individual Ukrainians may have attempted to influence the 2016 election or thought they could buy influence: That is at least plausible, given Ukraine’s reputation for corruption,” Volker said in his opening remarks, first reported by BuzzFeed News.
Giuliani has mounted a monthslong crusade to draw attention to the two issues, Biden and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.
The former New York mayor has pushed the idea that Biden, as vice president in 2016, pressured Ukraine’s president at the time to fire a prosecutor that was investigating Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company that paid Hunter Biden $50,000 a month as a board member.
Biden has openly bragged about forcing the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to be fired. He said in January 2018 that he told then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that the U.S. would withhold $1 billion in loan assistance to Ukraine if Shokin were not fired.
Trump allies have said that Biden was trying to block an investigation into Burisma. But Biden has denied the allegation, and leaders of numerous Western countries at the time wanted Shokin removed because he was not investigating corruption in Ukraine.
Giuliani and Trump also have focused on whether Ukrainian officials helped the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign during the 2016 election.
Ukrainian embassy officials have acknowledged working in 2016 with a DNC consultant, Alexandra Chalupa, to gather information on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was a consultant for another former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Politico reported the Ukrainian-Chalupa connection in detail in January 2017.
Serhiy Leshchenko, a former Ukrainian lawmaker, also dug up and disseminated dirt on Manafort. A former investigative reporter, Leshchenko held press conferences in 2016 touting a controversial “black ledger” that he claimed showed off-the-books payments from Ukrainian leaders to Manafort.
Manafort denied receiving the covert payments, and others have claimed the ledger is a fraud.
Leshchenko was named in congressional testimony last year as a source for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm hired by the DNC and Clinton campaign to dig up dirt on Trump in 2016.
Nellie Ohr, who worked as a Fusion GPS contractor, testified last October that Leshchenko was a source for Fusion GPS. Leshchenko told The Daily Caller News Foundation last week that he never knowingly met anyone working for Fusion GPS, but he acknowledged he could have crossed paths with someone working for the firm without first disclosing it.
Volker said Thursday that he conveyed to Giuliani that Zelenskyy had nothing to do with any 2016 efforts.
“Concerning the allegations, I stressed that no one in the new team governing Ukraine had anything to do with anything that may have happened in 2016 or before they were making TV shows at the time,” said Volker, referring to Zelenskyy’s previous career as a comedy talk show host.
Volker asserted in his statement that he was stuck between theories advanced by Giuliani that shaped Trump’s “negative view” of Ukraine and having to establish diplomatic ties with the Zelenskyy administration.
Text messages that Volker gave the House committees show that he and other U.S. diplomats conveyed to Zelenskyy aids that the administration would have to publicly commit to opening investigations of Burisma and into 2016 activities in order to secure a face-to-face meeting with Trump.
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