When Official and Shadow U.S. Foreign Policies Collide

“You had an instance where everyone that I spoke with in the policy side of the administration—you know, Pentagon, military, civilian, State Department, National Security Council—they all thought this is really important to provide this assistance,” Volker told the committees. “At least I, Secretary Pompeo, the official representatives of the U.S., never communicated to Ukrainians that it is being held for a reason. We never had a reason. And I tried to avoid talking to Ukrainians about it for as long as I could until it came out in Politico a month later.”  

That left one Ukrainian official with no recourse but to text Volker the Politico report about the suspended assistance with the message, “Need to talk with you.” As for how he responded, Volker told investigators, “You’re just trying to explain that … we have a complicated system. We have a lot of players in this. We are working this. Give us time to fix it.”

In August, at Giuliani’s insistence,  Volker requested that the Ukrainian government add mentions of the specific probes Trump was pressing for when Yermak sent him a draft statement without such references included. “We spoke with Rudy. … Following is text with insert at the end for the 2 key items,” Volker texted Yermak, including a new clause about investigating “Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections.”

The Ukrainian government never actually issued the statement, and Volker told House investigators that this was in part because he advised the Ukrainians to “drop it” and instead “work on substantive issues” such as “security assistance.” He explained that he counseled them to “avoid anything that would look like it would play into our domestic politics” and to make no reference to Giuliani’s desired probes once he discovered that the U.S. Justice Department had not officially asked Ukraine to initiate the investigations. “I was becoming now here convinced this is going down the wrong road,” the Ukraine envoy explained to investigators regarding his change of heart. Kurt Volker the professional diplomat was rejecting the earlier proposal of Kurt Volker the political go-between.

Sondland, a Trump donor-turned-diplomat who seems to have been tasked with running point in Europe on Giuliani’s pet project, similarly described operating on dual foreign-policy tracks. “He just kept saying: ‘Talk to Rudy, talk to Rudy,’ the ambassador told the House committees at one point, recalling an instruction from Trump during an Oval Office meeting on Ukraine in May. When Giuliani’s involvement came up while he was talking to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sondland recalled that Pompeo “rolled his eyes and said, ’Yes, it’s something we have to deal with.’”

“People usually smiled when they heard Rudy’s name because he was always swirling around somewhere,” Sondland said. But ultimately, he suggested, their hands were tied. “Listen, the State Department was fully aware of the issues,” Sondland told investigators, “and there was very little they could do about it if the president decided he wanted his lawyer involved.”

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