The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday released transcripts from two more closed-door depositions as the proceedings move to a more public phase.
The transcripts include witness testimony from two figures central to the inquiry, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine. Reporters from The New York Times are combing through the documents now, highlighting key parts and offering context and analysis.
Sondland said he received a misleading description of the July call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.
Sondland transcript, Page 251: “I think the only readouts I remember seeing were the ones from my team, which were very innocuous, and did not represent what was actually said on the call that I found out once the transcript was a released.”
Even though he was dealing directly with the Ukrainian government to set up a meeting between the two presidents, Mr. Sondland said he was not given a summary of the telephone call between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine until months later, when the transcript of the conversation was released in September.
He said the earlier descriptions of the call, as provided by his advisers, did not refer to any hold being put on American aid to Ukraine. Nor was there any indication of a quid pro quo, Mr. Sondland said.
Trump complained Ukraine was trying to take him down.
Volker transcript, Page 31: “He gave the example of hearing from Rudy Giuliani that they’re all corrupt, they’re all terrible people, that they were — they tried to take me down — meaning the President in the 2016 election.”
Mr. Volker told impeachment investigators that President Trump dismissed their positive assessments of Ukraine during a May 23 meeting at the White House because of what he was hearing from his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani.
That story was echoed by Mr. Sondland, who told investigators that he had also heard Mr. Trump make a remark about believing that Ukraine wanted to take him down.
In early July, Volker and Zelensky suggested that Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine affairs was a problem.
Volker transcript, Page 138: “The negative narrative about Ukraine which Mr. Giuliani was furthering was the problem. It was, in my view, it was impeding our ability to build the relationship the way we should be doing.”
Mr. Volker and Mr. Zelensky met in Toronto on July 3, a few weeks before the phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry. By Mr. Volker’s account, he and Mr. Zelensky discussed the problem that Mr. Giuliani was causing by pushing a negative narrative about Ukraine’s corruption as Mr. Zelensky was working to introduce his reform agenda. This shows that during the July 25 phone call, when Mr. Trump suggested that Mr. Zelensky work with Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Zelensky was well-aware of what the president’s personal lawyer was doing.
The top U.S. diplomat in Kiev hesitated about taking the job partly because of the influence of Giuliani.
Volker transcript, in text messages released with his testimony, Page 386: “I am still struggling with the decision whether to go. Can anyone hope to succeed with the Giuliani/Biden issue swirling for the next 18 months?” Mr. Taylor said in text messages.
Later Mr. Taylor asked, “Do I want to enter this non-normal world?”
William B. Taylor Jr., now the top American diplomat in Kiev, sent this message to Mr. Volker on May 26, before agreeing to succeed Marie. L. Yovanovitch, who was ousted as the American ambassador to Ukraine. He specifically mentioned Mr. Giuliani in the context of “Biden.” This appears to be a reference to Mr. Giuliani’s claims, echoed by President Trump, that as vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. tried to squash a criminal inquiry of a Ukrainian company that had hired Mr. Biden’s son as a board member. No evidence has surfaced to support those claims. He was also worried about the lack of a normal chain of command.
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