President Trump's ex-envoy says Ukrainians gave Rudy Giuliani misinformation on the Bidens
WASHINGTON - The former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine told House investigators on Thursday that he warned President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that Giuliani was receiving untrustworthy information from Ukrainian political figures about former vice president Joe Biden and his son, according to two people familiar with his testimony.
Kurt Volker, who resigned last week after being named in a whistleblower complaint that sparked the House impeachment inquiry of Trump, said he tried to caution Guiliani that his sources, including Ukraine's former top prosecutor, were unreliable and that he should be careful about putting faith in the prosecutor's theories, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.
Volker's testimony offers the first inside account of the Trump administration's efforts to press for a Ukrainian investigation into Biden, who as a leading 2020 Democratic candidate to challenge Trump for the White House has become a fixed target of the president's attacks.
At the heart of Trump's effort is Giuliani's contention that, as vice president, Biden pushed for the firing of Ukraine's former prosector general, Viktor Shokin, as part of a corrupt plot to halt investigations into a Ukrainian natural gas company that employed Biden's son Hunter.
Joe Biden and his defenders have denied the accusation, and noted that Biden's push to remove Shokin was part of a broader international effort that included the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, where leaders viewed Shokin as inept.
Volker also told lawmakers Thursday that he and other State Department officials cautioned the Ukrainians to steer clear of U.S. politics. Getting involved, he said he told them, would open the nation to allegations that it was interfering in an American election and could be detrimental to Ukraine long-term, according to these two individuals.
Volker faced hours of questioning Thursday from members of the House committees leading an impeachment inquiry into Trump, the first of five former and current State Department officials to testify as part of the probe.
In discussing Giuliani's sources, Volker specifically mentioned former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko, a controversial figure in Ukrainian politics due in part to his battles with the country's anti-corruption bureau.
Andrew Weiss, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said trusting Lutsenko was a risky move given his status as a "discredited Ukrainian law enforcement figure."
"This is Ukraine politics 101," Weiss said.
Volker was named in the whistleblower complaint as the diplomat who set up a meeting between Giuliani and a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amid Trump's effort to compel an investigation of the Bidens. House investigators asked Volker if that pressure included withholding a leader-level meeting with Zelensky and about $400 million in military aid from the country, those familiar with the meeting said.
Volker acknowledged, these people said, that the Trump administration had extended an invitation to Zelensky shortly after his election in the spring and that it was later withdrawn. Volker told House investigators that Trump's delay in meeting Zelensky and the decision to halt military aid deeply concerned Ukrainian officials, who view Washington as a critical ally against Russia, the people familiar with his testimony said.
Volker said Thursday that he was never given an explanation about the aid suspension, which analysts called striking.
"Volker is telling us that he spent two-plus years of his life pushing a policy line on Ukraine very energetically yet, at a critical moment in that country's political life, he had little or no visibility about what the president was actually up to, the information Trump was relying on, or even what Trump was trying to accomplish," Weiss said.