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Opinion The White House’s Ukraine memo destroys Giuliani’s attempts to frame the State Department

Rudolph W. Giuliani attends the U.S. Supreme Court nomination announcement ceremony in the White House on July 9, 2018. (Andrew Harrer/Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)
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The president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has been claiming the State Department was the main driver behind his suspicious dealings with Ukraine’s leaders over the past few months. But the newly released White House rough transcript on President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirms Giuliani’s narrative is completely false.

Over the past few days, Giuliani has repeatedly insisted that the State Department asked him to meet with Zelensky’s advisers, whom he asked — as he admits — to dig up dirt on former vice president Joe Biden and investigate how Paul Manafort’s Ukraine-related crimes were exposed in 2016. On Monday, Giuliani actually said he was on a mission from the State Department when he met with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelensky, in Madrid in early August.

“The State Department called me and said, would I take a call from Mr. Yermak,” he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity. “I was put together with Mr. Yermak. I talked to him. He gave me enormously important facts. I conveyed them all to the State Department. Unlike the media lies, fake news, I wasn’t operating on my own. I was operating at the request of the State Department.”

Last week, Giuliani told the Hill’s John Solomon the State Department actually “urged” him to talk to Yermak and that he reported back to two senior U.S. diplomats. “All of this was done at the request of the State Department,” he said. On Tuesday night, Giuliani claimed the State Department asked him to meet with Yermak “to facilitate a meeting between the president and Mr. Zelensky, to help them do that.” (Trump met Zelensky and several other world leaders this week in New York.) Giuliani named Ambassador Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine, as the State Department official who reached out.

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The newly released rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky reveals Giuliani’s various attempts to characterize his activity as a State Department initiative to be extremely misleading at best and outright lies at worst. In their conversation, Trump repeatedly urged Zelensky to deal with Giuliani to investigate Joe Biden and Hunter Biden’s activity in Ukraine.

The Fact Checker unravels what happened when Trump tried to force an investigation into the false rumor about then-Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine. (Video: The Washington Post)

It was clearly Trump’s initiative, not the State Department’s, according to the White House’s own memo. Zelensky’s team subsequently reached out to Volker to set up the Giuliani meeting; they were simply following up on Trump’s request. (Volker, by the way, is a part-time unpaid volunteer political appointee.)

The transcript merely confirms what many already knew. In an Aug. 22 statement, the State Department spokesperson said, “at Presidential Advisor Andriy Yermak’s request, Volker put Yermak in direct contact with Mr. Giuliani.” Again, Yermak was following up on Trump’s suggestion — not responding to actions of the State Department.

Volker must have known what Giuliani was up to. Giuliani had to cancel a planned trip to Kiev in May after widespread criticism of his attempts to cajole Ukrainian leaders into advancing Trump’s political agenda. The extent of Volker’s involvement will surely be part of the various ongoing investigations into these events. He declined to comment.

Also involved was U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Giuliani revealed that he also briefed Sondland on his interactions with Yermak. Sondland had previously said he was involved in the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call.

But there’s a huge difference between two State Department political appointees getting roped into Trump and Giuliani’s scheme and Giuliani’s claim that the whole thing was a State Department initiative. By deflecting the blame, Giuliani is setting up Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for intense scrutiny, perhaps just months before Pompeo goes on a run for a Senate seat.

A senior administration official told me Pompeo and the State Department never authorized what Giuliani was doing. The department’s August statement emphasized that Giuliani is a private citizen, was acting in his personal capacity and “does not speak on behalf of the U.S. government.”

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Regardless, the State Department is left dealing with Giuliani’s mess. CNN reported that three congressional committees have threatened to subpoena State Department officials if the department doesn’t quickly hand over reams of documents related to Giuliani’s Ukraine dealings.

That’s not to say Pompeo and the State Department’s hands are completely clean. As I reported back in May, the State Department recalled U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, ending her assignment ahead of schedule after Trump allies and family members organized a smear campaign against her. A State Department spokesperson at the time told me Yovanovitch was leaving at the planned end of her tenure, but that wasn’t true.

As the White House rough transcript makes clear, Trump was convinced Yovanovitch was somehow connected to the Manafort saga, and Trump told Zelensky she and the people she was dealing with were “bad news.” Yovanovitch was aligned with reformers and against the corrupt oligarchs and Russian stooges Trump and Giuliani preferred.

After the fact, Pompeo defended Trump’s attempts to push Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden and declined to talk about why Trump ordered the hold of military aid while he asked Zelensky for the help in attacking his political rival. Though Pompeo wasn’t directly involved in the alleged abuses of power, he now risks involving himself in the coverup.

That’s how Trump and Giuliani operate: They pressure their friends and associates to participate in their shady operations and then throw them all under the bus when their corruption comes to light. But don’t let them tell you U.S. diplomats came up with this scheme; it was the president and his lawyer from the beginning.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: New revelations on Trump call and Giuliani make impeachment more likely

Jennifer Rubin: Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president should seal his fate

Henry Olsen: Democrats, beware: Republicans would make the rules in a Senate impeachment trial

Max Boot: The rough transcript is devastating. How could Trump not know that?

Brian Klaas: Trump is pushing a fake scandal once again. Don’t buy it.