Volker knew the risks when he signed up to help manage (without pay) the U.S.-Ukraine relationship under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in July 2017. But as a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who believed in Ukraine’s democracy and standing up to Russian aggression, he thought he was in a unique position to help. He resigned last Friday from his position as U.S. special envoy for Ukraine and has agreed to testify before three congressional committees on Thursday, despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s refusal to make current State Department officials available to lawmakers.
Now, Giuliani is attempting to portray Volker as an accessory in his plan to prioritize the personal political interests of the president over U.S. national security interests. But Rudy’s theory doesn’t make sense. Volker had no interest in doing that. He was trying to fix the mess, not perpetuate it. That’s what his testimony will explain, according to people with direct knowledge of his role.
One doesn’t need to take Volker’s word for it. We don’t need the now famous whistleblower complaint to understand that Giuliani was in charge of the scheme, no matter how many out-of-context text messages he waves around on Fox News. All we need is to review the public record over the last six months and remember who these two men are.
By July 19, the date when Volker texted Giuliani about meeting an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Giuliani’s attempts to push Ukraine to interfere in U.S. politics were public and well-documented. He confirmed to the New York Times in May he was planning a trip to Ukraine and “meddling in an investigation.” It wasn’t just one investigation, though; Giuliani was aiming to get involved in several issues, including the Paul Manafort case, the Ukrainian involvements of Joe and Hunter Biden, and the origins of the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
I reported in May that the State Department recalled Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch ahead of her planned departure following a smear campaign by Trump allies, including Giuliani. What Volker was trying to do, in the middle of this mess, was to manage an erratic president and his personal attorney while mitigating the damage to our national security.
It’s true, as Giuliani said, that Volker pressed him to meet with Zelensky’s adviser Andriy Yermak and Volker pushed for Trump to talk with Zelensky. Volker was trying to convince both Trump and Giuliani that Zelensky was a reformer who shared their commitment to fighting corruption.
Volker also told the Ukrainians not to get involved in the 2020 election fight or participate in the investigation of Americans. But he also stressed that no one was disputing their right to investigate corruption allegations against Ukrainians, whether relating to Manafort or Burisma (the Ukrainian energy company that hired Hunter Biden on its board).
Volker was not on the July 25 Trump-Zelensky phone call. He was in Ukraine, visiting the Donbass where fighting between Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces was ongoing. Two days after the call he gave a press conference in Kiev. There he said the issue of arms sales was “not discussed,” according to the read-outs he received (which apparently left out important details of the call). The White House apparently did not share with him the details of Trump’s personal efforts to pressure Ukrainian leaders to come up with dirt on the Bidens.
He was not part of the decision to hold back the military aid in July. He was trying to fix the problem everybody knew Giuliani was creating. He was trying to address the distrust between Trump and Zelensky, which was based in Trump’s deep-seated belief that the entire country of Ukraine was corrupt, out to get him and had tried to take him down in 2016.
In the end, Volker failed. Rather than convincing the president and Giuliani that Zelensky was a good partner, he ended up getting roped into their alleged shakedown operation. And then, when the scheme was exposed, Giuliani launched his ridiculous bid to make Volker the fall guy.
Now, Volker will attempt to set the record straight, struggling against a tidal wave of news being spun in every direction. It’s true he was a consultant working on Ukraine for BGR Group, but Volker recused himself when he went to serve Trump, unlike Rudy, who maintains various personal business interests there.
Volker will have to answer for his part in this saga, like many others. But his argument will be that he was doing his best to advance and protect the national security interests of the United States. Giuliani isn’t even making any such claim.
“Everything I did was to defend my client. I am proud of what I did,” Giuliani said Sunday.
Volker resigned for two reasons. He couldn’t be effective in mounting his own defense if he was still beholden to the administration’s supervision. Also, he could no longer be effective in his job managing U.S. leadership on the Ukraine issue, now that Rudy has dragged him into this mess.
By the way, who’s going to do that job now? It’s doubtful Pompeo will find another skilled diplomat willing to take on the Ukraine portfolio in the middle of this drama. Policy will correspondingly suffer. The U.S.-Ukraine relationship will suffer. U.S. national security interests will suffer. And Vladiyermamir Putin will benefit.