But one answer in particular is very difficult to swallow, given Volker’s proximity to specific events.
Under questioning from Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), Volker said that the Ukrainian officials he dealt with never indicated to him that they felt there was a quid pro quo in place between the investigations and U.S. concessions. Here is the exchange:
TURNER: Did the Ukrainians ever tell you that they understood that they would not get a meeting with the president of the United States, a phone call with the president of the United States, military aid or foreign aid from the United States, unless they undertook investigations of Burisma, the Bidens or the 2016 elections?VOLKER: No, they did not.
Turner declared that this should be game over for the impeachment inquiry. “You know, pretty much Ambassador Volker, you just like took apart their entire case,” he said.
But is it even true?
There have been in fact myriad indications that Ukraine understood that an Oval Office meeting with Trump might be conditioned upon launching the investigations — including in Volker’s own text messages with a top official.
Shortly before Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Volker texted top Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak and said, “Heard from White House-assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck! See you tomorrow- Kurt.”
Volker at another point on Tuesday reaffirmed his earlier testimony that he never saw anything that indicated a quid pro quo. But that text is pretty explicit: “Assuming” you do this thing we want, “we will” do that thing you have been begging us for.
There is also the Aug. 2 meeting between Yermak and Giuliani in Madrid. In September, Giuliani explained to The Washington Post that he pressed for the investigations and that Yermak emphasized the desire for a meeting:
“Your country owes it to us and to your country to find out what really happened,” Giuliani said he told the Ukrainian president’s aide, Andriy Yermak, during the Madrid meeting. Yermak, according to Giuliani, indicated that the Ukrainians were open to pursuing the investigations. The aide reiterated the Ukrainians’ plea for a meeting with Trump, a summit that would be an important signal to Russia of Washington’s support for Ukraine.“I talked to him about the whole package,” said Giuliani, who has been lobbying Ukrainian officials to take up the investigations since the spring. Yermak did not respond to a request for comment.
Very shortly after that meeting, Yermak again emphasized the need for a meeting in a text with Volker. “My meeting with Mr. Mayor was very good,” he said in one. He then added two minutes later: “We asked for White House meeting during week start 16 Sept. Waiting for confirmation. May be you know the date?” And then: “When can we talk?”
Yermak then texted Volker again five days later, on Aug. 7, saying, “Hi Kurt. How are you? Do you have some news about White House meeting date?” Volker responded, “Hi Andrey! Not yet — I texted Rudy earlier to make sure he weighs in following your meeting. Gordon should be speaking with the president on Friday. We are pressing this …”
Then just three days later, on Aug. 10, Yermak again mentioned the investigations alongside a meeting date. “Please let me know when you can talk. I think it’s possible to make this declaration and mention all of these things” — referring to specifics the Trump team had asked for from a Ukraine statement. Yermak added, “But it will be logic to do after we receive a confirmation of date. We inform about date of visit and about our expectations and our guarantees for future visit.”
Volker responded by also mentioning the two alongside one another and suggesting they were connected: “I agree with your approach. Let’s iron out statement and use that to get date and then PreZ can go forward with it?”
Yermak then responded similarly: “Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling investigations.”
So that is six instances involving Volker, Giuliani and Yermak in which an Oval Office meeting was mentioned alongside Ukraine granting Trump’s and Giuliani’s desires for very specific investigations. It seems apparent from them that Yermak understood the two things were connected in some way, and given the drawn-out process, it seems pretty likely he would have understood that they were conditioned.
Did he ever say that explicitly to Volker? Perhaps not. Volker was only asked about what Ukrainian officials had specifically told him about their understanding about the quid pro quo. Maybe it was just something that they knew they should never explicitly say was understood as a quid pro quo.
But the answer seems to underscore the idea that Volker is conveniently saying he is unaware of something that seems to be staring him right in the face. And indeed, he conceded Tuesday that was the case when it came to a related issue: The idea that an investigation of Burisma, the company that employed Hunter Biden, was really about former vice president Joe Biden.
“In retrospect, I should have seen that connection [between Burisma and Biden] differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections,” Volker said.
Both Volker and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland have now insisted they were unaware of the Burisma-Biden connection, even though Giuliani made it clear his target was Joe Biden in an early May story in the New York Times. Volker is now suggesting he missed both that and Yermak’s persistent and conspicuous mentioning of a meeting date alongside these investigations — which Volker himself reciprocated at some key junctures.