Volker, who was Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, was one of the “three amigos” tasked by Trump to work with Ukraine. Despite turning over text messages that detailed the pressure campaign on Ukraine to launch investigations related to the Bidens, Volker’s testimony was frequently highlighted by Trump allies. That’s because he said hadn’t been aware of a quid pro quo in which Ukraine would be given something for launching politically convenient investigations for Trump. And so the GOP called him as its witness.
“Ambassador Volker … confirmed what the President has repeatedly said: there was no quid pro quo,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) tweeted at one point.
“You know pretty much, Ambassador Volker, you just like took apart their entire case,” Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) said while questioning Volker.
CNN this week published a recording of a call between Volker, Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and a top Ukrainian official, Andriy Yermak, from July 2019. In the call, Giuliani discusses the matters involving the Bidens with Yermak. Details of the call had previously been reported, but this gave us a fuller accounting.
The call doesn’t necessarily add a ton to the known facts about what Giuliani et. al. requested of Ukraine. We knew they wanted dirt on the Bidens, as Giuliani himself acknowledged very early on.
As Mother Jones noted, though, Volker in his later testimony downplayed his knowledge of Biden’s proximity to that push.
“At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden,” Volker said in his Oct. 3, 2019, deposition. “You will see from the extensive text messages I am providing, which convey a sense of real-time dialogue with several different actors, Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion.”
He echoed this in his later testimony: “At no time was I aware of or knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden. As you know from the extensive real-time documentation I have provided, Vice President Biden was not a topic of our discussions.”
The idea that the Trump team’s push might somehow not actually have been about the Bidens was a very fine line walked by another member of the “three amigos” whose testimony Republicans initially played up, then-European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry also tried to make a similar argument. The problem with all of that: Giuliani himself had explicitly connected the requested investigations to Biden in his public comments months before. The motivation here would seem to have been no secret, especially for someone who actually pays regular attention to U.S.-Ukraine relations.
And the recording obtained by CNN shows Giuliani indeed making those connections in a call featuring Volker himself.
“All we need from the [Ukraine] President [Volodymyr Zelensky],” Giuliani says on the call, “is to say, I’m going to put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence that presently exists, and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out.”
Giuliani adds: “Somebody in Ukraine’s got to take that seriously.”
At another point, Giuliani refers to his conversations with former Ukraine prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. Giuliani had worked with Shokin to push the theory that there was something wrong with then-Vice President Biden’s role in applying pressure on Ukraine to fire Shokin.
Again, Giuliani invokes Biden.
“My interest in it was about the collusion, let’s call it — I hate that word — I guess ‘conspiracy,’ to affect the 2016 election,” Giuliani said. “But here I was stuck with this allegation about Biden. And I don’t know what — I mean, now it’s out of my hands, it’s being investigated. But at the time, I didn’t know who would investigate it.”
Again, we’re dealing with some fine lines here. That latter quote doesn’t technically involve asking Ukraine to investigate, but it sure indicates a healthy interest in such investigations. And Giuliani’s first quote suggests a clear desire for a Ukrainian investigation involving Biden, even if you could argue it’s not a direct request.
Volker’s testimony is worth a careful parse. He also referred specifically to the idea that Biden wasn’t brought up in the text messages he turned over — rather than at all in any conversations. And whether he was specifically party to “an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden” is also debatable, for reasons mentioned above.
Another issue: Volker in his deposition presented the Giuliani-Yermak call as “just an introductory phone call so they could talk to each other.”
“It was literally, you know, ‘Let me introduce,’ you know, ‘Mr. Giuliani,’ ” Volker said. “ ‘Let me introduce Mr. Yermak.’ ” Volker might have been referring narrowly to his own role, but the call lasted more than 40 minutes and dealt with plenty of the substantive subjects that would later come up in the impeachment trial.
Volker declined to comment to Mother Jones, saying, “I have nothing to add to what was already covered in my public testimony.” He also declined to comment to The Washington Post.
Volker has already clarified his testimony, to some degree, allowing that perhaps there was more of a quid pro quo than he had personally been aware of. His testimony that he was unaware of a quid pro quo was also called into question by a contemporary text message in which he seemingly referred to one of the key carrots in the Giuliani-Trump effort: Zelensky’s much-desired White House meeting.
“Heard from White House — assuming President [Zelensky] convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington” for Zelensky, Volker said.
One of the witnesses Republicans initially highlighted, Sondland, later confirmed there was a quid pro quo, effectively turning him into a hostile witness for Trump. This would seem to point to valid questions about the testimony of a second key witness cited in Trump’s defense.