Ukraine envoy resigns amid scandal consuming Trump’s presidency

Source: Politico | September 27, 2019 | Nahal Toosi

Kurt Volker was a well-regarded diplomat trying to solve one of the world’s hottest conflicts. Then he met with Rudy Giuliani.

Shortly after being named the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations in mid-2017, Kurt Volker attended an invitation-only strategy session at the Atlantic Council with a small group of foreign-policy hands.

There, he encouraged the people gathered at the downtown D.C. think tank to publicly praise President Donald Trump for his handling of Russia and Ukraine. It might have been in jest, but Volker’s point was obvious: Flattering Trump might lead him to “do the right thing” and act in the U.S. interest, as one attendee put it.

Two years later, Volker has resigned the envoy role after becoming ensnared the Ukraine-related scandal that is consuming Trump’s presidency and fueling an impeachment drive by House Democrats. It’s an ominous turn for the widely respected diplomat, who joined the Trump team even as dozens of veterans of past Republican administrations shunned the new president.

The envoy’s resignation came as three House committees slapped Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with a subpoena, demanding information on the controversy and scheduling depositions for five State Department officials, including Volker.

The news of Volker’s departure was first reported by a student news organization at Arizona State University and confirmed to POLITICO by a person familiar with the issue.

It also comes a day after Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, claimed that Volker had asked him to talk to Ukrainian officials — discussions that may have involved demands that Ukraine dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, the current Democratic 2020 frontrunner.

On Thursday, Giuliani publicly shared what he said were text messages from Volker. One of the messages, dated July 19, shows Volker telling Giuliani he “really enjoyed breakfast this morning” before adding: “As discussed, connecting you here with Andrey Yermak, who is very close to President Zelensky. I suggest we schedule a call together on Monday – maybe 10am or 11am Washington time?”

Giuliani revealed the text messages, he said in a Fox News appearance on Thursday evening, to bolster his claim that he was fulfilling a State Department request to meet with Ukrainian officials. “He should step forward and explain what he did,” Giuliani told host Laura Ingraham, referring to Volker.

The State Department “basically knew everything I was doing,” Giuliani added.

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People who know Volker say he was probably well aware of the risk he was taking in deciding to work for Trump.

“You can argue about whether people should take jobs in this administration or not,” said Evelyn Farkas, a Russia specialist and top Pentagon official under former President Barack Obama, “but there are people who are well-intentioned, who think they can advance the U.S. interest and do damage control, and I think he falls into that category.”

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He largely stayed out of the limelight while in the Trump administration. His exact role in the still-unfolding Ukraine scandal remains murky, though the whistleblower whose complaint set off the Democrats’ impeachment push this week said his understanding was that Volker was trying to “contain the damage” inflicted on U.S. policy by Giuliani, and help Ukrainian officials “navigate” Trump’s requests.

Giuliani has repeatedly mentioned Volker, as well as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, as two State Department officials he briefed on his conversations with Ukrainians linked to the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

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According to the State Department, it was Yermak, the Zelensky adviser, who asked Volker to connect him to Giuliani. Yermak may have done so because Giuliani had spent much of the spring publicly talking about Ukraine-related issues, including unproven claims that Biden and his son, Hunter, were involved in corrupt activity. The fledgling new Ukrainian government may have decided it had to establish a link to Giuliani.

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“Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy,” Trump told the Ukrainian leader. “If you could speak to him that would be great.”

Volker was not mentioned on the call. But the whistleblower’s complaint mentions his name five times, along with Sondland’s. The whistleblower, whom The New York Times has described as a CIA officer, cited his conversations with other concerned U.S. officials as evidence that the two diplomats were well aware of Giuliani’s Ukraine-related activities.

Some former officials and analysts said Volker looked foolish in having engaged Giuliani at all, given that the president’s personal lawyer is a private citizen who is not formally authorized to represent the United States to foreign governments.

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