On Tuesday, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker—who abruptly resigned from his State Department position after a dust-up with Rudy Giuliani last week—testified to the House Intelligence Committee for more than nine hours. So far Volker's most notable contribution to the House's impeachment inquiry was a batch of text messages—which the committee has since made public—confirming that President Donald Trump and top U.S. diplomats were leveraging their relationship with Ukraine in a quid pro quo effort to get the country's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to look into the Biden family and a whole host of Trump-related obsessions.
The text messages are mostly between Volker, U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland (a former hotelier and major contributor to Trump's presidential campaign), Zelensky's aide Andrey Yermak, and U.S. diplomat Bill Taylor, who later raised a series of ethics concerns to his American counterparts. Volker repeatedly invoked his relationship with Rudy Giuliani, who was apparently in the ear of Yermak in the lead-up to Trump's now-infamous July 25 phone call with Zelensky. Also in the lead-up to that call, Volker texted Yermak, "assuming President Z convinces [T]rump he will investigate/'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington."
In case there was any lingering doubt about what needed to be investigated, a few weeks later, Volker drafted up a statement for the Ukrainians to publicly release, which included mentions of Burisma (the natural gas company where Joe Biden's son Hunter served on the board), and the 2016 U.S. elections (a reference to President Trump's unproven claim that the Ukrainian government attempted to assist Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election). Taylor soon cut to the chase, asking Sondland on September 1, "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?" A week later, he added, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
Sondland was initially more than willing to text about the particulars of his boss's requests. But after Taylor's first line of questioning on September 1, Sondland's only response was "call me." When Taylor raised more objections a week later, Sondland abandoned his informal tone, and after a five-hour gap, wrote, "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign [and] I suggest we stop the back and forth by text."
Trump, for his part, is continuing with his strategy of mostly admitting to the content of any released transcripts and texts, while doubling down that there's nothing untoward in any of them. On Friday morning, Trump, who seems to be under the impression that he can do whatever he wants as president, tweeted, "As President I have an obligation to end CORRUPTION, even if that means requesting the help of a foreign country or countries. It is done all the time. This has NOTHING to do with politics or a political campaign against the Bidens. This does have to do with their corruption!"
Some Republican hardliners have adopted the same tact as Trump. New York representative Lee Zeldin, for instance, said Volker's testimony blew "massive holes inside of the theory, the narrative, that Chairman Schiff has been providing to the public." North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows, a member of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, echoed much of the same. Even Volker claimed in his testimony that "Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion" in his texts, which is literally true, but an obvious deflection from his mentions of Burisma and "investigations."
Meanwhile, after Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to also investigate the Bidens, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi responded: “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the US, and we trust that the American people will be able to sort out their own problems."
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Originally Appeared on GQ