The first witness in the Congressional inquiry into President Trump’s links with Ukraine, Kurt Volker, has delivered many official emails described in the New York Times as incriminating.
Lee Duffield sees a dangerous stand-off between implacable law and rough politics.
KURT VOLKER, the United States Special Representative in Ukrainian Negotiations, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, resigned after being named in the whistleblower’s report against President Donald Trump.
He had talked with senior Ukrainian figures about swapping favours with Trump — setting up meetings with the President in exchange for help in investigating Trump’s political enemies.
That would be illegal in America and the process has the feeling of the Watergate process against President Richard Nixon in 1974 — inexorable law closing in on the dodging man full of denials. As then, names keep coming up, senior officials like Volker who are not publicly in politics but find themselves in the spotlight and are beginning to tell.
Said the New York Times:
Mr Volker, who was President Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine until his abrupt resignation late last month, is today a central player in a political uproar that is threatening Mr Trump’s presidency with impeachment.
Mr Volker, who viewed his task as helping Ukraine remain independent against Russian aggression while working for a president with a curious crush on President Vladimir V. Putin, has emerged from his assignment as a man who seems a willing participant in an effort by Mr Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to pressure a foreign government to investigate Democratic political rivals at home.
Friends counter that Mr Volker is another victim of the Trump era — a career diplomat who thought he could reconcile his own ambition and public service while working for a president who blurs the line between personal gain and the country’s interests.
LAWMAKERS AND “INNOCENTS” VERSUS SHARKS
Against the testimony of relative “innocents” like Volker are the damage control operatives of the U.S. Republican Party headed by the man himself, Donald Trump. Going on the basis that the law and law-abiding witnesses won’t matter if they can make a mess of the whole thing, they are counter-attacking by denying it all as “garbage”, setting up government investigations against the investigators, calling it obsessive money wasting at the expense of government business.
Some smart money is backing the idea that this “whatever-it-takes” approach will enable Trump to survive or even somehow twist the debate around in his own favour. Nervous and shouting he may be and lagging in opinion polls, he still manages to keep his hold on rusted-on supporters who burningly want him to be in the clear.
But there are many like Volker and the original whistleblower, ready to disclose truths that cannot be ignored, in a process invoking the law. Donald Trump may not be a serious and moral man, but this process he is in is serious — they mean business and could well do him in.
HOW THE WHISTLEBLOWER SET OUT TO HELP
The author of the nine-page whistleblower document makes it vividly plain that the document is intended for public airing, marked “unclassified” and free of possible security impediments to publication.
It details a phone conversation on 25 July between Trump and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, where Trump withheld military aid and brought up the political favour. He wanted a rehash or restart of past corruption investigations into a gas company in Ukraine where Senator Joe Biden’s son was a board member.
The document’s author is careful to justify the complaint, in terms of professional responsibility and citizenship and legal obligations, citing regulations such as Executive Order (EO) 13526.
Lined up with formal procedure and calculated to be acted upon, it was sent to the Chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Intelligence Committees. In the latter case, the Chairman is Adam Schiff, a Democratic Party Representative, bound to publish and act on it as he did.
The statement sets out to explain its sources, being ‘several’ or ‘half a dozen’ officials, including White House staff who expressed concern after hearing the presidential call to Kiev.
It then directs potential investigators to persons they should go to, who were involved in:
- withholding arms supplies or ‘intelligence support’ from the Ukraine Government, until it was seen by the President how Zelensky ‘chose to act’; and
- asking the Ukrainians to get compromising information about the Democratic political candidate, Senator Joe Biden and his son.
ASSISTANCE TO THE CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATORS
The statement tells Congressional investigators that as well as routine witnesses to presidential calls, the informant ‘had been told that a State Department official, Mr T Ulrich Brechbuhl, also listened in’. (That point has since been refuted on the Republican side). It was pointed out, too, that several witnesses would have made their own ‘contemporaneous notes’, possibly not captured as White House lawyers began locking away evidence of the President’s conversation. Get hold of these notes — help secure the facts.
The whistleblower document gives information on potentially hostile or difficult witnesses, beginning:
‘The President’s lawyer, Mr Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.’
POINTING THE FINGER AT GIULIANI
Giuliani is expressly targeted for setting up and taking part in many meetings with Ukrainian officials and politicians, with the document giving their agendas, attendance list, time and place in Kiev, Washington, or once, Madrid.
I heard from multiple U.S. officials that they were deeply concerned by… Mr Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decision-making processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages… between Kiev and the President.
These officials also told me: that State Department officials including Ambassadors Volker and Sondland had spoken with Mr Giuliani in an attempt to “contain the damage” to U.S. national security; and… sought to help Ukrainian leaders understand and respond to the differing messages they were receiving from U.S. official channels on the one hand and from Mr Giuliani on the other.
Multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelensky would depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to “play ball”…
The actors are “big fish” in their own world, not the office clerks. Gordon Sondland is the United States Ambassador to the European Union. Yuri Lutsenko is the Prosecutor General from the preceding administration in Ukraine, who sought to retain his job when the administration of Zelensky was elected last April. He was involved in the machinations in which Giuliani and others sought to get access to servers containing Democratic Party communications from the 2016 elections and later sought the revival of investigations that might harm Senator Biden.
MISUSING THE POWER OF OFFICE
How much all this information, from the one “concerned official”, might affect the impeachment investigation into Donald Trump will be shown as the Congressional Intelligence Committee and, later, the Justice Committee follow up the leads.
The whistleblower person has made one clear interpretation for themselves:
‘I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to elicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 elections.’
Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.
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