Kurt Volker, the former State Department special envoy to Ukraine, testified to Congress that he was not involved in or aware of any effort to press Ukraine to investigate allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by The Hill.
Volker defended Biden’s character and told lawmakers that he did not know that President Trump mentioned Biden’s name during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky until the White House released a rough transcript of the conversation last week.
Volker repeatedly emphasized during his remarks he did not believe the allegations against Biden to be credible.
“I have known former Vice President Biden for 24 years, and the suggestion that he would be influenced in his duties as vice president by money for his son simply has no credibility to me. I know him as a man of integrity and dedication to our country,” Volker said during his testimony.
Volker also testified that he told Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani that accusations against the former vice president and 2020 Democratic candidate were “not credible.”
At a July 19 breakfast with Giuliani, Volker said, he told Trump’s lawyer “that it is not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as vice president.”
Volker testified for several hours before three House committees behind closed doors on Thursday as part of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, which centers on Trump’s call with Zelensky.
According to his prepared remarks, Volker told lawmakers that he reached out to Giuliani to connect him with leaders in Ukraine in an effort to change Giuliani’s negative view about Ukraine, which he explained had spread to Trump.
Trump, Volker said, was skeptical of Ukraine’s leadership and at one point told him Ukraine “tried to take me down.”
“The President was very skeptical. Given Ukraine’s history of corruption, that is understandable. He said that Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of ‘terrible people.’ He said they ‘tried to take me down,’ ” Volker said in opening remarks.
“In the course of that conversation, he referenced conversations with Mayor Giuliani. It was clear to me that despite the positive news and recommendations being conveyed by this official delegation about the new president, President Trump had a deeply rooted negative view on Ukraine rooted in the past,” Volker said.
Democrats have seized on text messages furnished by Volker as further evidence Trump was pressuring Ukraine to pursue politically motivated investigations.
The messages showed Trump administration officials indicating to Ukraine that a meeting between Trump and Zelensky would be contingent on Ukraine launching investigations into 2016 election interference and Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company with which Biden’s son Hunter was involved.
In one exchange, William Taylor, a top U.S. embassy official in Kiev, raises concerns about military aid being withheld from Ukraine unless that country helped with political investigations.
Volker acknowledged discussions with Ukraine’s leadership about the country making a statement about investigating “Burisma and 2016” in the broader context of corruption, but separated the issue of Burisma from the Bidens. Volker also said he encouraged Ukraine to avoid public statements “that could be seen as interfering in 2020 elections.”
In one key text message exchange released by Democratic lawmakers, Volker indicated to top Ukrainian aide Andriy Yermak that a Ukrainian visit to the White House would be contingent on investigations.
“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,” Volker wrote to Yermak on the morning of July 25, just before Trump’s call with Zelensky.
Volker also told the committee in his opening statement he became aware of a hold placed on U.S. security assistance to Ukraine during the time he was in contact with Giuliani and Yermak, but that he “did not perceive these issues to be linked in any way.”
Giuliani has alleged without evidence that Biden pushed for the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor to the benefit of Burisma, which once employed his son; Giuliani admitted in a recent CNN interview that he asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Giuliani’s efforts, as well as Trump’s call with Zelensky, formed the basis for an intelligence community whistleblower complaint alleging Trump was using his official position to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. The complaint, a redacted version of which was released last week, has triggered formal impeachment proceedings in the House.
Trump has dismissed accusations he pressured Ukraine to investigate a political rival, saying it wasn’t about politics but that he is concerned about investigating “corruption.”
“I’m only interested in corruption. I don’t care about politics. I don’t care about Biden’s politics,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. “I never thought Biden was going to win, to be honest.”
Brett Samuels and Saagar Enjeti contributed.