Trump-Ukraine Scandal
12:05 a.m.

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton was so alarmed by a White House–linked effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats, he told aide Fiona Hill to alert the National Security Council's chief lawyer, Hill told House impeachment investigators in her 10-hour deposition on Monday, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal report. Specifically, Bolton told Hill, the top NSC staffer on Russia and Eurasian affairs, to notify White House lawyers that Rudy Giuliani, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland were running a rogue operation, the Times reports.

"I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up," Bolton reportedly told Hill to relate to the lawyers, after a heated July 10 meeting with Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key player in the Ukraine pressure campaign, and Ukrainian officals. Before that meeting, Hill reportedly testified, Bolton told her that "Giuliani's a hand grenade who's going to blow everybody up." Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, is now under federal criminal investigation for his work in Ukraine, the Journal reported Monday. Sondland is scheduled to be deposed on Thursday.

House investigators are now trying to decide whether to question Bolton, The Washington Post reports.

Hill also testified that he had strongly opposed Giuliani's successful push to have Trump remove America's ambassador to Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch, who had a reputation for fighting corruption in Ukraine. "I don't know Fiona and can't figure out what she is talking about," Giuliani told the Post on Monday night, adding that he believes she was out of the loop when it came to Ukraine, at least compared with Sondland. "She just didn't know," Giuliani said, reiterating his assertion that he was working on orders from the State Department. Peter Weber

Update, 12:47 a.m.: This article has been updated based on a clarification by the Times:

October 13, 2019

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, will reportedly testify to Congress next week that President Trump assured him he was not withholding military aid to Ukraine until Kyiv investigated former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, a personal familiar with Sondland's testimony told The Washington Post.

Sondland will reportedly say that a text message he wrote denying a quid pro quo with Ukraine came after he spoke with Trump, who told him there was no such thing, and that he is unsure as to why the aid was held up. He will also testify that he has no knowledge as to whether Trump may have changed his mind on the matter at some point, the Post reports, though he did believe Trump at the time and reportedly relied on the president's words in "good faith" when he relayed the information to William Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine. Taylor had expressed concern about the ethics of withholding aid.

"It's only true that the president said it, not that it was the truth," the person familiar with the planned testimony told the Post, referring to Trump's assurances about the aid. "Whether he's deciding it's getting too hot to handle and he backs off whatever his position really was a month earlier, I don't know." Sondland plans to testify Thursday. Read more at The Washington Post and NBC News. Tim O'Donnell

October 10, 2019

One of the questions House impeachment investigators are looking at is why President Trump quietly withheld $391 million in military and security aid to Ukraine from mid-July until late Sept. 11, a period in which Trump was pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and a widely debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election, according to a White House partial transcript of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and text messages released by his former Ukraine envoy, Kurt Volker. A whistleblower complaint about that July 25 call sparked the House impeachment inquiry.

U.S. diplomats involved with Ukraine were frustrated over the unexpected freeze of aid, already approved by Congress, and worried that it was tied to the two investigations Trump was demanding, The New York Times reports, citing newly unearthed State Department emails. And when they were informed early Sept. 12 that the money was being released, the diplomats were told to keep the news quiet.

Brad Freden, the State Department's acting deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia, emailed that he'd heard about the security assistance being released from Tim Morrison, Trump's top Russia adviser at the National Security Council. "Ukrainians are aware, but NSC said that in the spirit of the 'hold' being a normal review, there will be no public announcement that it has been lifted," he wrote. "Keep moving, people, nothing to see here ..."

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine — who'd expressed concern in private text messages about Trump tying the aid to his re-election campaign — emailed back: "I will inform President Zelensky as soon as he is out of a meeting. We then intend to make it public here." But Freden counseled discretion: "In terms of public messaging, NSC is deliberately treating both the hold and its lifting as administrative matters. There won't be a public announcement on this end. My advice is to keep your public messaging low-key as well." Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

October 4, 2019

President Trump ordered the State Department to recall U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from her post in Ukraine in the spring, months before her scheduled departure, "after months of complaints from allies outside the administration, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that she was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden," The Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday. Giuliani told the Journal and CNN that he had complained about Yovanovitch to Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

According to Giuliani, "he reminded the president of complaints percolating among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations," the Journal reports. "In Giuliani's view, she also had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter." A person familiar with the matter told the Journal that "Yovanovitch's removal was a priority for the president," and Pompeo supported the move. State Department officials tried to counter the baseless theories spread by Giuliani, but they were told "they couldn't shield her from attacks by the president and his allies," the Journal adds.

"I don't know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her, but I heard very, very bad things about her for a very long period of time — not good," Trump told reporters Thursday morning. He said similar things on a July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the White House partial transcript. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, is scheduled to be deposed by the House impeachment investigators next Friday.

Giuliani's strong suggestion "that Trump decided to fire Yovanovitch because she was standing in the way of their plan to pressure Ukraine to go after Biden" is "at minimum a highly inconvenient fact to introduce into the president's defense," Jonathan Chait notes at New York. "And it comes from his own lawyer!" Peter Weber

October 4, 2019

It's clear President Trump's top government envoys to Ukraine believed Trump was withholding support and military aid from Kyiv until new President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly committed to investigating the Biden family and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine — not Russia — meddled in the 2016 election, according to text messages released late Thursday by House Democrats. The texts also make clear that Zelensky was aware of these conditions, though Zelensky never released a statement crafted by the three envoys.

The texts were given to House impeachment committees by Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, during a 10-hour deposition on Thursday. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani is included in some of the texts, but they're mostly between Volker, U.S. European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, U.S. charges d'affaires Bill Taylor, and Andrey Yermak, an aide to Zelensky.

The first carrot held out to get Zelensky to investigate the 2016 election and Burisma, a gas company that hired Hunter Biden, was a meeting with Trump that Zelensky deemed vital. Trump had extended then withdrawn an invitation to Zelensky in early summer, Volker reportedly told House investigators.

In August, Volker and Sondland crafted a statement for Zelensky committing Ukraine to pursue those two specific investigations, at the insistence of Giuliani, Volker reportedly told House investigators, but Trump never committed to the meeting and Ukraine dropped the statement. Zelensky is "sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics," Taylor texted Sondland on July 21.

On Aug. 29, Yermak texted Volker a Politico article disclosing that Trump was withholding military aid to Ukraine, adding, "Need to talk to you." On Sept. 1, Taylor texted Sondland:

On Sept. 9, Taylor texted Sondland: "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Sondland, who has been exclusively referring to Trump as "potus," reportedly called Trump before texting back that "President Trump" has "been crystal clear: no quid pro quo's of any kind," ending the exchange with: "I suggest we stop the back and forth by text." Peter Weber

October 4, 2019

In a Sept. 9 text exchange between President Trump's three top official envoys to Ukraine, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, expressed concern about Trump's decision to withhold military aid to Kyiv, according to copies of the text messages obtained by ABC News. "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor wrote to Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, until recently the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.

After speaking with Trump, The New York Times reports, Sondland responded to Taylor: "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. I suggest we stop the back and forth by text."

Sondland, a 62-year-old hotelier and major GOP donor who gave $1 million to Trump's inauguration, has "increasingly worked to establish himself as a central figure in Ukraine policy," the Times reports, an unusual move since Ukraine isn't part of the EU. "Mr. Sondland came to be seen in the administration as more loyal to Mr. Trump than was Mr. Volker," a protégé of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Times adds. Taylor, a former ambassador to Ukraine, is a career civil servant who assumed his role after Trump recalled U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in May.

The texts were handed to House impeachment investigators by Volker, who was deposed behind closed doors Thursday. Volker reportedly told House investigators he was never given an explanation for why Trump was withholding military aid to Ukraine. Trump released the aid on Sept. 11, as a whistleblower was warning that Trump had suspended the funds to pressure Ukraine to investigate a leading 2020 Democratic candidate. Volker resigned soon after. Peter Weber

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