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Archive for Ukraine

Newsline: Stunning ambassador’s testimony links Trump to abuse of power

US ambassador to EU Gordon Sondland wrote his name in history and triggered a turning point in the House impeachment inquiry with stunning testimony implicating the President in an abuse of power. In effect, one of President Donald Trump’s political appointees confirmed the core allegation of the entire scandal: that he conditioned aid and recognition for Ukraine on personal favors that could help him in his 2020 reelection campaign. (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/21/politics/donald-trump-impeachment-gordon-sondland-today/index.html) This was no “Never Trumper” bureaucrat perpetrating what some of the President’s conservative backers have called a coup. He was a glad-handing businessman who paid $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and ended up with a plum job. Sondland destroyed once and for all the earliest presidential talking point that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine. He explicitly said the prospect of a White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was conditional on Ukraine announcing an investigation against Trump’s possible 2020 rival Joe Biden.

Newsline: Embassy official says ‘never seen anything’ like restaurant call to Trump

A top official at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine told impeachment investigators he had “never seen anything like” the late July phone conversation he overheard between President Donald Trump and his ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, in a Kyiv restaurant. “This was an extremely distinctive experience in my Foreign Service career,” David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, said in a deposition Friday, according to a transcript released late Monday. “I’ve never seen anything like this, someone calling the president from a mobile phone at a restaurant, and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language. There’s just so much about the call that was so remarkable that I remember it vividly.” (https://www.euronews.com/2019/11/19/state-department-official-testifies-he-s-never-seen-anything-trump-n1085426) The call Holmes is referencing is one first brought up by the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, during last week’s public testimony. Taylor said one of his staffers, later revealed to be Holmes, overheard a phone call on July 26 during which Trump asked Sondland about “the investigations,” meaning the probes into the Bidens and Democrats. Holmes, who is now slated to appear for public testimony Thursday, told impeachment investigators he heard Sondland tell Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “loves your ass,” to which Trump asked, “So, he’s gonna do the investigation?” Sondland replied that Zelenskiy was “gonna do it,” adding that the Ukrainian leader would do “anything you ask him to.” Holmes said he was able to make out what Trump was saying during that brief portion of the phone call because Sondland held the phone away from his ear as Trump was speaking loudly. Holmes would testify that Trump’s unmistakable voice was later quieter. Holmes said he did not take notes of that part of the call but told fellow embassy staffers what he heard.

Newsline: US ambassador’s cellphone call to Trump from Kyiv restaurant was a stunning breach of security

A U.S. ambassador’s cellphone call to President Trump from a restaurant in the capital of Ukraine this summer was a stunning breach of security, exposing the conversation to surveillance by foreign intelligence services, including Russia’s, former U.S. officials said. The call — in which Trump’s remarks were overheard by a U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv — was disclosed by the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., on the dramatic opening day of public impeachment hearings into alleged abuse of power by the president. “The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone” asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about “the investigations,” Taylor testified, referring to the president’s desire for a probe of the son of Trump’s potential political opponent in 2020, Joe Biden, and the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden once served. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/ambassadors-cellphone-call-to-trump-from-kyiv-restaurant-was-a-stunning-breach-of-security-former-officials-say/2019/11/13/37d75752-0641-11ea-b17d-8b867891d39d_story.html)

Newsline: Embassy Staffer Overheard Trump Asking About Ukraine ‘Investigations’

A second U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv overheard a cellphone call between President Donald Trump and his ambassador to the European Union discussing a need for Ukrainian officials to pursue “investigations,” The Associated Press has learned. The July 26 call between Trump and Gordon Sondland was first described during testimony Wednesday by William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Taylor said one of his staffers overhead the call while Sondland was in a Kyiv restaurant the day after Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that triggered the House impeachment inquiry. (https://ktla.com/2019/11/14/2nd-embassy-staffer-overheard-trump-asking-about-ukraine-investigations-source-says-after-ambassador-revealed-call/) The second diplomatic staffer also at the table was Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv. A person briefed on what Jayanti overheard spoke to AP on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter currently under investigation. The accounts of the two embassy staffers could tie Trump closer to alleged efforts to hold up military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings. In defending Trump on Wednesday, Republicans repeatedly highlighted that Taylor never directly heard the president direct anyone to demand that the Ukrainians open the probe.

Newsline: Top US diplomat in Ukraine outlines “weird combination” of circumstances in impeachment inquiry

William “Bill” Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, talked about discovering a “weird comination of encouraging, confusing, and ultimately alarming circumstances” upon his arrival to Kyiv during his opening statement on November 13, 2019. (https://www.mcclatchydc.com/latest-news/article237319884.html) President Donald Trump’s top envoy to Ukraine revealed new details Wednesday about a phone call that happened a day after the president spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which led to House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. The July 26 discussion between Trump and Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador the European Union, was focused on the president’s demand that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential rival in the 2020 presidential election, Taylor said in congressional testimony during the first public impeachment hearing.

Newsline: U.S. Diplomats Take Starring Role in Trump Impeachment Hearings

The U.S. officials who will testify this week at public hearings in the House of Representatives’ impeachment probe into President Donald Trump include the current top diplomat in Ukraine, the previous ambassador there and a diplomat who has spent much of his career fighting corruption in Ukraine and elsewhere. The officials have already offered testimony behind closed doors in the inquiry. They raised alarm bells about a White House efforts to pressure Ukraine to carry out politically motivated investigations that Trump, a Republican, had demanded. The hearings on Wednesday and Friday will be the first to be held in public. Here are some details about the officials who will testify. (https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2019/11/11/us/11reuters-usa-trump-impeachment-diplomats-factbox.html) The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, he provided some of the most important testimony in the inquiry so far. On Oct. 22 he said he had been concerned to learn that security aid to Ukraine, as well as a White House meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had been delayed for political reasons.

Newsline: Former US Ambassador to Ukraine says she was warned to ‘watch my back’

It started with a warning to watch her back, that people were “looking to hurt” her. From there, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told House investigators, it escalated into a chilling campaign to fire her as President Donald Trump and his allies angled in Eastern Europe for political advantage at home. Testimony from Yovanovitch, released on Monday, offered a first word-for-word look at the closed-door House impeachment hearings. Inside, Democrats and Republicans are waging a pitched battle over what to make of Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine’s leaders to investigate political rival Joe Biden, Biden’s son and Democratic activities in the 2016 election. (https://wtop.com/government/2019/11/former-ambassador-says-she-was-warned-to-watch-my-back/) The transcript came out on the same day that four Trump administration officials defied subpoenas to testify, acting on orders from a White House that is fighting the impeachment investigation with all its might. Among those refusing to testify: John Eisenberg, the lead lawyer at the National Security Council and, by some accounts, the man who ordered a rough transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader moved to a highly restricted computer system.