U.S. State Department officials were informed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was feeling pressure from the Trump administration to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden even before the July phone call that has led to impeachment hearings in Washington, two people with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press.
In early May, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, including then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, were told Zelenskiy was seeking advice on how to navigate the difficult position he was in, the two people told the AP. He was concerned President Donald Trump and associates were pressing him to take action that could affect the 2020 U.S. presidential race, the two individuals said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic and political sensitivity of the issue.
State Department officials in Kyiv and Washington were briefed on Zelenskiy’s concerns at least three times, the two sources said. Notes summarizing his worries were circulated within the department, they said.
The briefings and the notes show that U.S. officials knew early that Zelenskiy was feeling pressure to investigate Biden, even though the Ukrainian leader later denied it in a joint news conference with Trump in September.
Congressional Republicans have pointed to that public Zelenskiy statement to argue that he felt no pressure to open an investigation, and therefore the Democrats’ allegations that led to the impeachment hearings are misplaced.
“Both presidents expressly have stated there was no pressure, no demand, no conditions, no blackmail, no corruption,” one Republican lawmaker, John Ratcliffe of Texas, argued on the first day of public hearings last week.
The central allegation in the impeachment inquiry is that Trump, through his allies, demanded that Ukraine, which is fending off Russian aggression, launch an investigation that would benefit him politically in exchange for crucial military and strategic support.
Witnesses have detailed, in closed-door depositions and public impeachment hearings, that allies of Trump pressed Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son while withholding military aid and a coveted meeting between the newly elected Zelenskiy and Trump.
The U.S. briefings — and contemporaneous notes on Zelenskiy’s early anxiety about Trump’s interest in an investigation — suggest that Democrats have evidence in reach to contradict Republican arguments that Zelenskiy never felt pressure to investigate Biden. [Continue reading…]