U.S. of­fi­cials knew of Ukraine’s Trump anx­i­ety

The Saline Courier - - NEWS - As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON — De­spite his de­nials, Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy was feel­ing pres­sure from the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion to in­ves­ti­gate former Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den be­fore his July phone call with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that has led to im­peach­ment hear­ings.

In early May, staff at the U.S. Em­bassy in Kyiv, in­clud­ing then-am­bas­sador Marie Yo­vanovitch, were briefed on a meet­ing Ze­len­skiy held in which he sought ad­vice on how to nav­i­gate the dif­fi­cult po­si­tion he was in, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple with knowl­edge of the brief­ings.

He was con­cerned that Trump and as­so­ciates were press­ing him to take ac­tion that could af­fect the 2020 U.S. pres­i­den­tial race, the peo­ple said. They spoke only on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the diplo­matic and po­lit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue.

The brief­ings 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.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported last month about Ze­len­skiy’s meet­ing on May 7 with, two top aides, as well as An­driy Kobolyev, head of the state-owned nat­u­ral gas com­pany Naftogaz, and Amos Hochstein, an Amer­i­can who sits on the Ukrainian com­pany’s su­per­vi­sory board. Ahead of the meet­ing, Hochstein told Yo­vanovitch, the U.S. am­bas­sador, why he was be­ing called in.

He sep­a­rately briefed two U.S. em­bassy of­fi­cials, Suriya Jayanti and Joseph Pen­ning­ton, about Ze­len­skiy’s con­cerns, said the two peo­ple who spoke to the AP. Jayanti and Pen­ning­ton took notes on the meet­ing, the peo­ple said.

Af­ter the meet­ing, Hochstein told the em­bassy of­fi­cials about Ze­len­skiy’s con­cerns and then trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton to up­date Yo­vanovitch on the meet­ing. The am­bas­sador, who was fend­ing off a smear cam­paign, had just been called back to Wash­ing­ton, where she was in­formed that she no longer had the con­fi­dence of the pres­i­dent.

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