Of­fi­cials knew of Trump anx­i­ety

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Des­mond But­ler and Michael Biesecker

WASH­ING­TON >> 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.

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 sta­te­owned 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.

Ze­len­skiy’s of­fice has not replied to re­quests for com­ment about the May 7 meet­ing.

Notes cir­cu­lated in­ter­nally at the State De­part­ment in­di­cated that Ze­len­skiy tried to mask the real pur­pose of his May 7 meet­ing —— which was to talk about po­lit­i­cal prob­lems with the White House —— by say­ing it was about en­ergy, the two peo­ple with knowl­edge of the mat­ter said.

Af­ter the meet­ing with Ze­len­skiy, Hochstein 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.

Hochstein told the em­bassy of­fi­cials about Ze­len­skiy’s con­cerns and then trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton to up­date Yo­vanovitch on the meet­ing. The am­bas­sador, who was fac­ing a smear cam­paign, had just been called back to Wash­ing­ton, where she was in­formed that she no longer had the con­fi­dence of the pres­i­dent. She was re­lieved of her du­ties as am­bas­sador on May 20.

Jayanti was also one of three wit­nesses to a phone call in which Trump dis­cussed his in­ter­est in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Bi­den with his am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, Gor­don Sond­land. The call oc­curred while Sond­land was hav­ing lunch with three em­bassy of­fi­cials in Kyiv. David Holmes, po­lit­i­cal coun­sel at the U.S. Em­bassy in Kyiv, has al­ready de­tailed to House in­ves­ti­ga­tors what he over­heard. Jayanti and the third wit­ness, Tara Ma­her, have not been in­ter­viewed.

Hochstein, a for­mer diplo­mat who ad­vised Bi­den on Ukraine mat­ters dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, has also not been ques­tioned in the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

The Repub­li­can ar­gu­ments about Ze­len­skiy’s lack of con­cern stem from a Sept. 25 joint me­dia ap­pear­ance by the Amer­i­can and Ukrainian lead­ers in which Ze­len­skiy dis­cussed the July call with Trump that ef­fec­tively launched the im­peach­ment in­quiry.

EVAN VUCCI — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump meets with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy at the In­terCon­ti­nen­tal Bar­clay New York ho­tel dur­ing the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly in New York.

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