When Kurt Volker testified before the House of Representatives behind closed doors on Oct. 3, the general consensus was that it wasn’t going to be a great moment for the Trump administration.
Indeed, the major headline from the leaked testimony thus far seems to have been that he indicated there were issues about Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in the administration’s policy in the country. According to Axios, Volker testified that the current ambassador, Bill Taylor, had issues with accepting the job due to Giuliani’s involvement. He also reportedly called Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden a “man of integrity,” so you can guess how many stories that launched.
The biggest headline buried underneath this all, however, might be that House Intelligence Committee Chairman and perpetual hack Adam Schiff wasn’t able to get Volker to admit to a quid pro quo no matter how many leading questions he asked.
The California Democrat, of course, is trying to prove that the administration’s disbursement of congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine came with preconditions attached — most notably, preconditions regarding whether the new Ukrainian government investigated a company on whose board Biden’s son, Hunter, once sat.
This much could be reasonably established by any observer. However, an exchange between Schiff and Volker leaked to the Washington Examiner and published Wednesday regarding the quid pro quo shows the extent to which Schiff was willing to go to get the answer he wanted.
Volker contended two things during his testimony. First, he says the Ukrainians weren’t aware of the fact that the Trump administration had put the military aid on hold at the time of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25. Second, he was also unaware of the fact that Trump discussed the Bidens during the call.
“[The Ukrainians] didn’t want to be drawn into investigating a Democratic candidate for president, which would mean only peril for Ukraine, is that fair to say?” Schiff asked at one point.
“That may be true,” Volker responded. “That may be true. They didn’t express that to me, and, of course, I didn’t know that was the context at the time.”
“Part of the other context is vital military support is being withheld from the Ukraine during this period, right?” Schiff said.
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“That was not part of the context at the time,” Volker responded. “At least to my knowledge, they [Ukrainian leaders] were not aware of that.”
When asked about the withholding of aid, Volker said the first time Ukrainian leaders became aware of it was when we all did: an Aug. 28 Politico piece titled “Trump holds up Ukraine military aid meant to confront Russia.”
“The first conversation I had was when the diplomatic adviser to President Zelensky, Vadym Prystaiko, I believe it was, texted me a copy of the Politico article about the hold on assistance,” Volker said.
“So I had had many conversations with him in the months prior to that,” he said, “and this did not come up from him to me, which makes me believe that this was not on his radar until that time when he saw the article.”
“Volker said that he already knew about the suspension in aid, having learned on July 18, a week before the Trump-Zelensky call,” the Examiner reported. “Volker testified that he asked around about the suspension — why was it being done? — but was not able to find out what was going on.”
So that angle didn’t work, right? Time to move onto something new. Or not.
Schiff pushed the quid pro quo anew by asking if Volker thought “no president of the United States should ever ask a foreign leader to help intervene in a U.S. election.”
“I agree with that,” Volker responded.
“And that would be particularly egregious if it was done in the context of withholding foreign assistance?” Schiff said.
Good try, but again the answer was no.
“We’re getting now into, you know, a conflation of these things that I didn’t think was actually there,” Volker said.
Schiff continued to press Volker to say that “if it’s inappropriate for a president to seek foreign help in a U.S. election, it would be doubly so if a president was doing that at a time when the United States was withholding military support from the country.”
“I can’t really speak to that,” Volker responded. “My understanding of the security assistance issue is –”
“Why can’t you speak to that, ambassador? You’re a career diplomat,” Schiff said.
“You can understand the enormous leverage that a president would have while withholding military support from an ally at war with Russia,” the congressman said. “You can understand just how significant that would be, correct?”
“I can understand that that would be significant,” Volker said.
The back-and-forth directly following this could be seen as a reasonable summation of the entire impeachment inquiry thus far.
“And when that suspension of aid became known to that country, to Ukraine, it would be all the more weighty to consider what the president had asked of them, wouldn’t it?” Schiff said, continuing to try to get Volker to admit there was pressure brought to bear on the Ukrainians.
“So again, congressman, I don’t believe –” Volker said, beginning to answer.
“It’s a pretty straightforward question,” Schiff said.
“But I don’t believe the Ukrainians were aware that the assistance was being held up –”
“They became aware of it,” Schiff said.
“They became aware later, but I don’t believe they were aware at the time, so there was no leverage implied,” Volker responded.
Schiff eventually would give up and accuse Volker of being deliberately obstinate.
After Volker said he thought “the Ukrainians felt like things are going in the right direction” even after they found out about the aid being held up, Schiff responded by saying, “Ambassador, I find it remarkable as a career diplomat that you have difficulty acknowledging that when Ukraine learned that their aid had been suspended for unknown reasons, that this wouldn’t add additional urgency to a request by the president of the United States. I find that remarkable.”
In short, if you don’t agree with Adam Schiff’s interpretation of events that he personally didn’t witness, you really ought to.
Volker, keep in mind, wasn’t supposed to be a great witness for the Trump administration. Instead, he didn’t just say he didn’t believe there was a quid pro quo but he refused to go along with a series of leading questions from Schiff.
This was partisan hackery at its worst — and, when Schiff didn’t get the answer he was hoping for, he took his ball and went home in a huff, talking about how “remarkable” it was that Volker refused to play along with his interpretation of the July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president and its aftermath.
“Ambassador,” Schiff said at one point in the hearing, “you’re making this much more complicated than it has to be.”
Complicated, of course, is another way of saying that he didn’t deliver the desired answers.
This is going to be, one feels, a very complicated set of hearings.
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