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Diplomat at centre of Trump inquiry says he warned Ukraine

Kurt Volker said he was not personally involved in Mr Trump’s effort to have Ukraine’s leaders investigate former vice-president Joe Biden’s family.

Kurt Volker arrives for the closed-door interview with House investigators (AP/J Scott Applewhite)
Kurt Volker arrives for the closed-door interview with House investigators (AP/J Scott Applewhite)

By Eric Tucker and Lisa Mascaro, Associated Press

The former special US envoy to Ukraine has told members of Congress that he warned Ukrainians to steer clear of American politics.

Kurt Volker, who has become a central figure in the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, spent hours behind closed doors as members of Congress and staff pored through dozens of pages of text messages, photos and other correspondence during the interview.

Mr Volker said he was not personally involved in Mr Trump’s effort to have Ukraine’s leaders investigate former vice-president Joe Biden’s family.

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Donald Trump urged the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens (AP/Evan Vucci)

The appearance is the first in what is expected to be a series of interviews with officials inside and outside the State Department.

House investigators want to understand if they played any role or have more information about Mr Trump’s efforts to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for damaging information about Mr Biden, who is now a Democratic presidential contender.

Mr Volker resigned on Friday after being asked to give evidence to Congress about the whistleblower complaint that describes how Mr Trump, in a phone call on July 25, repeatedly prodded Mr Zelenskiy for an investigation of Mr Biden and his son Hunter, while his administration delayed the release of military aid to help Ukraine fight Russia-backed separatists.

The complaint says Mr Volker met in Kyiv with Mr Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian political figures a day after the call, and he provided advice about how to “navigate” Mr Trump’s demands.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Mr Volker agreed to a voluntary interview led by House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff as Democrats dig deeper into the administration’s handling of Ukraine.

Mr Volker, who also served as head of the John McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University, was said to be eager to appear and tell his side of the situation.

The former envoy was in office as the administration was holding back 250 million US dollars for Ukraine at the time Mr Trump was pressing Mr Zelenskiy about the Bidens.

Mr Volker told the House investigators it was unusual for the US to withhold aid to Ukraine, but said he was given no explanation for it.

Republican members of Congress who took part in the interview with Mr Volker downplayed what they heard.

“Not one thing he has said comports with any of the Democrats’ impeachment narrative, not one thing,” said Republican representative Jim Jordan of Ohio.

Republicans also argued that because Democrats have not yet voted in the House to open a formal impeachment inquiry, Democrats lack the authority to set certain rules for the hearing.

Republicans are increasingly calling the impeachment proceedings into question as a way to sow doubt and put pressure on House speaker Nancy Pelosi to force a vote that would put Democrats on record for an impeachment inquiry.

Kevin McCarthy, the leader of House Republicans, said Ms Pelosi should halt proceedings until then.

“The American people deserve assurance that basic standards of due process will be present,” he said in a letter to the speaker.

In response, Ms Pelosi said in a letter to Mr McCarthy that “there is no requirement under the Constitution, under House Rules, or House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry.”

She added: “We hope you and other Republicans share our commitment to following the facts.”

PA

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