Impeachment inquiry's first witness to testify again -- publicly
Posted November 18, 2019 8:34 p.m. EST
CNN — Kurt Volker, the former US special envoy for Ukraine who was the first witness to testify in the House impeachment inquiry, remains a key figure in Democrats' Ukraine probe as he prepares to testify publicly Tuesday.
Volker's public testimony will mark a notable moment in the inquiry even amid a crowded deposition slate, given his centrality to the narrative Democrats are attempting to frame around President Donald Trump's actions related to Ukraine.
Volker was one of the "three amigos" guiding US-Ukraine relations, along with European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, until he resigned after the release of a whistleblower report alleging a cover-up by the White House of a call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
While Volker denied participating in any effort to dig up political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, text messages he provided to Congress revealed that he had talked to Ukrainian officials about launching politically charged investigations.
Volker had previously served as an ambassador to NATO, a European and Eurasian affairs expert at the National Security Council and a deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. He got his start at the CIA as an analyst.
As special envoy, Volker was at the heart of efforts to keep US military and economic aid flowing to Ukraine. He had also been the US point man in trying to get dialogue started between Russia and Ukraine over the separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine, now in its sixth year.
In Kiev, Volker was seen as a reliable advocate. Ukrainian presidential adviser Andriy Yermak previously told CNN that Volker's "consistent and comprehensive support for Ukraine throughout his tenure means a lot for our country."
In his closed-door testimony last month, Volker detailed how he had connected the President's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani with Ukraine's leadership in an effort to convince Giuliani -- and, through him, Trump -- there was new leadership in Ukraine that could be trusted.
Volker testified the President was "skeptical" of Ukraine's leadership, which he said was understandable given the country's history of corruption, but he also added Trump suggested that Ukraine "tried to take me down," a reference to the unproven allegations that Ukraine was involved in the 2016 election interference.
Volker's testimony also gave new context to the striking text messages he had previously provided to Congress showing that Trump and Giuliani's push for Ukraine to launch an investigation was tied to Zelensky's desire to have a face-to-face meeting with Trump.
"Heard from the White House -- assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington," Volker said via text to the Ukrainian adviser on the morning of July 25.
Volker testified that he was not aware of any effort to urge Ukraine to investigate Biden -- and he made a point to distinguish investigations into Biden with investigations into Burisma, the energy company where Biden's son Hunter Biden was hired as a board member.
But Volker added he was not aware that Biden was mentioned on the July 25 call until the transcript was released.
The whistleblower said in the complaint that in his understanding, Volker was trying to "contain the damage" inflicted on US policy by Giuliani and help Ukrainian officials "navigate" the President's requests.
Still, Volker's testimony also provided Trump and his allies with fodder, as he told lawmakers that he didn't know about any "quid pro quo" linking US military assistance to the announcement of Ukrainian investigations into Biden and the Democrats.
"You asked what conversations did I have about that quid pro quo, et cetera," Volker said. "None, because I didn't know that there was a quid pro quo."
He testified that after learning about the holdup of US military aid, he had worked to get the assistance resumed, and that he had never believed it was linked to Trump's desire for a probe of the Bidens.
But while Volker's testimony bolstered Trump's "no quid pro quo" defense, CNN previously reported that Volker didn't have a close relationship with the White House.
A White House source has told CNN that Volker, an ally and protégé of prominent Republican Trump critic the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, never became a member of Trump's inner circle.
According to another source, after Volker's resignation there was little love lost for him inside the White House, where he was seen as "never fully on the Trump train."