In Kiev, Pompeo talks US support for Ukraine as impeachment trial continues in DC
Posted January 31, 2020 12:02 a.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2020 9:00 a.m. EST
CNN — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday highlighted US commitment to security assistance and diplomacy with Ukraine -- two matters that have been called into question by facts that have come to light throughout the impeachment process that continues to play out in Washington.
Speaking alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev, the top US diplomat also said that a visit to Washington for the Ukrainian President was not conditioned on Ukraine launching an investigation into Hunter Biden or his involvement with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. However, Pompeo did not commit to any specific time frame for that visit to occur.
"There's no condition of the nature that you described for President Zelensky to come to Washington and have that visit," Pompeo said. "It's just simply not the case."
"President Zelensky will be welcome to come to Washington when we have an opportunity to do good things for both the Ukrainian people and the American people. We'll get it done. I'm confident of that," Pompeo added.
'We'll get the diplomacy right'
During the joint press conference, which came after Pompeo met with Zelensky and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko, the US secretary of state stressed the Trump administration's support for Ukraine's security and sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression.
"Look no further than the facts, the support that this administration has provided. And we talk about the assistance. That's important. It's certainly helpful for the Ukrainian people and it makes a difference to the United States as well, it's to our benefit as well. But what really matters is the relationship that's developing between the two countries, politically and diplomatically, commercially and economically. These are the things that benefit each of our two countries," Pompeo said.
The top US diplomat did not answer a question about the appointment of a new US special representative for Ukraine. The post has been empty since Kurt Volker's resignation in late September.
"We'll get the diplomacy right. We'll get that piece of it in the right place as time moves on," Pompeo continued. "President Zelensky and President Trump had a fantastic meeting in New York this past September. I had the chance to see President Zelensky today, and I'm very confident that we will engage at the senior levels to determine all the ways to do the right thing."
"In the end, it's less about talking. It's less about what someone says, but how we deliver together, to deliver really good outcomes for both the Ukrainian people and the American people as well," Pompeo said.
Pompeo's commitment to "get the diplomacy right" comes after numerous witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry described a breakdown in normal diplomatic proceedings with Ukraine -- in the words of the former top US diplomat in Kiev Bill Taylor, there were "two channels of U.S. policy-making and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular." That "highly irregular" one was led by allies of President Donald Trump, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Cloud of impeachment
Although 5,000 miles away from the US capital, Pompeo's visit came under the cloud of the impeachment trial continuing to play out in Washington. Zelensky too was questioned about the impact the matter had on Ukraine-US relations. He said the trial had not had a negative effect on relations between the two nations.
"It seems to me the other way around," Zelensky said at the joint press conference Friday with Pompeo. "We have excellent relations between our countries," he said
Pompeo is the first administration official to visit the nation since the House of Representatives impeached the US President.
A senior State Department official told the traveling press pool there was no discussion of investigations or the impeachment during Pompeo's meeting with Zelensky.
"The meeting was very focused on investment and infrastructure. There was no talk of impeachment or any investigations," the official said.
Asked before arriving in Kiev whether he intended to bring up an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, Pompeo did not explicitly rule it out, instead saying, "I don't want to talk about particular individuals."
"It's not worth it. It's a long list in Ukraine of corrupt individuals and a long history there," Pompeo told reporters Wednesday en route to London, the stop on his trip that preceded Kiev. "And President Zelensky has told us he's committed to it. The actions he's taken so far demonstrate that, and I look forward to having a conversation about that with him as well."
Trump's attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, his potential 2020 general election rival, are at the center of the President's impeachment trial.
Trump and his allies have repeatedly made unfounded and false claims to allege that the Bidens acted corruptly in Ukraine.
'Of course the American people care about the people of Ukraine'
Pompeo's arrival in Kiev Thursday night came less than a week after he questioned whether Americans care about Ukraine while privately berating an NPR reporter. In speaking with reporters Wednesday, Pompeo said, "Of course the American people care about the people of Ukraine." Nonetheless, the suggestion that the US does not care about the eastern European nation prompted a lengthy rebuke -- in the form of a New York Times opinion piece -- from his former top diplomat in Kiev.
Taylor departed his post just before Pompeo was originally scheduled to visit Ukraine. That initial visit was postponed due to the situation in Iraq. A senior administration official said last week that the timing of the rescheduled trip had "nothing to do" with impeachment. Taylor was one of several officials tied to the US Embassy in Kiev who served as a witness in the House impeachment inquiry. One of those officials, David Holmes, is still serving there.
Pompeo, asked what his message is to the embassy staff there, told reporters Wednesday that he intends to tell them "how much we love them, appreciate them, appreciate their family members and their sacrifice, and talk about the important work that the United States and Ukraine will continue to do together to fight corruption inside of that country and to ensure that America provides the support that the Ukrainian people need to ensure that they have a free and independent nation."
Pompeo is visiting Kiev as Ukrainian and State Department officials continue to probe the possible surveillance of Taylor's predecessor, former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. In his contentious interview with NPR last week, Pompeo failed to point to a time where he defended Yovanovitch, who was removed from her post and has been repeatedly maligned by the President and his allies.