Democrats to quiz former diplomat Volker over role in Trump-Ukraine dealings

Politics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. diplomat Kurt Volker won praise from Republicans after he testified behind closed doors last month in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, but will face a cooler reception from Democrats during Tuesday’s public hearing.

FILE PHOTO: Kurt Volker, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former envoy to Ukraine, arrives to participate in a closed-door deposition as part of the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/

Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, told lawmakers in October he did not know of any effort by Trump to press Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender opposing Trump’s bid for re-election next year.

“Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion,” he said in his Oct. 3 closed-door testimony.

But other witnesses have identified Volker as one of the “Three Amigos,” along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and diplomat Gordon Sondland, who were tasked by Trump to obtain Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s commitment to probing Biden and his son, Hunter.

A congressional official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Volker’s statements were “definitely being closely reviewed” by Democrats.

Volker and former National Security Council Russia expert Tim Morrison are scheduled to appear on Tuesday afternoon.

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They are the first two witnesses sought by minority Republicans to testify in the televised public hearings. After Volker’s closed-door deposition, Republican lawmakers called him “impressive” and said his testimony did not match the Democrats’ pro-impeachment narrative.

His testimony will take the spotlight as the impeachment probe enters its second week of public hearings with a parade of witnesses coming before the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Among those whose testimony was at odds with Volker’s deposition was U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert. He is due to testify before the committee on Tuesday morning – hours before Volker’s afternoon appearance.

Vindman and Volker have clashed, for example, over a July 10 White House meeting. Volker testified that U.S. and Ukrainian officials in the meeting did not discuss any investigations. Vindman said, however, that Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, raised the need for Ukraine to open “specific investigations” if Zelenskiy wanted to meet Trump.

At a follow-up meeting that both also attended, Vindman said: “Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma.”

PENCE AIDE TO TESTIFY

The Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry is examining whether Trump sought to leverage Zelenskiy’s desire for an Oval Office meeting and nearly $400 million in frozen U.S. security aid that Ukrainian forces needed to battle Russia-backed separatists in return for gaining political advantage over Biden.

At the inquiry’s core is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump pressed Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son, a member of the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm, and a discredited theory that it was Ukraine – not Russia as determined by U.S. intelligence agencies – that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and raged on Twitter against what he calls “a witch hunt” and a “hoax.” He said on Monday he might testify before the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading the inquiry. Democrats responded with skepticism.

Tuesday’s morning session will also feature Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, who was among the U.S. officials who monitored the July 25 Trump-Zelenskiy call and testified behind closed doors this month that some of Trump’s comments were “inappropriate.”

The president assailed her on Twitter on Sunday as a “Never Trumper” who should “work out a better presidential attack.”

The investigation could lead the House to approve formal charges – known as articles of impeachment – against Trump that would be sent to the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial that could result in his removal from office.

At the moment, that outcome is doubtful as few Republican senators have broken with Trump.

Only two U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, have been impeached, but neither was removed from office. President Richard Nixon faced impeachment and resigned in 1974 over the Watergate scandal.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Mark Hoseball; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Peter Cooney

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