The U.S. House of Representatives this week starting releasing transcripts of testimony as part of a probe into whether President Donald Trump attempted to abuse his office for personal political gain.
On November 5, House committees released transcripts of two key witnesses: Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine.
Both were on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during which Kyiv was prodded into investigating presidential candiate and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Volker is a three-decade diplomat who has served under Democratic and Republican presidents.
In 2017, Trump, a Republican, named him the special envoy to help lead Ukraine policy. Volker resigned in September ahead of giving testimony in the impeachment investigation.
Volker’s 360-page transcript showed him arguing against investigating Joe Biden and trying to coax a president who deeply distrusted Ukraine.
His testimony appeared to sap the main premise behind Trump’s attacks on the Bidens that they were guilty of corruption.
The president has justified asking Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens by indicating that, while in office, Joe Biden had pushed for the Ukrainian government to fire then-Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin in order to shield Hunter Biden who had been hired to serve on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
The premise was that Trump accused Joe Biden of wanting Shokin’s ouster because he was probing Hunter Biden in connection to Burisma Holdings, the energy firm that hired him.
However, Volker testified that Shokin was doing the opposite.
He was letting the Burisma investigation collect dust and failed to prosecute high-profile cases of graft overall.
The transcript testimony showed that Volker told House panelists that Joe Biden sought the ouster of Shokin as part of “executing U.S. policy at the time and what was widely understood internationally to be the right policy.”
Joe Biden’s efforts were in line with a consensus among the European Union, France, Britain, German, and U.S. diplomats "that Shokin was not doing his job as prosecutor-general," adding that Shokin "was not pursuing corruption cases" when Joe Biden called for him to be fired.
Sondland revised his earlier testimony by acknowledging he knew the Trump administration had withheld about $400 million worth of congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine while pressuring Kyiv to investigate the president’s rivals.
In his statement, Sondland claimed his memory was refreshed after he read the opening statements of two other key witnesses who testified in the inquiry.
Sondland said he now remembers a conversation in Warsaw with a top aide to Zelenskiy in which he, Sondland, said military aid likely would not be resumed until Kyiv made clear it would investigate Joe Biden and his son's ties to Burisma.
Sondland told Andriy Yermak "that resumption of U.S. aid would not likely occur until Ukraine provided the anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for weeks," he told congressional investigators.