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Former U.S. Ukraine Envoy On Capitol Hill As First Witness In Whistle-Blower Probe

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Kurt Volker was a volunteer member of the State Department in his role as special envoy to Ukraine. 

Kurt Volker, the former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, appeared before lawmakers at Capitol Hill in Washington on October 3 to testify in a Democratic-led impeachment probe of President Donald Trump.

Volker is the first State Department official who is directly connected to the eastern European country to give a deposition to three House of Representatives' committees seeking to shed light on whether Trump abused his office by asking Ukraine’s president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Trump has accused Biden, a leading Democratic candidate aiming to challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential election, and his son of corruption in their political and business dealings in Ukraine, but he has offered no evidence to support his claims

Speaking to reporters on October 3, Trump called on both Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens, saying: “What happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine."

The impeachment inquiry, which the U.S. president has called a witch-hunt, stems from a government whistle-blower's complaint that in part details how Trump, in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25, pressured him to investigate an energy company where Hunter Biden had sat on the board of directors from 2014 until his father announced his candidacy in April.

Leading up to the call, Trump had abruptly withheld some $400 million in military funding for Ukraine, which has been battling Russia-backed separatists since 2014.

A day after the Trump-Zelenskiy call, Volker, who was mentioned in the whistle-blower complaint, and U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland gave the Ukrainian president advice on how to "navigate" Trump's demands.

Volker resigned after his name surfaced in the complaint last week.

Volker also had put Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in touch with Andriy Yermak, an aide to the Ukrainian president, but at Yermak's request, a State Department official told The Wall Street Journal.

During the call with Zelenskiy, Trump told him that Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr would be the ones with whom to work on investigating the Bidens.

AP has reported that in September 2018 Volker met with a board adviser to the energy company that Trump had asked Zelenskiy to investigate.

Burisma Group adviser Vadym Pozharskiy met Volker at an event devoted to energy in New York organized by the Atlantic Council, a think tank based in Washington.

"It would have made perfect sense for Kurt to meet with the Burisma people," Daniel Fried, a former top State Department official, told AP.

Fried, who is a senior fellow at the council's Future Europe Initiative and Eurasia Center, had also met with Pozharskiy.

Volker and Pozharskiy didn't respond to AP's e-mails and calls.

Giuliani and other researchers supportive of Trump have accused Joe Biden of pressuring Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who had previously investigated Burisma.

However, Biden and other officials from former President Barack Obama's administration have said the former vice president's effort had nothing do with Hunter Biden.

The effort, on the contrary, was a shared goal of U.S. allies, and a demand of Ukraine's Western lenders, as well as local corruption watchdogs in Kyiv, to fire the prosecutor because he wouldn't prosecute corruption, or thoroughly investigate Burisma.

The fired prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, refused to assist an earlier British probe of Burisma. When Hunter Biden joined Burisma's board, the British government had $23 million of the company's money frozen, but later unlocked the funds due to a lack of evidence.

The energy company is a major donor of the Atlantic Council, having donated between $100,000 and $249,000 between 2018 and 2019.

Burisma's founder, Mykola Zlochevskiy, also spent $90,000 on lobbying Congress, as well as the State, Treasury, and Energy departments in 2014-16, according to AP.

Burisma Group received some of its 39 gas licenses while Zlochevskiy was natural resources minister from 2010 to 2012, when Viktor Yanukovych was president.

Volker is the executive director of the McCain Institute in Arizona. He was a volunteer member of the State Department in his role as special envoy to Ukraine.

He also has lobbying experience, having owned BGR Group, where he is currently listed as a "senior international adviser."

With reporting by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Politico, Reuters, and AP
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