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Ukraine's hostage crisis: how the president and his allies chasing ammunition in 2020 triggered a political storm

By mid-May, the US relationship with Ukraine broke up: The US ambassador was recalled for his homeland No obvious reason, the country's new president was worried about US support, and President Trump's personal lawyer criticized the conspiracy theories of Kiev.

In the midst of these turmoil an unexpected number occurred to claim that he was now responsible for the US-Ukraine relationship. Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, did not appear to have the authority to take this critical portfolio, and did not qualify as a diplomat beyond the $ 1 million he spent on Trump's inauguration.

But when some in the White House and the State Department tried to block his takeover. Current and former US officials said he had rejected their demand to know who granted him this authority in two words:

"The President."

Over the next four months, Sondland worked closely with Kurt Volker, the US Special Representative for Ukraine, to align the US-Kiev relationship with the political interests of the President.

Newly published texts that Sondland, Volker and other US officials exchanged during this period read like government-sanctioned texts Shakedown. Again and again, it is made clear that the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, will not receive any military help or the coveted invitation from the Oval Office until he commits himself to an investigation Trump had hoped would be damaging information about Former Vice President Joe Biden deliver and undermine the origins of The Investigation of Russian Intervention in the 2016 Election.

Instead of an official Foreign Ministry email, the text exchange between diplomats took place via WhatsApp, a US official said.

Only when Zelensky Trump can convince him that he "gets to the bottom of what happened in 2016", is he granted a meeting with the president, Volker tells one of Zelensky's top advisers end July in a text that alludes to Trump's belief that Ukraine has tried to sabotage him in the presidential election, and in a separate message weeks later, Sondland points out that the president "really wants the deliverable."

The stock markets reveal direct involvement of US State Department officials in events that are increasingly stamped with a multi-layered political conspiracy.

At the same time, Sondland and Volker used diplomatic channels to convey Trump's demands, and the President and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, used other channels to convey the same message, and at the center of the scandal is a phone call between Trump and Zelensky on July 25th, which was exposed by a government whistleblower and triggered an impeachment investigation.

When these demands came in, one country turned to the United States for help in legitimate despair. Over the past five years, Ukraine has witnessed attacks by Russian paramilitary forces, the loss of the Crimean peninsula following its conquest by Moscow, and a deadly and ongoing conflict with Russian-backed separatists – not to mention their own internal political and economic problems. and corruption.

Against this backdrop, Ukrainian officials cited in the texts released by the House committees late Thursday feel abused by their American counterparts. Zelensky is "sensitive to Ukraine being taken seriously, not just as an instrument in Washington's domestic and reelection policies," said a US official dispatched to Kiev on 7 May after former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was deposed was.

Sondland brushed aside the concern of his counterpart. "We have to start the conversation and build the relationship," he wrote back, "regardless of the excuse."

Although this exchange is short and cryptic, it captures a deeper divide within the Trump administration between career national security officials who are disturbed by what they call dangerous decoupling of US foreign policy from national core interests and of political representatives who took part in the exploitation of the American influence of the President to promote his election interests.

This report is based on interviews with more than two dozen people, current and former US officials, and documents released in recent days by congressional committees involved in the impeachment investigation into the president. The interviewed officials commented on the condition of anonymity and referred to the sensitive nature of the topic as well as the fear of retaliation. Sondland did not respond to requests for comments.

Renewed conflict with Ukraine

Trump's dealings with Ukraine date back to the 2016 US presidential race when a financial book appeared in Kiev, with Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort joining millions of citizens in secret payments from a pro- Russian, Ukrainian political party, which he advised. The revelations forced Manafort to abandon his position in the election campaign, raising the suspicion that Trump's candidacy was backed by interference by Moscow.

Trump saw the following investigations on the possible relations of his election campaign to Russia as part of his efforts to delegitimize his presidency. On his call to Zelensky on July 25, Trump complained about the Russia investigation and questioned discredited conspiracy theories, including that Russia had not really hacked the Democratic National Committee's computers and that the evidence of this supposed fraud – the DNC disks – had been made smuggled into the Ukraine to hide.

There is no evidence to support these claims.

"Much started with Ukraine," Trump said at one point in the conversation, in which he also alluded to aid and weapons promised Ukraine, while Zelensky said: "I want you to do us a favor." Among other things, Trump Zelensky expressly asked to initiate investigations against Biden and his son.

Giuliani, Trump's attorney, similarly fell into a net unfounded allegation. When the investigation against Russia ended, without clear evidence of a plot to conspire with Trump's campaign with Moscow, Giuliani and Trump had turned their attention to Ukraine as a potential ally, both in validating their theories and in providing ammunition against political opponents could contribute.

In order to advance this common agenda, Trump began to exploit the powers of the executive.

Trump instructs Attorney General William P. Barr to initiate investigations into the origins of the Russian investigation to seek evidence of the work of the FBI and Special Adviser Robert S. Muller III. Was politically burdened. As part of this effort, the Washington Post announced this week, Barr traveled to Britain and Italy, hoping that their security services could uncover shortcomings by American intelligence agencies.

Trump also began bypassing his own National Security Council in the White House and sending trusted allies to pursue political mischief and re-run the 2016 election history. His goal was a country Manafort had long claimed was trying to reach Trump in 2016: the Ukraine.

61-year-old Sondland appears to have never held a government position before being named US Ambassador to the European Union in June 2018 Gathered much of his wealth through acquiring and managing luxury hotels in cities such as Seattle and Portland , Ore.

Sondland tried to distance itself from Trump in 2016 when he withdrew from a fundraiser in Seattle for the GOP candidate for what a corporate spokesman had described as retracting concern over Trump's "anti-immigrant" policy.

However, Sondland did not hold back long and later directed $ 1 million through a collection of shell companies to the president-elect's opening fund.

In Brussels Sondland gained a reputation for its brash nature and fondness for the insignia of privilege. He peppered negotiations with four letters. He carried a wireless buzzer that enabled him to tacitly call in support staff to refill his teacup.

Sondland seemed to be chafing at the limitations of its mission. He traveled to meetings in Israel, Romania and other countries with little or no coordination with other officials. He earned a reputation for being indiscreet and was fined for using his personal phone for state affairs.

Sondland also repeatedly returned to Washington and frequently sought time with Trump. If he could not gain access to the Oval Office, one officer said he would meet with the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, instead. He prefers someone closer to Trump's inner circle than the national security officials responsible for Europe.

"He always seemed to be in DC," said a former White House official. "People would say, 'Does he spend time in Brussels? & # 39; "

Trump's husband

Sondland's approach to the job was viewed as a source of anger rather than anger by May when he asserted his claim the relationship between the US and Ukraine.

After Zelensky's election, White House officials began to make plans on who should attend the US delegation to attend Zelensky's inauguration. Emagazine.credit-suisse.com/app/art … = 157 & lang = DE The national security adviser, John Bolton, has removed Sondlands name from the list just to show English: emagazine.credit-suisse.com/app/art … = 157 & lang = en other US officials like Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry Over the next few months, Sondland maneuvered to consolidate a position of influence in the relationship between Trump and the new Ukrainian president. At the beginning of June, Sondland hosted a lavish Independence Day reception – one month before the US holiday – in a cavernous vintage car museum in the center of Brussels.

A huge US flag was projected onto a wall. Jay Leno – whom Sondland billed as a personal friend – provided a stand-up routine whose US-focused chatter fell on European officials. In a subsequent private dinner Sondland received a motley mix of guests. By candlelight sat among others Zelensky, Leno and Trump's son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner.

Within weeks, Sondland and Volker were deep in their efforts to conclude a secret political pact between Trump and Zelensky. The lyrics show the extent to which they explicitly pursued a transaction that targeted US military aid and a future visit to the White House to reinvigorate a corruption investigation by a firm called Burisma, which had shut down Hunter Biden, the vice president's son

Exchange between Sondland and Volker on July 19 shows that they are discussing the state of their efforts for a clear cooperation of Zelensky before Trump approaching -Zelensky call.

Sondland said he spoke directly to Zelensky and gave him a detailed briefing. He understood. Volker replied that he had met with Giuliani at breakfast to inform him of their progress, and the two later discussed what Zelensky needed to do to secure the Oval Office meeting for Zelensky to support his investigation and address specific personnel issues, if any, "Volker wrote.

Washington and Kiev officials were increasingly alarmed at the developments that were open, including the mysterious suspension of aid and Giuliani's predilection to reveal his plans in cable television appearances.

Behind the scenes, other red flags appeared. In a meeting of the White House in early July, Sondland surprised a room with US officials and members of a small Ukrainian delegation, as he diverged from the previously approved by Bolton and other US subjects. In the conversation, US officials expressed their desire that Ukraine continue to seek to liberate its government and state-owned enterprises from corruption.

Sondland, however, objected that the US had other targets in sight for Kiev that went beyond their goals of active, ongoing investigations. He has not named Burisma or Biden by name, but the implication of his words has found others in the room to be disturbing and obvious, especially given Giuliani's public commentary.

"What was shocking was that he said it in front of so many people," said a senior official familiar with the meeting.

Such concerns in Washington at that time were already a tributary of a flow of information to a CIA employee who shared his dismay and would soon begin to file an extraordinary complaint to the intelligence community Inspector General.

In Kiev William B. "Bill" Taylor, who had served as US Ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009 under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and had agreed to return to Yovanovitch in case of emergency removal, triggered alarm.

Taylor, recruited by Volker, had been reluctant to accept the job.

"I'm still trying to navigate this new world," Volker wrote to him this spring.

"I'm not sure I want to enter this world," Taylor replied.

On July 21, he voiced his concern that Ukraine will be treated like a peasant at the "national re-election" of America "just to dismiss its concern for Sondland, which pointed out that Taylor did not realize it the only way was to improve the tense relations of the countries.

The next day, one of Zelensky's top advisors, Andrey Yermak, talked to Giuliani over the phone. Yermak, accompanied by Sondland and Volker, seems to have given Giuliani the assurance he needed to secure Zelensky's call to Trump. Trump's behavior and the pressure he exerted on Zelensky to do a political "favor" disturbed him so much that they sent a protocol of solicitation to a computer system reserved for some of the government's highest-rated secrets. 19659057] However, among those involved in shadow diplomacy the reputation was seen as a breakthrough. Yermak told Volker that the "call went well" and that Zelensky received his promised invitation to the White House, but not a specific date. "Great," Volker wrote back, noting that he would now launch a preliminary meeting in Madrid between Yermak and Giuliani.

Giuliani told Yermak that the Ukrainian president must make a public pledge to continue the corruption investigations Volker's testimony. Sondland and Volker began revising the wording of a statement proposed by the Ukrainians that Zelensky might make after announcing his trip to Washington. When the two diplomats sent the statement to Giuliani, he was dismayed that it was not more specific. According to Volker, he demanded that Ukrainians insert specific indications of the elections in 2016 and on Burisma, the gas company in which Hunter Biden was in office.

In a text message dated August 10, Volker Yermak states that they can "use" the date for the meeting between Trump and Zelensky as soon as the statement is ironed out.

Yermak's answer is bargains. "Once we have an appointment, we will convene a press conference announcing the upcoming visit and outlining the vision for a restart of the US-UKRAINE relationship, including burisma and interference in investigations," he writes.

"Sounds great!" Answers Volker.

Ultimately, Volker said on Thursday on Capitol Hill, the statement was postponed because the Ukrainians did not feel comfortable when referring explicitly to the investigations into burisma and electoral disturbances

But at the time, Volker and Sondland were unaware that the developments in Washington would expose their months-long business and trigger an impeachment investigation against the president.

On August 12, the day before Volker and Sondland's triumphant texts on their desired statement were exchanged by Zelensky – the CIA whistleblower submitted his nine-page document to the Inspector General of Intelligence, and over the next few weeks the events ran in two separate tracks, this week in the House Intelligence Committee's secure hearing room finally converged.

On 1 Septem Taylor again expressed concern. "Are we saying that security support and WH meetings depend on investigation?" The same day Ukrainians in a meeting in Warsaw heard the same message from Vice President Pence when he told Zelensky that the United States was still worried about Ukraine did not do enough to stop corruption.

Sondland refused to include Taylor by text in the matter and invited him to "call me".

A week later, on September 8, Taylor issued a more pressing warning that he would not be part of a Zelensky public pledge and withhold the help that Ukraine urgently needed. "The nightmare is that they give the interview and they do not get any security help," he said. If that should unfold, he said, "The Russians love it. (And I quit.) "

One day later, on September 9, Taylor Sondland texted one last time with the words," I think it's crazy to withhold security support for help with a political campaign. "

Sondland, who may have guessed what the exchange would be like if it came into the hands of investigators or was made public, replied in a serious tone:" Bill, I think you're wrong about that Intentions of President Trump. The President was crystal clear: no consideration. "

Birnbaum reported from Brussels. Washington's Julie Tate and Michelle Ye Hee Lee have contributed to this report.

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