WHEN IT UKRAINES, IT POURS — While you were sleeping, Democrats released a trove of explosive text messages between U.S. diplomats and a senior Ukrainian aide — and boy, they are a doozy. The text messages — which former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker turned over to House investigators during his deposition yesterday — outline how senior State Department officials were deeply alarmed that the Trump administration would try to make foreign aid to Ukraine (as well as a White House visit) contingent on efforts to help the president’s reelection campaign. And they also demonstrate how U.S. diplomats were pushing Ukraine to probe Biden and the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf.
Democrats will likely say they’ve got their smoking gun, and will certainly use the text messages as more ammo for impeachment. But Republicans, who insist that Volker testified that Trump never sought a “quid pro quo” from Ukraine, say the texts were cherry picked and are calling on Democrats to release a full transcript of Volker’s deposition. Here is a highlight of some of the texts:
- “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” said Bill Taylor, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, in a Sept. 9 text message. But Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, strongly denied to Taylor that this was Trump’s purpose. Two days later, the foreign aid was released.
- Another text between Volker and Andrey Yermak, a top adviser to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, on July 25 — the day of the Trump-Zelenksy call — directly linked a Zelensky visit to Washington to whether the Ukrainians moved ahead with a probe into the 2016 election. Volker said: “Heard from the White House. Assuming President Z convinces [T]rump he will investigate/ ‘get to the bottom of what happened in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”
- “I think potus really wants the deliverable,” Gordon texted Volker on August 9, when discussing potential meeting dates. Yermak responded with a reference to “Bursima”, the gas company where Joe Biden’s son was a board member. “Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations,” Yermak texted back.
- “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor texted Sondland on September 1. Sondland’s response: “Call me,” he texted.
BUT, WAIT THERE’S MORE … The text messages weren’t the only bombshell stories that dropped last night. Here is a roundup of some of the other important news reports that you don’t want to miss:
— “Trump Ordered Ukraine Ambassador Removed After Complaints From Giuliani, Others,” by WSJ’s Rebecca Ballhaus, Mike Bender and Vivian Salama: https://on.wsj.com/30KFvL1.
— “Trump Envoys Pushed Ukraine to Commit to Investigations,” per Ken Vogel and Mike Schmidt of the NYT: https://nyti.ms/359jR6z.
—”Trump raised Biden with Xi in June call housed in highly secure server,” via Kylie Atwood, Kevin Liptak, Pamela Brown, Jim Sciutto and Gloria Borger: https://cnn.it/2VdNIX5.
— “IRS whistleblower said to report Treasury political appointee might have tried to interfere in audit of Trump or Pence,” from WaPo’s Jeff Stein, Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey: https://wapo.st/331SjhK.
A SCHIFF-TING STRATEGY — When they get back from recess, House Republicans are planning to force a floor vote on a censure resolution condemning Adam Schiff, scoop your Huddle host and Burgess. The symbolic move represents the GOP’s latest offensive in the intensifying impeachment battle as the party struggles to defend Trump. And without a clear strategy from the White House, the GOP has been taking their cues from the president, who has been treating House Intelligence Chairman Schiff as a punching bag in the impeachment fight.
The eagerness to demonize Schiff demonstrates Republicans’ deep reluctance to opine on whether it was appropriate for Trump to ask Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent. But that conversation is getting more difficult to avoid, especially after Trump on Thursday called for China to open up an investigation into the Biden family — which is at the center of Democrats’ impeachment investigation. And most Hill Republicans kept quiet. The dispatch: https://politi.co/2IkTYaa.
Meanwhile, the latest White House strategy is to essentially dare Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to hold a floor vote on impeachment. According to Axios, the White House will send a letter to Pelosi later today arguing that the administration can ignore lawmakers’ demands until she holds a full House vote to formally approve an inquiry. A senior Democratic aide shot back: “Given that the President just … urged yet another foreign government to meddle in our upcoming 2020 elections, we would think the White House would want to mount a rigorous defense of the President’s clear betrayal of his oath of office.” The story from Alayna Treene and Margaret Talev: http://bit.ly/2OlmzzY.
with help from John Bresnahan