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Trump impeachment testimony shows concerns over role, aims of Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani speaks at a policy event hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore / Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Two U.S. officials, one current and one former, say they became increasingly alarmed by the role President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani played in Ukraine, as a congressional impeachment panel entered its fifth day of testimony.

In his opening statement on November 21, David Holmes, a senior staff member from the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, told the hearing that Giuliani made it clear that a White House visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was contingent on the newly elected leader publicly announcing investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat who is seeking to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election, and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma.

Giuliani through Trump had alleged that, while serving as vice president, Joe Biden had protected Burisma by pressuring Kyiv to fire a prosecutor-general.

No evidence of wrongdoing by either of the Bidens has surfaced and previous testimony given by former and current officials, including former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, have dismissed those allegations as “conspiracy theories.”

This, Holmes said, was part of a narrative that led him to believe that Trump cared only about personal gain and not on agreed-upon interagency foreign policy priorities.

Holmes added that he was “shocked” on July 18 when he found out security assistance to Ukraine, which is engaged in a war with Russia-backed separatists in its eastern region, was being withheld.

The testimony is part of a congressional inquiry into whether Trump committed impeachable offenses and is based on events related to a July 25 phone call between the U.S. president and Zelenskiy.

Holmes told lawmakers that, beginning in March, the embassy’s work became overshadowed by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and a “cadre of officials” with a direct line of contact to the U.S. president and his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Instead of pursuing policy goals that focus on “peace and security, economic growth and reform, and rule of law,” Giuliani pursued a political agenda of smearing then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and calling on Kyiv to investigate the Bidens.

After Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May, according to Holmes, three officials said they would take the lead on coordinating foreign policy on Ukraine: then-special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Sondland.

Over time, Holmes said he learned that a White House visit by Zelenskiy and up to $400 million of U.S. security assistance was tied to Trump’s wish for Kyiv to pursue investigations into the Bidens, particularly Joe Biden.

Until a public announcement was made, Trump would continue withholding $390 million in military aid to Ukraine, Holmes said.

During lunch in Kyiv on July 26 with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Holmes said Sondland told him that the U.S. president “doesn’t give a s**t about Ukraine, he only cares about “big stuff.”

When asked what constituted “big stuff,” Sondland told Holmes that “big stuff” meant that which benefits the president like “‘the Biden investigation that Giuliani was pushing.”

By late August he said, “my clear impression was that the security assistance was likely intended by the president either as an expression of dissatisfaction that the Ukrainians had not agreed to the Burisma/Biden investigation or as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so.”

Holmes also was told in Kyiv by a visiting lawmaker, Senator Ron Johnson (Republican-Wisconsin) that Trump had “a negative view of Ukraine and that President Zelenskiy would have a difficult time overcoming it.”

The day’s other witness — Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official who specializes in Russia — said Trump, Giuliani, and certain Republican lawmakers have advanced a “fictional narrative” about Ukraine allegedly meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

She said the theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the election was fabricated by Russia to sow discord in U.S. politics.

“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” Hill told the hearing.

She urged Republican lawmakers, some of whom sit on the impeachment panels, “not to promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russia’s interests.”

During the July 25 Trump-Zelenskiy call, the U.S. president asked his counterpart to look into the alleged 2016 meddling story.

Part of the false Ukraine story involves the unsubstantiated charge that Democrats hid a secret computer server in Ukraine that would prove the Ukraine theory, which has been debunked.

In the call, Trump specifically by name mentions CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm that purportedly controlled the secret server.

Hill lamented that Trump was listening to what Giuliani was telling him and not to the government’s experts on Russia and Ukraine.