Unlike most of House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff’s witnesses, Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs chair Ron Johnson has actually spoken in person to President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
And unlike Schiff’s witnesses, Johnson, who also serves as the chair of the Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is wholly confident that Trump’s reasons for denying Ukraine military aid over the summer centered solely on his concerns about the country’s longtime corruption and were not part of some sinister quid pro quo plot.
As evidence, he submitted an 11-page letter to his colleagues on Monday citing his interactions with both Trump and Zelensky. Of particular note was what he wrote about a phone call he had with the U.S. president on Aug. 31, days before he and Sen. Chris Murphy were slated to travel to Ukraine.
I was asked by @Jim_Jordan & @RepDevinNunes to share my firsthand knowledge about the U.S.- Ukraine relationship as part of the House Democrats’ impeachment proceedings. Here’s my response. https://t.co/tu07FKgvSf
— Senator Ron Johnson (@SenRonJohnson) November 18, 2019
“The purpose of the call was to inform President Trump of my upcoming trip to Ukraine and to try to persuade him to authorize me to tell Zelensky that the hold would be lifted on military aid,” Johnson wrote.
But the president remained “consistent in the reasons he cited” for denying the aid, the senator continued, adding that the president was focused on “how thoroughly corrupt Ukraine was” and how the rest of Europe wasn’t doing “its fair share of providing military aid.”
“He specifically cited the sort of conversation he would have with Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany,” the letter continues. “To paraphrase President Trump: ‘Ron, I talk to Angela and ask her, ‘Why don’t you fund these things,’ and she tells me, ‘Because we know you will.’ We’re schmucks. Ron. We’re schmucks.'”
After Trump continued the discussion by reportedly listing out all his concerns about corruption, Johnson then asked him “about whether there was some kind of arrangement where Ukraine would take some action and the hold would be lifted.”
According to the senator, this question triggered an “adamant, vehement and angry” response.
“Without hesitation, President Trump immediately denied such an arrangement existed,” he wrote. “As reported in the Wall Street Journal, I quoted the president as saying, ‘(Expletive deleted) — No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?‘ I have accurately characterized his reaction as adamant, vehement and angry — there was more than one expletive that I have deleted.”
Read the full letter below:
As additional evidence, Johnson also cited his and other key officials’ interactions with Zelensky earlier that summer.
He wrote that after Zelensky was elected Ukraine’s president, he and four other Trump administration officials — including then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry — traveled to Ukraine to attend his May 20 inauguration. During that trip, he added, they stressed to Ukraine’s new president “the importance of fulfilling the election mandate to fight corruption.” However, Zelensky chose to ignore their advice.
“Perry conveyed the delegation concern over rumors that Zelensky was going to appoint Andriy Bohdan, the lawyer for oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, as his chief of staff,” his letter continued. “The delegation viewed Bohdan’s rumored appointment to be contrary to the goal of fighting corruption and maintaining U.S. support. … Shortly thereafter, ignoring U.S. advice, Zelensky did appoint Bohdan as his chief of staff. This was not viewed as good news.”
Following their trip overseas, the delegation met with Trump on May 23. And during that meeting, he expressed great concerns over the situation in Ukraine.
“He made it crystal clear that he viewed Ukraine as a thoroughly corrupt country both generally and, specifically, regarding rumored meddling in the 2016 election,” Johnson wrote.
“[Delegation official Kurt Volker, the former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations] summed up this attitude in his testimony by quoting the president as saying, ‘They are all corrupt. They are all terrible people. … I don’t want to spend any time with that.'”
Echoing NYT reporting last week, Volker testified that Trump told him, Sondland, Perry that Ukrainians “are all
corrupt, they are all terrible people,” and “I don’t want to spend any time with that.” He also said, “and
they tried to take me down.”
— Nina Jankowicz (@wiczipedia) November 5, 2019
The senator added that he cannot recall the president ever once speaking during the meeting about either Burisma or the Bidens. Congressional Democrats’ ongoing impeachment efforts against Trump are rooted in the theory that he conditioned the release of military aid to Ukraine on Zelensky launching an investigation into credible allegations of corruption surrounding former President Joe Biden and the Ukrainian gas firm Burisma.
“I do not recall President Trump ever explicitly mentioning the names Burisma or Biden, but it was obvious he was aware of rumors that corrupt actors in Ukraine might have played a part in helping create the false Russia collusion narrative,” Johnson wrote.
The president has and continues to claim that his real concern all along was Ukraine’s longtime corruption and — more specifically — the country’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of then-Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.
Submitted Monday to House Oversight Committee ranking member Jim Jordan and House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes, the letter by Johnson seems to dispel many of the concerns and allegations that have been posited by Schiff’s witnesses.
Whether any of this means anything will be up to the American people to decide, unless of course, Democrats choose to decide for them by impeaching the president only months out from the next presidential election.
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