Text messages provided to the House Intelligence Committee by former US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker were released by Democrats late Thursday night—and NBC News sees them as "explicitly linking" a potential White House meeting between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a Ukraine probe into the 2016 election. As NBC puts it, Trump has "long promoted the baseless theory that Ukraine—not Russia—was responsible for 2016 election meddling." Texts after a July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky reference both the 2016 election and the company Hunter Biden worked for. Standout texts and related news:
- On July 19, less than a week before Trump and Zelensky spoke on the phone, Volker texted US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland the following: "Had breakfast with Rudy [Giuliani] this morning—teeing up call with [Zelensky advisor Andrey] Yermak Monday. Must have helped. Most (important) is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation—and address any specific personnel issues—if there are any." CNN's read is that it reveals "how Giuliani was pushing for the call and for Zelensky to talk up the investigation."
- The morning of the call, Volker messaged Yermak the following: "Heard from the White House—assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington."
- On Aug. 9, Volker and Sondland talked about a possible White House meeting and the statement Zelensky would make in announcing it. One line the two allegedly drafted, per NBC News: "We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 US elections." (Burisma is the gas company linked to Hunter Biden.)
- The Hill reports that on Aug. 10, Yermak let Volker know he needed a confirmed date before any statement would be made. No date was confirmed and the statement was never made.
- Then came the news that Trump had halted $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. "Need to talk with you," Yermak messaged Volker on Aug. 29.
- "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?" Bill Taylor, a senior US diplomat in Ukraine, texted Sondland on Sept. 1, per the Washington Post. Sondland replied by asking Taylor to call him.
- "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor then texted on Sept. 9. Sondland responded that "the President has been crystal clear, no quid pro quo's of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign."
- In a Thursday night statement, Democrats expressed their view that the texts make clear that military aid and a meeting between the leaders "were being withheld in order to place additional pressure on Ukraine to deliver on the President’s demand for Ukraine to launch politically motivated investigations," per the Hill.
- Another aspect of the Ukraine story: The Wall Street Journal is reporting via sources that Trump in May recalled his ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, after being told by those close to him that she was impeding efforts to get the country to look into the Bidens. Giuliani told the Journal that in March he drafted a document that listed the Bidens' activities in Ukraine and allegations that Yovanovitch was "very close" to Biden. Giuliani says Pompeo pledged to investigate Yovanovitch after receiving the document.
- "I don't know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her but I heard very, very bad things about her for a long period of time," Trump told reporters on Thursday. In the July 25 phone call, he told Zelensky that Yovanovitch "was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news," CNN reports.
- Yovanovitch, a career diplomat and current State Department employee, will testify before House investigators on Oct. 11. People close to her have denied wrongdoing on her behalf.
- Meanwhile, CNN reports Trump brought up the "political prospects" of Biden and Elizabeth Warren in a June 18 phone call with Xi Jinping of China, and that a record of the call was stored in the same secure electronic system as the record of Trump's call with Zelensky. (On Thursday, Trump told reporters he would also consider asking Xi to investigate the Bidens.)