- The United States’ move to stop sending critical assistance to Ukraine appears to have extended further than just the suspension of a nearly $400 million military-aid package.
- The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the US in late August withdrew its recommendation to restore some of Ukraine’s trade privileges.
- The report said John Bolton, then President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, informed Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, that Trump would most likely oppose any policy that benefited Ukraine’s newly elected government.
- It’s unclear whether Bolton gave the directive at Trump’s order or whether the president was even aware of the conversation.
- At the same time the US was said to withdraw its trade recommendation, Trump and his allies were involved in what has been described as a shadow campaign that leveraged US foreign policy to pressure Ukraine’s government to launch investigations against the president’s opponents.
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The United States in late August withdrew its recommendation to restore some of Ukraine’s trade privileges, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
The move came after John Bolton, then President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, informed the US trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, that Trump would most likely oppose any action that benefited Ukraine’s newly elected government headed by President Volodymyr Zelensky, the report said.
It’s unclear whether Trump directed Bolton to convey that message to Lighthizer or whether he was even aware of it. But The Post’s reporting adds yet another layer to a growing portrait of the Trump administration’s actions as it tried to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations that would politically benefit Trump ahead of the 2020 election.
At the time the US was said to withdraw its recommendation to restore certain trade privileges to Ukraine, the president and his allies were engaged in what has been called a shadow foreign-policy campaign that involved stalling a nearly $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine. Bill Taylor, the US’s chief envoy to Ukraine, testified to Congress this week that the decision to freeze aid was part of Trump’s effort to force Zelensky to cave to his demands for investigations.
The Post’s reporting indicates that the pressure campaign may have extended to more than just the security assistance.
Taylor was one of nearly a dozen current and former government officials who testified as part of Congress’ impeachment inquiry examining claims that Trump used his public office for private gain.
A career foreign-service officer and war veteran, Taylor gave the most damning testimony to date against the president, directly implicating him as ordering the US to freeze military aid unless Zelensky acceded to his demands.
Taylor’s testimony appears to be at odds with what Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers last week, and at least one House Democrat said it could open Sondland up to a perjury charge.
Taylor testified that shortly after he became the US’s acting ambassador to Ukraine in June he realized there were two channels through which US policy toward Ukraine was conducted: an official one, which was spearheaded by Taylor, and an unofficial one led by Sondland, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and the US’s special representative to Ukraine, Kurt Volker.
Taylor said the official channel was focused on long-standing US goals vis-à-vis Ukraine, like fending off Russian aggression and combatting widespread corruption within the country. But the unofficial channel, he said, appeared to zero in on one key objective: getting Ukraine to help Trump’s personal political motivations.
Taylor went on to detail how officials told him that Trump not only held up military aid to Ukraine but also refused to meet with Zelensky at the White House until the Ukrainian president publicly pledged to investigate Trump’s political rivals.
Taylor recalled a September 1 conversation with Sondland in which, he said, Sondland told him “everything” was dependent on Zelensky launching those investigations, including security assistance.
Sondland continued and told Taylor that Trump wanted Zelensky “in a public box” by putting out a statement in an interview on American television announcing the investigations, Taylor said.
The conversation between Taylor and Sondland took place days after The Post said the US withdrew its recommendation to restore certain trade privileges to Ukraine, and The Post’s reporting raises new questions about what Sondland would have meant by saying “everything” depended on Zelensky making a public statement ordering the investigations Trump wanted.
It is also likely to open new investigative avenues for House Democrats as they conduct their broadening impeachment inquiry into Trump’s conduct. Republican lawmakers have criticized Democrats for holding the hearings behind closed doors, but legal scholars say that Democrats are following protocol by gathering information and witness testimony and that public hearings will come down the road.
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