Politics

Trump envoy met with Ukraine president's former rival the year before call at center of impeachment probe

Key Points
  • In 2018, Trump's envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, met with Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who ran for president against Volodymir Zelensky.
  • In July, Zelensky and Trump spoke about an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. That call has led to an impeachment inquiry by majority Democrats in the House of Representatives.
  • Tymoshenko also had links to two former Trump campaign chiefs: Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski.
Kurt Volker, US Department Special Representative for Ukraine speaks during a press conference about US-Ukrainian relations in Kiev. (Photo by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Pavlo Gonchar | LightRocket | Getty Images

Before President Donald Trump's special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, was associated with a pivotal phone call between the American president and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volker met with another politician seeking the presidency in that country.

Volker resigned from his position on Friday, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters. His resignation was first reported by the State Press, a student-run publication at Arizona State University, which backs a think tank where Volker serves as executive director. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2018, Volker met with Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who ran for president against Volodymir Zelensky. Zelensky went on to become president. In July, Zelensky and Trump spoke about an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. That call has led to an impeachment inquiry by majority Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Volker was mentioned in a whistleblower complaint as an official who met with Zelensky a day after the phone call. Reportedly, Volker suggested to the new Ukrainian leader how to "navigate" Trump's request.

Volker's role as a volunteer member of the State Department was relatively unknown until his name was mentioned in the complaint that was made public on Thursday. He's scheduled for a deposition next month by House committee investigators that are conducting the impeachment inquiry.

Volker also has experience as a lobbyist. His former firm, BGR Group, currently lists him as a "senior international advisor." The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has released a text message showing that he met with Volker, who suggested that the former New York mayor reach out to one of Zelensky's aides.

Although it is unclear whether Tymoshenko's efforts in the U.S. have any connection to the Trump-Ukraine scandal, she has links to two key associates of the president.

According to the Guardian, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort authorized an opposition research campaign against her starting in 2011, a year after she lost the presidential race to Viktor Yanukovych — and the year she went to prison for three years. International critics accused the Ukraine government of jailing her for political reasons.

Manafort is currently serving prison time for convictions in cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

A firm started by Corey Lewandowski, another former Trump campaign manager, had a contract to promote Tymoshenko's interests. But that deal was terminated within weeks.

One of the organizations that helped Tymoshenko get in touch with U.S. officials in the buildup to the Ukrainian election was an obscure limited liability company called Innovative Technology & Business Consulting. To arrange the meeting with Volker, they hired lobbyists out of The Livingston Group, a Washington lobbying firm that was founded by Robert Livingston, a Republican who resigned from Congress in 1998 after admitting to cheating on his wife.

The meeting between Volker and Tymoshenko took place in December 2018, according to a schedule on a lobbying disclosure report. Livingston, along with his colleague Cathryn Kingsbury, accompanied the former prime minister.

For those involved with setting up the meeting, there was skepticism as to how the pro-Tymoshenko group was being funded. There was also acknowledgment that she was trying to use her visits to the United States as a way to gain favorable attention from potential Western allies before the general election.

"She came here, and she was basically trying to get some favorable attention among U.S. leaders," Livingston said in an interview. "You ever been on a campaign trail? You talk to everybody you can, and you hope to generate support," he added.

Livingston went on to define the meeting as "congenial" and, because he says the two spoke mainly in Ukrainian, he could not definitely say what specifically was discussed.

"I didn't understand it, but I set it up," he said.

Innovative Technology & Business Consulting was led by an associate of Tymoshenko's, Sergei Krasnitsk. Livingston said he never received an explanation as to who was funding the firm.

"There were other people funding it. I asked on several occasions and never found out. We would've liked to have known," he said. A contract signed in June of that year between Livingston and the company shows the firm was paid $50,000 each month. Livingston noted the LLC is no longer one of his firm's clients.

Volker and a spokesperson for the State Department did not respond to a request for comment. Tymoshenko could not be reached.

Livingston's firm was not the only organization representing Tymoshenko that spoke with Volker.

That same year, Volker engaged with lobbyists out of Wiley Rein, an office that has backed the former Ukrainian prime minister for years.

The firm represents Aveiro, a foreign principal organization that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has ties to Tymoshenko. A schedule through a separate lobbying report shows that Aveiro's representatives met with Volker for "Ukraine negotiations" on the same day as Livingston's get-together with the Trump official.

It's unclear whether Tymoshenko was present.

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