Gotta take the good news where it comes, and Kurt Volker’s testimony wasn’t bad news for the president. House Democrats released the transcript yesterday, and Donald Trump focused in on the key issue in the hearings in a tweet this morning:
Thank you to Kurt Volker, U.S. Envoy to Ukraine, who said in his Congressional Testimony, just released, “You asked what conversations did I have about that quid pro quo, et cetra. NONE, because I didn’t know there was a quid pro quo.” Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2019
Is that what the US special envoy to Ukraine said? It certainly seems to be. The response came as a somewhat acerbic reply to a question from House Intelligence senior counsel Daniel Noble, in which Volker was asked to account for Bill Taylor’s second-hand testimony about a quid pro quo. Volker’s riposte is that he couldn’t testify to something he knew nothing about:
When Noble tried to challenge that by claiming that Taylor is definitively establishing a linkage, Volker shoots that down:
And just to emphasize the point, Volker testified that he told Taylor there was no linkage, only confusion:
A few pages later, Noble tried to get Volker to admit that Taylor was “concerned that there was a quid pro quo,” but Volker more or less shrugged at it. The discussion between Taylor and himself was about a “nightmare scenario” that Volker didn’t think would transpire, not a discussion of an actual quid pro quo demand.
In fact, as Volker later told GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, no one had ever communicated a quid pro quo requirement to him at all:
Assuming this is true, it’s significant. Volker was the only State Department official in the “Three Amigos” running Ukraine policy — the other two being outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Mick Mulvaney, currently holding several roles within the administration. If Trump wanted a quid pro quo, Volker would have had to be working to get it for him. And if the Ukrainians thought one was being demanded, they would likely have been asking Volker about it almost immediately.
One other reason to consider it significant is its absence from the New York Times recap of the Volker and Gordon Sondland transcripts. That’s very curious, since the impeachment effort rests entirely on establishing a quid pro quo demand, and yet Volker’s multiple denials of such never get mentioned. In fact, the NYT recap only has one mention of quid pro quo at all, and that’s Sondland’s doubtfulness about ever discussing one with Mulvaney:
Sondland transcript, Page 221: “I don’t recall ever having a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney about that. I honestly don’t. I’ve had very, very few conversations with Mr. Mulvaney.”
Investigators were asking Mr. Sondland about a July 10 meeting with two senior Ukrainian officials in the White House office of John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser. At least one witness has testified that at that meeting, Mr. Sondland blurted out that the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had promised an Oval Office invitation to the new Ukrainian president if the Ukrainians announced the sought-after investigations. That would appear to draw Mr. Mulvaney into the scandal.
“Appear to draw” is pretty weak sauce, especially if Sondland never discussed it with Mulvaney. It’s thirdhand hearsay. If Volker didn’t know anything about it and Sondland didn’t talk about it with Mulvaney, where would it have come from? That’s two of the Three Amigos, and it seems extremely doubtful that it would have come from Rick Perry. Perhaps Rudy Giuliani was pushing it, but that’s not the same, not unless Giuliani testifies that Trump told him to push it … which is never going to happen.
Volker’s testimony emphasizes that while the direction of discussions raised concerns, no one had established any wrongdoing or even firmly inappropriate behavior by the president or by the Three Amigos. Giuliani’s actions might raise some eyebrows in Volker’s testimony, but it didn’t advance House Democrats’ case against Trump at all. That’s worth a Twitter salute from the Oval Office these days.