Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy has given Democrats conducting an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump an accounting of his September trip to Ukraine — a letter written after his Republican companion on the trip, Sen. Ron Johnson, sent GOP lawmakers his own analysis of that visit.
Johnson concluded in his Nov. 18 letter to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, that he views the impeachment inquiry “a continuation of a concerted, and possibly coordinated, effort to sabotage the Trump administration that probably began in earnest the day after the 2016 election.”
Murphy’s letter to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., came to a much different conclusion.
“President Trump preyed on a vulnerable foreign nation, dependent on the United States for its very survival, and used taxpayer money as leverage to get that nation to work for the personal political benefit of the president,” Murphy wrote in a letter sent to Democratic investigators late Tuesday.
Murphy said he did not intend to contradict Johnson’s account of the trip, but rather offer “additional facts surrounding our visit to Ukraine not included in Senator Johnson’s letter and additional context.”
He said he wanted to travel to Ukraine with Johnson because the Trump administration neglected to send a bipartisan delegation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration.
He also said he wanted to travel to Kiev because of concerns about Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s “shadow foreign policy operation in Ukraine,” which included efforts to persuade the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
During that early September trip to Kiev, Murphy said he raised concerns about Giuliani’s actions to U.S. ambassador William Taylor, who has testified in the impeachment inquiry about the effect Giuliani’s campaign was having on the nation’s Ukraine policy.
Murphy said Taylor’s response was, “It’s a problem.”
Murphy also said Taylor discussed Trump’s holdup of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
“The next day, I pulled Taylor aside to tell him that I planned to raise the Giuliani issue with Zelensky, and advise the new president to stay clear of internal U.S. politics,” Murphy wrote. “Taylor’s response was to encourage me to raise this issue with Zelensky, noting that no official of the U.S. delegation had raised the concern with the president directly. He said he would be very interested to hear Zelensky’s response.”
In his letter, Johnson said Zelensky never said that he felt pressure to provide the United States with anything in return for aid.
Johnson said in his letter that “at no time during this meeting—or any other meeting on this trip—was there any mention by Zelensky or any Ukrainian that they were feeling pressure to do anything in return for the military aid.”
On Wednesday, during the House Intelligence Committee questioning of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Jordan raised Johnson’s letter as further proof Zelensky was not pressured.
But Murphy had a different interpretation of Zelensky’s response.
He said he “broached the topic of the pressure on Zelensky from Rudy Giuliani and the president’s other emissaries to launch an investigation into Trump’s political rivals – namely the Bidens” and urged him to resist becoming “an actor in U.S. domestic politics.”
“President Zelensky said he understood, and represented to us that he had no desire to interfere in a U.S. election,” Murphy wrote.
“I interpreted Zelensky’s answer to my question as a concession of the premise of my question — that he was receiving improper overtures from Giuliani to interfere in the 2020 election,” Murphy added. “He did not contradict the facts I laid out in my question … to me, this was confirmation that Zelensky was indeed feeling the pressure I described.”
In his letter, Johnson questioned the credibility of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine specialist with the National Security Council, who testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
Johnson said he was concerned Vindman was disloyal because he disagreed with Trump administration policy and said Vindman may belong to a group of U.S. officials who are intent on “sabotaging” Trump policies and removing the president from office.
Murphy wrote that “public servants undoubtedly have moments when they disagreed with administration policy,” but are bound to carry out that policy if they have exhausted appeals through “internal mechanisms.”
“That is why the most disturbing element of Senator Johnson’s letter was his assertion that certain administration staffers, most notably Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, may be actually working to “sabotage” the president’s foreign agenda, despite having no actual evidence of such sabotage,” Murphy wrote.