America’s top diplomat has a Rudy Giuliani problem.
President Trump’s lawyer is now calling out State Department officials by name on national television for their role in a plot to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate a long-time political rival. Giuliani’s mission to dig up dirt on that rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, has the president staring at an impeachment inquiry instead. And now, the full wrath of congressional investigators is bearing down on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his team. On Friday afternoon, the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight Committees scheduled five people for depositions in the coming weeks. All five are current or former State Department employees. Pompeo himself was subpoenaed for Ukraine-related documents.
All of which has left Pompeo wondering if there’s any way to clean up his Rudy mess. According to sources inside State Department, Pompeo and his advisers have openly expressed anger about Giuliani’s television appearances.
One of those officials, U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, resigned his position less than 24 hour after his texts were read on Fox News by Giuliani. His departure was first reported by the Free State Press.
Pompeo is reportedly livid about Giuliani sharing these private text messages on-air and for publicly dragging U.S. diplomats deeper and deeper into the scandal with him. Pompeo at one point asked an aide if reaching out to Giuliani and asking him to tone it down was an option. It’s unclear if Pompeo or other senior officials from the department have communicated with Giuliani since the publication earlier this week of a bombshell whistleblower complaint about Team Trump’s Ukraine squeeze.
Pompeo is hardly the first member of Team Trump to be vexed by Giuliani. Even before this latest saga unfolded, there certainly hasn’t been a shortage in this White House of senior staffers who privately bash Giuliani as a liability for Trump and his administration. However, some senior White House officials have actively avoided criticizing or declined to even try to rein in Giuliani for fear of upsetting the president. One senior Trump aide described the president’s confidant and personal attorney as both a “wild man” and a “protected” person in Trumpworld, due to his close relationship with the president, whom he more-or-less successfully defended during the two-year, high-stakes Mueller investigation.
“Pompeo realizes Giuliani is a dangerous wild card and what he did is not good for our foreign policy. But he has the president’s ear. You’re not going to see [Pompeo] publicly slam Giuliani because he has a tight relationship with Trump,” one former State Department official told The Daily Beast.
Earlier this month, those three House congressional committees launched an official probe into efforts by Giuliani to convince Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration to look into Biden. That investigation expanded following the disclosure of the instantly-famous whistleblower complaint.
Now, the pressure inside the halls of the State Department is mounting. Since the public release of the complaint, Secretary Pompeo has maintained a relatively low profile. But two sources inside the Pompeo’s office said he and his advisers have spent a significant amount of time over the last several days strategizing on how to handle the department’s implication in the Trump-Giuliani affair. In particular, Pompeo and his team have spoken with Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland—two State Department officials who coordinated with the president’s lawyer as he tried to undermine the Democratic presidential frontrunner. It could not be confirmed whether that conversation led to Volker’s sudden departure.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
During a Thursday appearance on the Fox News show hosted by fellow Trump loyalist Laura Ingraham, Giuliani tripled down on his assertion that the State Department had, in fact, enlisted him to reach out to Ukrainian officials in the first place. In doing so, he turned the audience’s attention to a text conversation he said he had with Volker.
“Are you concerned that you are unnecessarily dragging his name into this?” Ingraham asked.
“He should step forward and explain what he did,” Giuliani replied.
That same day, the Trump lawyer also posted a screenshot of what appeared to be a private chat between him and Volker, dated July 19, discussing Ukraine matters.
When asked if he had heard from anyone in the department expressing displeasure over the past couple days, Giuliani tersely responded, “No complaints.”
There may not be any, at least not publicly. “Pompeo is playing a game to make sure the policy is right without annoying his boss, Trump,” the former State Department official said on Friday evening, “If Pompeo can save Volker, he will. But he is not going to risk everything to do it.”
Less than an hour later, the news broke that Volker has resigned from the State Department.
It’s become clear in recent days that Volker’s overtures to the Zelensky government were extensive, part of an administration-wide effort to forge bonds with the new Ukrainian leader.
The outreach to Ukraine was a top priority for the State Department, Volker said during his June 18 testimony with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Earlier that morning, before the hearing, the Pentagon had announced its plans to dole out $250 million in military aid to Ukraine.
“I think that the future of Ukraine over the next five years is going to be shaped over the next three months,” Volker said. “How this election comes out, how President Zelensky assembles a government. And whether he is able to operate independently... without undue influence of any individuals or oligarchs in Ukraine will be absolutely critical.”
Volker noted that the Trump administration was already on its way to forging a close relationship with Zelensky and his team. He noted his trip to Kyiv with Sondland and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) for Zelensky’s inauguration and said Ambassador Sondland hosted a dinner in Brussels that Zelensky attended. Jared Kushner was also reportedly at the June 4 dinner.
Volker said in his testimony that President Trump wrote Zelensky a letter inviting him to Washington. According to Ukrainian press accounts, that letter was delivered to Zelensky May 30. Experts say invitations by the U.S. president are normally delivered by hand by ambassadors.
“I hope that we are able to assemble another trip to Ukraine in advance of [Zelensky’s] White House visit in the next several weeks,” Volker said at the June hearing. Although dates had been proposed for a Zelensky trip to Washington, plans for the visit eventually fell apart, according to sources inside the State Department.
Just days prior to Trump’s letter arriving in Ukraine, Volker was in Washington, speaking at a press conference at the State Department and appearing at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In those appearances, Volker stressed the need for the Trump administration, in coordination with European allies, to quickly make inroads with Zelensky's team to show support for a new president ready to tackle corruption.
In the June 18 hearing, Volker noted that Ambassador Sondland was focusing on working with the Europeans to coordinate Ukraine policy. “He has also made the rounds in Europe and is in fact in Berlin today and was in Paris yesterday,” Volker said of Sondland.
President Zelensky was in Berlin at the same time as Sondland, meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on a path forward to stronger German-Ukrainian relations. But there was another official from the Trump administration in Berlin that day: then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Two sources inside the State Department say Coats was in the city to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and German officials. Coats also talked with Zelensky in a previously unreported meeting in a Berlin hotel on June 18, sources say. It is unclear how long the meeting lasted. Two sources inside the Trump administration described the meeting as a chance encounter. The office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this story. When reached by phone on Thursday, Coats simply hung up on The Daily Beast.
Trump, for his part, has so far shown no sign of upset at Giuliani for helping drag him and his administration into arguably the worst crisis of his presidency. At least during the onset of this whole mess, Trump’s attitude was quite the opposite, in fact. Not long after Giuliani wrapped his prolonged, heavily combative interview with CNN host Chris Cuomo last week—a segment so off-the-rails it went viral and attracted much ridicule from political observers—the president made sure to congratulate his lawyer for taking the fight straight to CNN, according to a source with direct knowledge of their conversation.
Furthermore, President Trump made a specific point of urging Giuliani to keep doing TV and cable news hits in the coming days, so they could train as much media attention as possible on Biden, this source said.
This was mere days before Democrats quickly lined up in favor of an impeachment inquiry. The push to damage Biden had instead exploded in Giuliani and Trump’s faces.