President Trump may have been acquitted by the Senate on Wednesday. But some of his allies and most prominent lieutenants are in no mood to let the Ukraine impeachment scandal go.
Rudy Giuliani—Trump’s personal attorney whose Biden-related digging and controversial shadow-diplomacy led directly to this president’s impeachment—is very much in the category of Trumpworld’s unrepentant.
Giuliani, for one, is planning on “ramping up” his investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden. “It’s a matter of the fair administration of justice for real,” he told The Daily Beast.
Giuliani did not go into details regarding what these continued private probes would entail, but the former New York mayor wasn’t alone in his enthusiasm.
In Giuliani’s quest to uncover dirt on, or provoke a Ukrainian announcement of an investigation into, the then-frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, he openly collaborated with the fervently pro-Trump cable outlet One America News Network. In recent months, OAN launched a series with Giuliani in an effort to exonerate the president and implicate the Bidens in misconduct and “corruption,” with some accusations being entirely baseless and conspiracy-theory minded. This endeavor—which included a high-profile joint trip to European countries at the height of the impeachment probe, a jaunt that freaked out various senior officials in Trump’s national-security apparatus—did not end up saving the president from being impeached.
And yet, the conservative news channel and Trump-propaganda vehicle doesn’t appear to be through. OAN President Charles Herring said in an interview Wednesday that his network has more investigations forthcoming on the Bidens, as well.
Herring said the first salvo, post-acquittal, will be another “hour-long special, part four of our series, featuring personal attorney to the president, Rudy Giuliani.” He added that the team was “finishing up post-production today [Wednesday], and it will be airing this weekend… There are several [Ukrainian] individuals, Viktor Shokin, who will be featured. Andriy Derkach will be featured… And a member of the Ukrainian parliament, Oleksandr Dubinsky, is also featured.”
As it happens, a TV channel owned by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky had just been raided by Ukraine’s security service on Wednesday. Dubinsky has close ties to both Kolomoisky and the news outlet. Some Ukrainian individuals linked the raid to Dubinsky’s meeting with Giuliani in Kyiv in December, but officials working in the parliament pushed back on that claim, saying the security service was searching the channel’s office for potential wiretaps that recorded the country’s prime minister.
“We’re considering another international trip, we’re working on the plans right now, which would lead us to part five of our series,” OAN’s president added, while not commenting on whether or not Giuliani would be going on this trip, as well. “There’s a number of unanswered questions… regarding Ukraine and the Bidens, among other topics. We’re going to continue to dig.”
During his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Trump indicated that he would be seeking payback, claiming that “so many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go.”
Later on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham reiterated that Trump would be using his post-impeachment speech to potentially push for probes into his political enemies.
“I think he’s also going to talk about just how horribly he was treated and, you know, that maybe people should pay for that,” she said, adding that Trump believes that “people should be held accountable.”
Additionally, Trump allies on Capitol Hill have already made clear that they’re itching for some payback. About an hour after Wednesday’s acquittal, GOP senators Chuck Grassley (IA) and Ron Johnson (WI) announced a review regarding “potential conflicts of interest posed by the business activities of Hunter Biden and his associates during the Obama” era.
It was only two weeks ago that Eric Ueland, Trump’s legislative affairs director, had breezed past a group of reporters and was quoted saying, “I can’t wait for the revenge.”
To be sure, several Trump administration officials involved in Ukraine policy have already been condemned by the White House, particularly those who participated in the House impeachment inquiry and testified on national television. President Trump described the co-operators as “human scum” and “liars.” The White House Twitter account delivered a personal attack on Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, one of the White House’s top Ukraine experts, smack in the middle of his testimony. Following the appearance of Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top Russia adviser, White House loyalists took to social media to try and frame the former official as too emotional.
But perhaps no one drew as much ire from Trump as former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who left the administration just weeks after the whistleblower complaint was released in September. Although the former official refused to cooperate with the House’s inquiry in the beginning, he changed his tune later on and said he would answer questions in front of the Senate. That set off a firestorm inside the White House, where officials tried to manage not only the possibility of a Bolton appearance but his upcoming book’s manuscript, which The New York Times said directly linked Trump’s push for investigations in Ukraine to the freezing of military aid.
“For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, ‘begged’ me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying ‘Don’t do it, sir,’ takes the job … gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book,” Trump said on Twitter just two days before the Senate voted on whether to bring Bolton in for questioning.
Others entangled in the months-long Trump-Ukraine mess don’t appear to have the luxury of seeking vengeance. Several of the most entrenched Trump officials ensnared in the Ukraine affair have since ditched the administration, perhaps out of fear of retribution. Others have remained at their posts, but with their roles diminished and future prospects in government thrown into question.
While figures such as Giuliani have continued to meet with Ukrainian officials and politicos and plot new investigations throughout the impeachment process, other characters in the Ukraine saga—including the “three amigos”—have drawn back from public view. Some of the officials are still getting wrapped up in inquiries by outside interest groups, such as American Oversight, a Washington-based ethics watchdog that has filed numerous records requests in search of new details about the administration’s communications on Ukraine.
Current and former national-security officials who spoke to The Daily Beast for this story said Kurt Volker, the former envoy to Ukraine in charge of negotiations, played the biggest role on the ground in Kyiv. Volker was the most educated about the region and understood not only the historic struggles of the country but also its deep desire for reform, those officials said. But Volker resigned from the Trump administration one day after the whistleblower report was released in September. He didn’t offer a public explanation for why he left.
The former Ukraine envoy was the first official caught up in the saga to resign from the administration but he wasn’t the last. Shortly after, a slew of Trump officials departed, including Bolton and national-security official Tim Morrison. Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, last week requested an early departure from her post. Meanwhile, top U.S. officials in Ukraine also moved on. Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted from her post in May, resigned from the administration this week while her successor, Acting Ambassador William Taylor, departed his post just days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was set to visit Ukraine and meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
As the departures and resignations rolled out into the news, current and former officials in Ukraine have worried about the future of their relationship with Washington. Several officials told The Daily Beast they felt no one was left in the Trump administration who was passionate about improving relations between the two countries and worried the U.S. would yet again decide to freeze military aid in the future.
Their worries are compounded by the fact that perhaps the only leading Trump official in a position to continue the dialogue —EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland—played a vital role in helping Trump with his political errand in Ukraine.
Sondland has maintained a low profile following his blockbuster appearance in the House impeachment inquiry.
Sondland, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, was one of the first individuals in the Trump administration to join the push by the president to convince Ukraine to open specific investigations into Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and the 2016 presidential elections. He played a major role in trying to push Ukrainian officials to agree to Trump’s demands. In a series of meetings on July 10 at the White House, Sondland created a scene when he brought up with top Ukrainian officials the need for Zelensky to agree to the investigations.
During his testimony in November, the EU ambassador quite brazenly threw his amigos and Giuliani under the bus, saying Trump’s personal attorney led the backchannel effort and that he was acting on the president’s orders. Sondland also corroborated other officials’ testimony that Trump did, in fact, engage in a quid pro quo. To the observer, Sondland’s testimony was sure to elicit blowback from President Trump. Instead, though, the president offered another form of chide.
When asked by reporters about his EU Ambassador, Trump said he didn’t know Sondland “very well” before adding, “Seems like a nice guy though.”
Although Trump didn’t denounce Sondland in front of the cameras, there was an effort behind the scenes at the State Department to manage the fallout of Sondland’s involvement in the Ukraine saga. The EU ambassador did not return to his post in Brussels for several weeks, two State Department officials said, and has since been asked to keep a low profile, particularly on Ukraine policy, throughout the impeachment proceedings.
Then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Volker joined Sondland at Zelensky’s inauguration in May. Vice President Pence was supposed to attend the ceremony but the amigos went in his place, setting the stage for what’s been described publicly by national-security officials in the impeachment inquiry as an illegitimate foreign-policy backchannel.
While Perry is no longer an official in the White House, his ideas on Ukraine live on in the Department of Energy. Ukrainian officials who’ve worked with Perry in the past have said they looked to him to help them navigate a way to become less dependent on Russian natural resources.
Before he left, Perry worked on developing a plan, in coordination with Kyiv, for America to export its liquefied natural gas to Ukraine through Poland. In August, three countries agreed to co-operate on the project. Poland’s representatives said the country would commit to sending 6 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine starting in 2021. While that plan is still being crystalized, Ukraine and Poland are playing ball, or trying to. The first tanker filled with American LNG landed in Poland in November. Officials are still working behind the scenes to sort varying competing interests for contracts.
Despite the bodies left in the impeachment drama’s wake, by Wednesday’s close of business, the president and his team were busy messaging their way through another supposed victory lap—and gleefully raking in cash off of it. “VINDICATED!” Trump texted supporters, via his 2020 campaign, on Wednesday night. “I’ve been acquitted from the Impeachment HOAX. We need to send a message…Donate NOW.”