Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was scheduled to visit Ukraine in November following his trip to Germany to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling. But President Donald Trump, in coordination with the State Department, cut the Kyiv trip from Pompeo’s schedule at the last minute amid the impeachment inquiry, according to a U.S. official and two other individuals familiar with the matter.
In the lead-up to the trip, the State Department had solidified most of the details of the travel to Ukraine, but in the final stages of planning the secretary’s office notified officials and staffers inside the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv that the visit would not go forward. Trump had pulled the plug, according to those same sources, in part because the White House did not want administration officials landing in Ukraine during the impeachment investigation.
Pompeo also wanted to refrain from visiting the embassy in Kyiv because the top diplomat there, Bill Taylor, had told impeachment investigators that Rudy Giuliani pushed Ukraine to “intervene in domestic policy,” two individuals with knowledge of the State Department’s thinking said. Taylor also said he was aware that the delivery of U.S. military aid to Ukraine was contingent upon President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration launching investigations sought by the White House. His deposition transcript was released the day Pompeo landed in Germany.
“I told Ambassador Sondland that President Trump should have more respect for another head of state,” Taylor said in his deposition, referring to U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, one of the U.S. officials who helped establish a backchannel with Ukraine. “At that point, I asked Ambassador Sondland to push back on President Trump’s demand.”
The White House and the State Department did not respond to a request for comment for this report.
Pompeo is now scheduled to arrive in Kyiv on Jan. 3, according to two U.S. officials and one Ukrainian official. Two other individuals familiar with his visit to Ukraine said the secretary wanted to visit the country after Taylor’s departure. The Wall Street Journal reported that Taylor was instructed to step aside before Pompeo’s arrival.
In conversation with department aides about planning a trip to Ukraine, Pompeo said he wanted to avoid the embassy altogether and would hold meetings in his hotel, according to two individuals with knowledge of those conversations.
Pompeo’s planned visit to Ukraine in November came at a time when the White House was trying to manage the fallout from the House impeachment investigation. Congressional investigators had for weeks questioned witnesses about what they knew about the administration’s communications with the Zelensky team and what demands had been transmitted by individuals close to Trump.
At the beginning of November, right before Pompeo’s scheduled departure, the three congressional investigating committees began to release to the public full deposition transcripts of each witness, including Taylor. Taylor’s interview with Congress was one of the most damning of the series for the State Department. It outlined details of a shadow foreign-policy campaign between the U.S. and Ukraine led by Sondland, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Kurt Volker, the former lead for Ukraine negotiations.
Taylor said in a phone call with Sondland in June about scheduling a call between Trump and Zelensky that the EU ambassador “cut out” officials who would normally be involved and requested it not be transcribed.
“This suggested to me that there were the two channels,” Taylor said in his deposition. “This suggested to me that the normal channel, where you would have staff on the phone call, was being cut out, and the other channel, of people who were working, again, toward a goal which I supported, which was having a meeting to further U.S.-Ukrainian relations, I supported, but that irregular channel didn’t have a respect for or an interest in having the normal staff participate in this call with the head of state.”
Pompeo will land in Kyiv in January one day after Taylor’s departure. His visit to Ukraine will come at a time when the White House attempts to shape the narrative ahead of the Senate impeachment trial. The high-level meeting between Pompeo and Zelensky will likely be used by Trump, who is ramping up his 2020 campaign activities, as a show of defiance just two weeks after the Democrats voted to impeach him. According to two individuals with knowledge of the Trump administration’s planning of the trip, Pompeo is expected to announce a timeline for setting up a meeting between Trump and Zelensky at the White House.