Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was reportedly preparing to announce the investigation requested by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Trump’s 2016 team sounds alarm as Democrats make gains Whistleblower lawyer sends cease and desist to White House over Trump’s attacks MORE into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Whistleblower lawyer sends cease and desist to White House over Trump’s attacks GOP senator wants to know whistleblower identity if there’s an impeachment trial MORE’s son Hunter Biden in order to secure military aid withheld by the Trump administration until word the funds had been frozen leaked.
In a July 25 phone call that occurred days after Trump froze the aid and has become central to House Democrats’ impeachment effort, Trump urged Zelensky to announce the probe into Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company for which he worked.
Most of Zelensky’s inner circle advised him to make the statement, saying the need for the aid outweighed any fallout that might result from seeming to take sides in U.S. politics, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
Zelensky’s staff reportedly planned for him to announce an investigation as well as a separate probe into a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election in a Sept. 13 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, but the hold on the hundreds of millions of dollars became public, prompting outrage, two days before the interview was scheduled, according to the Times.
White House officials have since insisted that there was no quid pro quo in Trump’s request, but several U.S. officials, including Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, have testified in the House that the aid was specifically conditioned on the public statement.
Ukrainian experts have differing opinions on whether Zelensky would have gone ahead with the public statement had the aid not been released.
Petro Burkovskiy, a senior fellow at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation who has close ties to the Ukrainian government, told the Times that “the Zelensky team was ready to make this quid quo pro.”
However former Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin said that “from the contacts that took place, it’s difficult to say if they led, or did not lead, to concrete deals.”
Despite this, Klimkin said, it was clear that the Trump administration was seeking conditions for the aid despite discouraging Ukrainian officials from viewing it that way.
“We are not idiots, or at least not all of us,” he told the Times.
The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.