October 8, 2019
The prospect of President Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival, which coincided with a hold up in hundreds of millions in U.S. aid to the country, has raised serious concerns that Trump is abusing the power of his office to benefit his re-election efforts. Over the course of 2019, Giuliani interacted with both Ukrainian and American officials as he sought to encourage the government of Ukraine to launch investigations that would further Trump’s personal political interests.
On September 25, 2019, CREW launched an investigation by requesting records from the State Department of communications related to Giuliani’s Ukraine efforts. CREW also requested communications from State Department officials, including then-Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker and U.S. Ambassador to European Union Gordon Sondland, who interacted with Giuliani regarding his outreach in Ukraine.
As CREW began its inquiry, the White House released a rough transcript of a call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, showing how Trump repeatedly pressured Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son. In addition, the House Intelligence Committee released a declassified whistleblower complaint that focused on the phone call and noted the sudden withdrawal of U.S. assistance to Ukraine around the same time of Trump’s call with Zelensky. CREW added a request for records from the Department of Justice on communications between Zelensky, Barr, and Giuliani or anyone who represented them.
The release of the transcript and whistleblower complaint to the public confirmed the importance of the documents that CREW is seeking. On October 2, 2019, CREW also requested documents from the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense concerning the Trump administration’s withholding of security assistance to Ukraine during the summer of 2019. Following reporting that Trump and top White House officials were “clawing back” documents that were embarrassing to the President, CREW requested documents from the State Department reflecting communications between the President, or other top White House officials, and foreign leaders. CREW also requested any communications to or from Sondland related to Ukraine.
CREW’s initial record request would shed light on the role the State Department has played in Giuliani’s interactions with Ukrainian officials as he sought to pressure them to take actions that could benefit Trump’s political interests. The second round of requested records would help explain the reasoning behind the multi-month freeze on military aid to Ukraine and how that policy decision was communicated to both the Department of Defense and the Department of State. The records would also provide insight on the sequence of events surrounding the hold on the aid to Ukraine and how it relates to Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. In these ways, they would reveal important information about the functioning and decisions of different agencies.