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.
Giuliani is involved in Ukraine
On September 25, 2019, CREW launched an investigation by requesting records from the State Department of communications related to Giuliani’s Ukraine efforts. CREW 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.
CREW also added a request for records from the Department of Justice on communications between Zelensky, Barr, and Giuliani or anyone who represented them.
The requested records would shed light on the role the State and Justice Departments have played in Giuliani’s interactions with Ukrainian officials as he sought to pressure them to take actions that could benefit Trump’s political interests.
Ukraine phone call and whistleblower complaint are released
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.
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.
These 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.
White House officials “claw back” embarrassing Trump documents
Following reporting that Trump and top White House officials were to “claw 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.
The records would 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.
CREW also requested OMB communications on Acting White House Chief of Staff and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney’s October 17, 2019 admission of withholding of military aid from Ukraine unless their government cooperated in an investigation desired by Trump. More analysis on this can be found here and the FOIA is also linked below.
On N0vember 20, 2019, CREW sued the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Defense, and the State Department for failing to release documents in response to our October 2, 2019 Freedom of Information Act requests regarding the freeze of security assistance to Ukraine.