Administration

Volker says he rejected Biden 'conspiracy theory' pushed by Giuliani

Former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker on Tuesday pushed back on an allegation about former Vice President Joe Biden amplified by President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, calling it a "conspiracy theory."

Volker said specifically that he "rejected" the theory during a meeting with Giuliani on July 19 while insisting he had no knowledge of an effort to investigate Biden within the Trump administration.

"At the one in-person meeting I had with Mayor Giuliani on July 19, Mayor Giuliani raised, and I rejected, the conspiracy theory that Vice President Biden would have been influenced in his duties as vice president by money paid to his son," Volker said in his opening remarks at a House impeachment hearing on Tuesday.

"As I testified previously, I have known Vice President Biden for 24 years. He is an honorable man and I hold him in the highest regard," Volker said.

Pressed later by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on why he viewed the allegation to be baseless, Volker said he knew Biden to respect "his duties of higher office."

"It's just not credible to me that a vice president of the United States is going to do anything other than act as how he sees best for the national interest," Volker testified.

Giuliani and other conservative allies of Trump have alleged that Biden as vice president pushed for the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor in order to prevent an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that employed Hunter Biden, his son, on its board. They have offered no evidence to back up the allegations.  

Volker, who retired from his post shortly after the White House released a rough transcript of Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, sought to distance himself from the controversy involving the Trump administration's decisions with respect to Ukraine during his remarks.

Volker's defense of Biden echoed remarks he made during his private deposition on Oct. 3 in connection with the House impeachment inquiry. 

The former special envoy also updated his previous testimony to acknowledge new information that has come to light since he testified, including testimony indicating some officials associated an investigation into Burisma with the Bidens. 

"Since these events, and since I gave my testimony on October 3, a great deal of additional information and perspectives have come to light," Volker said during his opening remarks. "I have learned many things that I did not know at the time of the events in question."

Volker asserted that "at no time" did he know of or knowingly take part in an effort to investigate Joe Biden and that he did not know Trump raised Joe Biden on the call with Zelensky until he saw the rough transcript released by the White House in September. 

Trump has defended the call as "perfect," insisting he raised Joe Biden in the context of "corruption" and that it had nothing to do with the 2020 presidential election. Trump also asked Zelensky to investigate a debunked allegation about Ukraine's involvement in the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee server.

During questioning Tuesday, Volker also said he didn't believe raising "conspiracy theories" should be part of the U.S. national security strategy toward Ukraine.

House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry centered on the call in order to investigate whether Trump abused his office in order to pressure Ukraine to pursue investigations that could benefit him politically.

Volker also said that he did not know of "any linkage" between a hold on security assistance to Ukraine and investigations sought by Giuliani "at the time" he was connecting Trump's attorney with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelensky. 

"No one had ever said that to me - and I never conveyed such a linkage to the Ukrainians," Volker said.

Witnesses including William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, have described an alleged effort by administration officials to dangle a White House meeting and security assistance to Ukraine in order to secure investigations sought by Giuliani.   

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who is slated to testify on Wednesday, has corrected his closed-door deposition to say he "presumed" the security assistance to be contingent on Ukraine making a public statement about the investigations. Trump has denied any quid pro quo in his dealings with Ukraine. 

Volker also said that he had no understanding that others believed an investigation into Burisma was synonymous with an investigation into the Bidens and that he "drew a sharp distinction between the two."

But Volker acknowledged that, based on revelations since his testimony, "others" believed the two topics to be related. He said he would have raised "objections" if he had known that at the time. Volker did not specify who he meant, though he seemed to point to Taylor and other officials who have testified. 

"In hindsight, I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company, Burisma, as equivalent to investigating former Vice President Biden," Volker said.

"I saw them as very different - the former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable. In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections," Volker said. 

Updated at 5 p.m.

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