WASHINGTON (CN) – Former Ambassador Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, backfired as a witness called by the Republican minority of the intelligence committee during remarks extolling former vice president Joe Biden and reversing his earlier testimony on the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
“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 told the committee. “I saw them as very different.”
Burisma is the Ukrainian energy company on which Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, sat from 2015 until this year.
President Donald Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the company in what Democrats describe as a transparent attempt to extort and bribe a U.S. ally with military assistance to kneecap his political opponent.
“In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently,” Volker testified, referring to the tie between Burisma and the Bidens, “and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections.”
The ex-ambassador emphasized that he has nothing but respect for the Delaware Democrat.
“I have known Vice President Biden for 24 years,” the ex-ambassador testified. “He is an honorable man and I hold him in the highest regard."
Deriding Trump's claims against the Bidens as a "conspiracy theory," Volker had been testifying together with Timothy Morrison, the National Security Council’s ex-deputy assistant to the president.
Though both House minority witnesses, each veered off the president’s messaging. Morrison bemoaned that a once-bipartisan agreement on the importance of U.S.-Ukraine relations has become a political football.
“My fears have been realized,” Morrison remarked in his opening statement.
Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has been identified repeatedly as a figure souring the president on Ukraine.
“He said Ukraine is a corrupt country full of terrible people,” ex-envoy Volker said. “He said they tried to take me down."
Chairman Adam Schiff held Trump and Giuliani responsible for damaging the United States’ bilateral relationship with its ally.
“Hopes that Trump would agree to an early meeting with the Ukrainian President were soon diminished, however, when Trump pushed back,” Schiff said in his statement. “According to Volker, ‘He just didn’t believe it. He was skeptical. And he also said, that’s not what I hear. I hear, you know, he’s got some terrible people around him.’ President Trump also told them he believed that Ukraine ‘tried to take’ him down. He told the three Amigos: ‘talk to Rudy.’”
Representative Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the committee, was hardly eager to hear testimony from the minority’s own witnesses.
“Welcome to Act II of the circus,” Nunes announced, referring to the afternoon session of the impeachment inquiry.
Time and again, Nunes showed more interest in attacking the proceedings as empty theater than in expressing confidence that the Republicans’ witness would prove their case, and Volker undermined the central counternarrative offered by the president and his defenders.
Democrats accuse Trump of attempting to bribe Ukraine’s president with military assistance if he would gin up a bogus investigation against his political opponent.
Volker’s testimony was not a total win for the Democrats, however.