The Ukraine text messages, annotated

Messages between top US diplomats detail negotiations between Trump allies and the Ukrainian President.

By Zachary B. Wolf and Sean O'Key, CNN Published October 4, 2019

House Democrats released a string of text messages between US diplomatic officials and Ukrainian officials that appear to show the Ukrainians and some of the US officials understood that if Ukraine wanted important things like military aid and a visit to Washington for the new president, the Ukrainians would need to agree to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation and the Bidens. The messages will play an important role in Democrats’ effort to impeach Trump.

Congress of the United States Washington, DC 20515 October 3, 2019

Members of the Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs Committees Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Colleagues:

We are writing to convey our grave concerns with the unprecedented actions of President Donald Trump and his Administration with respect to the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry.

The President and his aides are engaging in a campaign of misinformation and misdirection in an attempt to normalize the act of soliciting foreign powers to interfere in our elections.

This letter is sent by three committee chairs – Rep. Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Rep. Elijah Cummings of the Oversight Committee – to their colleagues. One of the unique elements of this impeachment inquiry is that it includes elements of probes being conducted by six committees all at the same time.

We have all now seen the summary of the call in which President Trump repeatedly urged the Ukrainian President to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden­ immediately after the Ukrainian President mentioned critical U.S. military assistance to counter Russian aggression.

Here is CNN’s annotated version of that transcript.

The President claims he did nothing wrong. Even more astonishing, he is now openly and publicly asking another foreign power—China—to launch its own sham investigation against the Bidens to further his own political aims.

This is not normal or acceptable. It is unethical, unpatriotic, and wrong. American Presidents should never press foreign powers to target their domestic political rivals. Engaging in these stunning abuses in broad daylight does not absolve President Trump of his wrongdoings — or his grave offenses against the Constitution.

Trump has argued that his call with the Ukrainian President was “perfect” and and that he wasn’t offering any kind of quid pro quo — specifically, US aid in exchange for an investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either in Ukraine. Trump this week also expanded his calls for investigation into his political rivals, telling reporters at the White House Thursday that China should also be investigating the Bidens. CNN later reported that Trump mentioned the Bidens in a June conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the transcript of which was put in a secure server at the White House. Trump’s defense appears to be that he is trying to root out corruption and that there’s nothing wrong with talking about his rivals with foreign leaders. Here’s a fact check of Trump’s allegations.

Over the past week, new reports have revealed that other Trump Administration officials also may have been involved in the illicit effort to get Ukrainian help for the President’s campaign.

For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has now admitted that he was on the call when President Trump explicitly pressed the Ukrainian President to investigate the Bidens­ but failed to report this to the FBI or other law enforcement authorities. You will recall, FBI Director Christopher Wray urged individuals to report efforts to seek or receive help from a foreign power that may intervene in a U.S. presidential election.

Pompeo, who sidestepped questions last month about what he knew of Trump’s conversations with the Ukrainian President, admitted this week during a press conference in Italy that he was on the call between Trump and Zelensky. Trump has said he’d take “oppo research” from foreigners and suggested in a June interview that “everyone” does it. Wray once said the FBI should know if foreign governments are giving information to US candidates. Trump said, forcefuly, “The FBI director is wrong.” FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub has pointed out that asking for or accepting something of value “in connection with a US election” from a foreign national would be against the law for a US candidate.

This obligation is not diminished when the instigator of that foreign intervention is the President of the United States; it is all the more crucial to the security of our elections. Instead, when asked by the media about his own knowledge or participation in the call, Secretary Pompeo dissembled.

Likewise, we are investigating reports that Vice President Mike Pence may have been made aware of the contents of the call, and his absence from the Ukrainian President’s inauguration may have been related to efforts to put additional pressure on Ukraine to deliver on the President’s demands.

This week, current and former State Department officials have begun cooperating with the impeachment inquiry by producing documents and scheduling interviews and depositions. Based on the first production of materials, it has become immediately apparent why Secretary Pompeo tried to block these officials from providing information.

Kurt Volker abruptly resigned as US Special Envoy for Ukraine after the publication of the whistleblower complaint detailing his role in Trump’s pressure campaign. He was the first to testify and to provide text messages to Congress, in early October. The State Department inspector general also provided documents in a briefing earlier in the week, including these text messages. Marie Yovanovitch, the US ambassador — a career civil servant — controversially recalled from her post earlier this year, will testify. The Wall Street Journal reported Trump recalled Yovanovitch after complaints by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a key player in the Ukraine campaign.

The Committees have now obtained text messages from Ambassador Kurt Volker, the former Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, communicating with other officials, including William B. “Bill” Taylor, the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Andrey Yermak, Aide to Ukrainian President Zelensky, the President’s agent Rudy Giuliani, and others.

These are the names you’ll need to know to understand the text messages below. Here’s a Who’s who for the entire scandal.

These text messages reflect serious concerns raised by a State Department official about the detrimental effects of withholding critical military assistance from Ukraine, and the importance of setting up a meeting between President Trump and the Ukrainian President without further delay. He also directly expressed concerns that this critical military assistance and the meeting between the two presidents were being withheld in order to place additional pressure on Ukraine to deliver on the President’ s demand for Ukraine to launch politically motivated investigations.

The official in question is Bill Taylor, another career civil servant, who served as ambassador to Ukraine under President George W. Bush. He was back in Kiev as chargé d’affaires after Yovanovitch was recalled. His concerns are exactly those of the whistleblower.

Earlier today, selected portions of these texts were leaked to the press out of context. In order to help correct the public record, we are now providing an attachment with more complete excerpts from the exchanges. The additional excerpts we are providing are still only a subset of the full body of the materials, which we hope to make public after a review for personally identifiable information.

It’s important to emphasize that these are only excerpts and, while the committees have said they will release the full set of messages, they have not yet done so.

Our investigation will continue in the coming days. But we hope every Member of the House will join us in condemning in the strongest terms the President’s now open defiance of our core values as American citizens to guard against foreign interference in our democratic process.

Eliot L. Engel
House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Adam B. Schiff
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Elijah E. Cummings
House Committee on Oversight and Reform


  • Connecting Rudy Giuliani with Ukraine President Zelensky’s Advisor: On July 19, Ambassador Volker texted President Trump’s agent, Rudy Giuliani, to thank him for breakfast and to introduce him to Andrey Yermak, a top adviser to President Zelensky:

Each set of messages is preceded by context written by Democrats on the House committees. Giuliani is Trump’s lawyer, but they’re calling him an “agent.” Giuliani’s interest in pushing conspiracies about corruption in Ukraine has been long established. But this shows that even before Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, State Department officials were helping facilitate his talks with Ukrainian officials.

[7/19/19, 4:48 PM] Kurt Volker: Mr Mayor – really enjoyed breakfast this morning. As discussed, connecting you here with Andrey Yermak, who is very close to President Zelensky. I suggest we schedule a call together on Monday – maybe 10am or 11am Washington time? Kurt

  • Sondland Briefs Zelensky Ahead of Call with President Trump: On July 19, 2019, Ambassador Volker, Ambassador Sondland, and Mr. Taylor had the following exchange about the specific goal for the upcoming telephone call between President Trump and the Ukrainian President:

[7/19/19, 4:49:42 PM] Kurt Volker: Can we three do a call tomorrow—say noon WASHINGTON?

[7/19/19, 6:50:29 PM] Gordon Sondland: Looks like Potus call tomorrow. I spike [sic] directly to Zelensky and gave him a full briefing. He’s got it.

Zelensky was fully briefed by Americans — official representatives of the US government – who had been in contact with Giuliani — the President’s personal attorney — before a formal phone call with Trump. And the Americans think they are on the same page with Zelensky. “He’s got it.” But it’s not clear exactly what “it” is.

[7/19/19, 6:52:57 PM] Gordon Sondland: Sure!

[7/19/19, 7:01:22 PM] Kurt Volker: Good. Had breakfast with Rudy this morning—teeing up call w Yermak Monday. Must have helped. Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation—and address any specific personnel issues—if there are any

The issues Volker raised for the Trump/Zelensky call are key. Did he mean an investigation of the Bidens or an investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe? Those are the investigations that Trump ultimately pushes Zelensky to pursue. And regarding personnel, Zelensky assured Trump when they finally spoke on July 25 that the new prosecutor general will be “100% my person” and will look into Trump’s requests.

  • Concerns about Ukraine Becoming an “Instrument” in U.S. Politics: On July 21, 2019, Ambassador Taylor flagged President Zelensky’s desire for Ukraine not to be used by the Trump Administration for its own domestic political purposes:

[7/21/19, 1:45:54 AM] Bill Taylor: Gordon, one thing Kurt and I talked about yesterday was Sasha Danyliuk’s point that President Zelenskyy is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.

[7/21/19, 4:45:44 AM] Gordon Sondland: Absolutely, but we need to get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext. I am worried about the alternative.

Taylor made clear that he feels Zelensky didn’t want to be used to further Trump’s domestic interests, but rather for his country to be “taken seriously.” Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, which had been part of Russia, in 2014. There is an ongoing war in Ukraine with Russian-backed separatists, and Ukraine needs US help. Trump was pushing Ukraine to help him personally, and what Sondland is saying is that it’s important to give Trump what he wants in order to get the US behind Ukraine. It is unclear what “the alternative” he alludes to might be.

  • Giuliani Advocates for Trump-Zelensky Call: Mr. Yermak and Mr. Giuliani agreed to speak on the morning of July 22. Later that evening, Ambassador Volker informed Ambassadors Sondland and Taylor that Giuliani was now “advocating” for a phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky:

[7/22/19 4:27:55 PM] Kurt Volker: Orchestrated a great phone call w Rudy and Yermak. They are going to get together when Rudy goes to Madrid in a couple of weeks.

[7/22/19 4:28:08 PM] Kurt Volker: In the meantime Rudy is now advocating for phone call.

[7/22/19 4:28:26 PM] Kurt Volker: I have call into Fiona’s replacement and will call Bolton if needed.

[7/22/19 4:28:48 PM Kurt Volker: But I can tell Bolton and you can tell Mick that Rudy agrees on a call if that helps.

[7/22/19 4:30:10 PM] Gordon Sondland: I talked to Tim Morrison Fiona’s replacement. He is pushing but feel free as well.

“Yermak” is Zelensky’s aide. “Fiona” is Fiona Hill, the hawkish former top Russian affairs specialist on the National Security Council. She left that post in July. “Bolton” is now-former national security adviser John Bolton, who left the White House in September. “Mick” is Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff. This was all three days before the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.

  • Volker Advises Yermak Ahead of Trump-Zelensky Call: On the morning of July 25, 2019—ahead of the planned call between President Trump and President Zelensky­—Ambassador Volker advised Andrey Yermak:

[7/25/19, 8:36:45 AM] Kurt Volker: Good lunch - thanks. Heard from White House—assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / “get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck! See you tomorrow- kurt

At least in this message, Volker seemed to say that Zelensky must convince Trump the Ukrainians will look into the origins of the Russia probe in order for Trump to meet Zelensky in Washington, which is the clear priority for Zelensky is many of these messages.

  • Yermak’s Informal Readout of the Trump-Zelensky Call: Following President Trump’s July 25 call, Ambassador Volker received the following readout from Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Yermak and confirmed his intent to meet Giuliani in Madrid:

[7/25/19, 10:15:06 AM] Andrey Yermak: Phone call went well. President Trump proposed to choose any convenient dates. President Zelenskiy chose 20,21,22 September for the White House Visit. Thank you again for your help! Please remind Mr. Mayor to share the Madrid’s dates

[7/25/19, 10:16:42 AM] Kurt Volker: Great —thanks and will do!

Zelensky’s aide Yermak, talking to the Ukraine point person for the administration, had two asks after the call. First, when can Zelensky come to Washington? That is clearly so important to Zelensky and his new presidency. Second, when can they talk to Giuliani as Trump requested?

  • State Department Officials Discuss a White House Visit and Ukraine Statement: On August 9, 2019, Ambassador Volker had the following exchange with Ambassador Sondland about arranging a White House meeting after the Ukrainian President makes a public statement:

[8/9/19, 5: 35:53 PM] Gordon Sondland: Morrison ready to get dates as soon as Yermak confirms.

[8/9/19, 5: 46:21 PM] Kurt Volker: Excellent!! How did you sway him? :)

[8/9/19, 5: 47:34 PM] Gordon Sondland: Not sure i did. I think potus really wants the deliverable

No meeting without the “deliverable” — an investigation or at least the announcement of one.

[8/9/19, 5: 48:00 PM] Kurt Volker: But does he know that?

[8/9/19, 5: 48:09 PM] Gordon Sondland: Yep

[8/9/19, 5: 48:37 PM] Gordon Sondland: Clearly lots of convos going on

[8/9/19, 5:48:38 PM] Kurt Volker: Ok—then that’s good it’s coming from two separate sources

[8/9/19, 5: 51:18 PM] Gordon Sondland: To avoid misundestandings, might be helpful to ask Andrey for a draft statememt (embargoed) so that we can see exactly what they propose to cover. Even though Ze does a live presser they can still summarize in a brief statement. Thoughts?

[8/9/19, 5: 51:42 PM] Kurt Volker: Agree!

Volker and Sondland wanted Zelensky’s people to tell them exactly what he would say if he and Trump have a meeting in September.

  • State Department Officials Seek Giuliani’s Guidance on Ukraine Statement: On August 9, 2019, after Mr. Giuliani met with President Zelensky’s aide Andrey Yermak, Ambassador Volker asked to speak with Mr. Giuliani about the Ukranian statement:

[8/9/19, 11:27 AM] Kurt Volker: Hi Mr Mayor! Had a good chat with Yermak last night. He was pleased with your phone call. Mentioned Z making a statement. Can we all get on the phone to make sure I advise Z correctly as to what he should be saying? Want to make sure we get this done right. Thanks!

Gordon Sondland: Good idea Kurt. I am on Pacific time.

Rudy Giuliani: Yes can you call now going to Fundraiser at 12:30

To be clear, this is a State Department official asking Giuliani, who is Trump’s personal lawyer, what to tell the leader of a foreign country. Giuliani holds no official position in the US government and his job, in Trump’s world, is apparently to go after the Mueller report and go after Biden.

  • Ukrainian Aide Seeks White House Date First: On August 10, 2019, President Zelensky’s aide, Andrey Yermak, pressed Ambassador Volker for a date for the White House visit before committing to a statement announcing an investigation explicitly referencing the 2016 election and Burisma:

[8/10/19, 4:56:15 PM] Andrey Yermak: Hi Kurt. Please let me know when you can talk. I think it’s possible to make this declaration and mention all these things. Which we discussed yesterday. But it will be logic to do after we receive a confirmation of date. We inform about date of visit and about our expectations and our guarantees for future visit. Let discuss it

What did they discuss? We don’t know. This is a good place for a reminder that these are only snippets of conversations.

[8/10/19, 5:01:32 PM] Kurt Volker: Ok! It’ s late for you- why don’t we talk in my morning, your afternoon tomorrow? Say 10am/5pm?

[8/10/19, 5:02:18 PM] Kurt Volker: I agree with your approach. Let’s iron out statement and use that to get date and then PreZ can go forward with it?

[8/10/19, 5:26:17 PM] Andrey Yennak: Ok

[8/10/19, 5:38:43 PM] Kurt Volker: Great. Gordon is available to join as well

[8/10/19, 5:41:45 PM] Andrey Yennak: Excellent

[8/10/ 19, 5:42:10 PM] Andrey Yermak: Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US­-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations

[8/10/19, 5:42:30 PM] Kurt Volker: Sounds great!

The two specific things Zelensky’s aide mentioned alongside a “reboot” to US and Ukraine elections were an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation and an investigation into the company that once had Hunter Biden on its board. Those are also Trump’s political priorities.

  • Discussion of Ukrainian Statement to Include References to 2016 Election and Burisma: Following the August 9, 2019, outreach to Rudy Giuliani, Ambassador Volker and Ambassador Sondland on August 13, 2019, had following exchange regarding the proposed Ukrainian statement:

[8/13/19, 10:26:44 AM] Kurt Volker: Special attention should be paid to the problem of interference in the political processes of the United States especially with the alleged involvement of some Ukrainian politicians. I want to declare that this is unacceptable. We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections, which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future.

[8/13/19, 10:27:20 AM] Gordon Sondland: Perfect. Lets send to Andrey after our call

This appears to be the US officials discussing how Trump’s political priorities should be placed into an official statement from the Ukrainian President. The irony of the idea that such an investigation would prevent future meddling in US elections is that the investigation itself, by targeting Biden, is election meddling.

  • Confirming Desire to Reference 2016 Election and Burisma: On August 17, 2019, Ambassadors Volker and Sondland had the following exchange in which they discussed their message to Ukraine:

[8/17/19, 3:06:19 PM] Gordon Sondland: Do we still want Ze to give us an unequivocal draft with 2016 and Boresma?

[8/17/19, 4:34:21 PM] Kurt Volker: That’s the clear message so far .. .

Message from whom? It’s not clear whether this is a reference to the message given to Sondland and Volker from Trump and Giuliani, or the message they’re communicating to the Ukrainians.

[8/17/19, 4:34:39 PM] Kurt Volker: I’ m hoping we can put something out there that causes him to respond with that

[8/17/19, 4:41:09 PM] Gordon Sondland: Unless you think otherwise I will return Andreys call tomorrow and suggest they send us a clean draft.

This appears to be evidence of a back and forth between the Americans and the Ukrainians on a draft statement for Zelensky to issue. The Americans are concerned it does not unequivocally mention the Mueller probe origins and Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company that hired Hunter Biden to sit on its board in 2014.

  • Ukrainian Official Shares Press Report of U.S. Withholding Military Assistance: On August 28, President Zelensky’s aide, Andrey Yermak, texted Ambassador Volker a news story entitled, “Trump Holds Up Ukraine Military Aid Meant to Confront Russia”:

[8/29/19, 2:28:19 AM] Andrey Yermak: Need to talk with you

[8/29/19, 3:06:14 AM] Andrey Yennak:

[8/29/19, 6:55:04 AM] Kurt Volker: Hi Andrey – absolutely. When is good for you?

CNN has reported that Trump moved to withhold funding from Ukraine back in June, but in the message above Ukrainian aides appeared to be learning about it from (or at the least were surprised to read it in) a US news story in late August.

  • President Trump Cancels Trip to Meet President Zelensky: On August 30, Ambassador Taylor informed Ambassador Volker that President Trump had canceled his planned visit to Warsaw, Poland, where he was to meet with President Zelensky. Ambassadors Volker and Sondland discussed an alternative plan for Vice President Pence to meet with President Zelensky on September 1:

[8/3 0/19, 12:14 :57 AM] Bill Taylor: Trip canceled

[8/30/19, 12:16:02 AM] Kurt Volker: Hope VPOTUS keeps the bilat - and tees up WH visit…

Trump canceled his trip to remain in Washington as Hurricane Dorian threatened the eastern seaboard. Taylor and Volker appear to be going back and forth with the Ukrainians on a draft statement from Zelensky to convince Trump of his intentions and the members of the Trump administration were concerned it did not unequivocally mention the Mueller probe origins and Burisma

[8/30/19, 12:16:18 AM] Kurt Volker: And hope Gordon and Perry still going…

[8/30/19, 5:31:14 AM] Gordon Sondland: I am going. Pompeo is speaking to Potus today to see if he can go.

On September 1, Ambassador Taylor sought clarification of the requirements for a White House visit:

[9/1/19, 12:08:57 PM] Bill Taylor: Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?

[9/1/19, 12:42:29 PM] Gordon Sondland: Call me

Taylor out and out says what has felt like the subtext for a lot of these messages — that Trump’s decision to release US aid would depend on Zelensky pursuing the Biden investigation. Sondland would rather talk about it on the phone. Trump has said repeatedly there was no quid pro quo. Taylor will return to this key question again later.

  • State Department Officials on Security Assistance and the Ukraine “Interview”: On September 8, Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Sondland, and Ambassador Volker had the following exchange:

[9/8/19, 11:20:32 AM] Gordon Sondland: Guys multiple convos with Ze, Potus. Lets talk

[9/8/19, 11:21:41 AM] Bill Taylor: Now is fine with me

[9/8/19, 11:26:13 AM] Kurt Volker: Try again—could not hear

[9/8/19, 11:40:11 AM] Bill Taylor: Gordon and I just spoke. I can brief you if you and Gordon don’t connect

[9/8/19, 12:37:28 PM] Bill Taylor: The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)

What interview? How or was it made clear that Ukrainians had to say something in an interview in order to get the security assistance? The Russians would love for Ukraine not to get the security assistance. And is Taylor’s parenthetical serious? Would he actually have quit if the military assistance had not been given to Ukraine?

  • State Department Officials on Withholding Security Assistance: On September 9, 2019, Ambassador Taylor and Ambassador Sondland had the following exchange regarding the withholding of military assistance to Ukraine:

[9/9/19, 12:31:06 AM] Bill Taylor: The message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. Thus my nightmare scenario.

Taylor, an experienced diplomat, is raising concerns about how this all looks to the Russians — who closely monitor any US interaction with Ukraine.

[9/9/19, 12:34:44 AM] Bill Taylor: Counting on you to be right about this interview, Gordon.

[9/9/19, 12:37:16 AM] Gordon Sondland: Bill, I never said I was “right”. I said we are where we are and believe we have identified the best pathway forward. Lets hope it works.

[9/9/19, 12:47:11 AM] Bill Taylor: As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.

This is the single key passage in these text message excerpts. It shows the top US government representative in Kiev believed the administration was withholding aid in exchange for helping Trump’s campaign.

[9/9/19, 5:19:35 AM] Gordon Sondland: Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign I suggest we stop the back and forth by text If you still have concerns I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly. Thanks.

Sondland said Taylor was mistaken about Trump’s intentions, and he absolutely did not want all of this in a text chain. If the timestamps above are correct, it took him hours to respond to Taylor or he was asleep. His response feels like an official statement rather than a conversation. We have learned that, at the very least, Tayolor, a seasoned diplomat, agreed with the whistleblower that Trump’s pressure on Zelensky was linked to withholding of the aid. Trump says he just wanted Europe to do more. It’s important to remember in all of this that Trump’s decision to raise Biden with Zelensky at all, is a radical break from the norms of presidential conduct that impacts the US relationship with a key foreign country.