We’ve all done it — and by “it,” we mean, sending a text you probably shouldn’t have and then, just when you think it can’t get any worse, realize that the text has been shared with what feels like the entire world. Drama, drama, drama.
Well, it turns out you’re not alone, and State Department officials have to live out that mortification, too. On October 3, House Democrats released texts they’d obtained from Ambassador Kurt Volker that discuss pressuring the Ukrainian president into interfering with the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The texts are between Volker, the former Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, and other state department officials including William Taylor, the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine; Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union; Andrey Yermak, an aide to Ukrainian President Zelensky; Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer; and others. To put it mildly, they are… not pretty.
“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,” three House Committee Democrats wrote in a letter attached to the released texts, which had previously been partially leaked to the media earlier that day. “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.”
“Our investigation will continue in the coming days,” the letter reads. “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.”
Here are five key takeaways from the least fun group chat of the century:
1. It confirmed much of what we already knew
We knew, from phone call transcripts and Trump literally just saying it, that the president wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. But these texts revealed that top State Department diplomats worked closely with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to get Ukraine to investigate.
2. Speaking of Rudy Giuliani...
Guiliani has been at the center of much of the controversy — from tweeting out texts to going to Ukraine to meet with officials despite having no actual political office to do so — and these texts show us a glimpse of what extent he was involved. On July 19, Ambassador Volker texted Giuliani to thank him for breakfast and to introduce him to Yermak.
“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?,” Volker wrote, referring to Giuliani’s tenure as the Mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001. (He also signed the text, “Kurt,” perhaps on the off-chance Rudy didn’t have his contact saved in his phone?)
Giuliani and Yermak agreed to talk on July 22, and later that evening, Volker told Ambassadors Sonland and Taylor that Giuliani was now trying to connect Trump and Zelensky.
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.”
Volker: “In the meantime Rudy is now advocating for phone call.”
Trump spoke to Zelensky on the phone on July 25, just three days later. And we all know how that played out.
3. An official said it would be “crazy” to withhold assistance for help with a political campaign
On September 1, weeks after Trump spoke to Zelensky, Taylor asked Sonland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Meaning, loosely, “Are you saying that if Ukraine doesn’t investigate the Bidens, then you’ll pull $400,000 in aide to the country?”
Sonland said “call me” in response because perhaps someone finally realized that maybe all of this was too incriminating to put down in writing.
Then, on September 9, Taylor said: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Trump denies that he used military aid as leverage to get investigations from Ukraine.
Sonland said, “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.”
4. Another official said the moves could be good for Russia
Taylor talked about an “interview” that mentioned withholding help from Ukraine and said: “The nightmare is they give the interview and don't get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)”
This is yikes-inducing for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most pressing is this: Ukraine and Russia do not have a great relationship right now, which is why Ukraine is so vulnerable to U.S. aide in the first place.
5. These are by no means all of the texts
Like much of the information we’re getting during this investigation, this is a lot — but not all — of the information Congress has. Democrats are reportedly scrubbing the rest of the text messages to remove some sensitive information from them. In a letter attached to the released texts, three House Democrats said that the excerpts from the texts are “only a subset of the full body of the materials, which we hope to make public after a review for personally identifiable information.”
Read the texts for yourself below: