Kurt D. Volker has resigned as the Trump administration’s special envoy for Ukraine, a person with knowledge of the event said Saturday. He is the first casualty of Congress’s impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s conduct with that country.
Volker tendered his resignation to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, within hours of an announcement from three House committees that the veteran diplomat was among State Department officials who would be compelled to testify.
That committee has set a hearing for Thursday for Volker, one of several officials whose interactions with Trump or Ukrainian officials are outlined in a whistleblower complaint made public last week.
The impeachment inquiry will examine whether Trump abused his office to lean on Ukraine’s leader to investigate Trump’s political rivals, and whether the White House tried to cover it up. House Democrats hope to conclude their work by the end of the year.
The State Department has not commented on Volker’s resignation, which was first reported by the State Press, Arizona State University’s student newspaper. The departure was confirmed by a person familiar with the events who requested anonymity to discuss a personnel matter.
Volker, a former career diplomat who heads the McCain Institute at ASU, had worked at the Ukraine job part time for the past two years.
He worked for months to facilitate a meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the young anti-corruption reformer elected in April. Despite Volker’s efforts, that meeting that may have been held up as part of Trump’s pressure campaign.
The committee is expected to examine Volker’s role in facilitating contacts between Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani and officials of the new Ukrainian government this past summer. Those efforts appear to have been aimed at separating Giuliani’s interest in investigating Biden from official U.S. dealings with the new Ukrainian government.
Volker was apparently not on a July telephone call between Trump and Zelensky that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week.
But Volker could be a significant figure in the inquiry because of his potential knowledge of Giuliani’s efforts, which Giuliani has claimed without corroboration had come at the behest of the State Department. If Volker was concerned about Giuliani and how he could shield Ukraine from any damaging interactions with the president’s private attorney, House Democrats will want to know.
Volker, according to the complaint, traveled to Kiev the day after Trump’s July 25 call to Zelensky. He was accompanied by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a Trump ally.
“Based on multiple readouts of these meetings recounted to me by various U.S. officials, Ambassadors Volker and Sondland reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy,” the whistleblower wrote.
Giuliani has long been a proponent of unsubstantiated theories that Biden’s son Hunter profited improperly from work in Ukraine and that as vice president Joe Biden helped wave off a Ukraine corruption investigation that could have ensnared his son. There is no evidence of that. There is also no evidence to substantiate the separate claim aired by Trump last week that officials in Ukraine had helped his 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, or that deleted emails from her time as secretary of state might reside in Ukraine.
Giuliani has published images of messages he exchanged with Volker to refute the notion that he was freelancing.
After a brief stint as a CIA analyst, Volker joined the State Department in 1988 and worked largely on European issues. He rose to become European director at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, whom he served for less than a year as U.S. ambassador to NATO before being replaced after Barack Obama’s election.
Volker kept his job as executive director of the McCain Institute, dedicated to developing “character-driven leaders” in memory of the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), after he was tapped in 2017 as Ukraine envoy by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.