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Kurt Volker, U.S. Special Envoy To Ukraine, Resigns

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Just one day after the release of the whistleblower's report, Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, has resigned. The report alleged Volker, as a State Department official, connected Rudy Giuliani with one of the Ukraine president's top aides. Volker has not yet commented on the report. Here to talk more is Nahal Toosi, foreign affairs correspondent for Politico.

Welcome to the program.

NAHAL TOOSI: Thank you.

CORNISH: Let's start with the report itself. What does it allege about Volker's role in all of this?

TOOSI: Well, actually, it has a pretty sympathetic view of Volker. It says that he helped try to contain the damage caused by Giuliani's interactions with the Ukrainian officials. But it also makes it clear that Volker was aware of these interactions. And so what is still unclear is who really came up with the idea of connecting Giuliani with the Ukrainian officials.

CORNISH: And Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, has addressed this. Here he is on Fox reading text messages from Volker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUDY GIULIANI: Well, here's Kurt saying, great. I will tell Yermak, and he'll visit with you there. Thanks. Mr. Mayor, how was your meeting with Andriy? Do you have time for a call? Best, Kurt. Now, they're all over me.

CORNISH: So the Andriy he mentions is President Zelenskiy's aide, Andriy Yermak. And we should mention that Volker has not denied that he sent these messages. What do we know about the connection between these two men? I mean, Giuliani is claiming he was acting at the State Department's request.

TOOSI: Right. Well, as you said, Volker has not commented. And those things that Giuliani has said do not necessarily prove who came up with the original idea. One thing that seems to be clear is that you had this new Ukrainian president. And around the same time that he won election, Rudy Giuliani was going around saying all sorts of things about Ukraine. And it seemed as if the Ukrainians thought to themselves, this is a man who's very close to Donald Trump. We need to get to know him. We need to establish a connection, so it's entirely possible that they reached out to Kurt Volker and said, can you connect us...

CORNISH: Right.

TOOSI: ...To...

CORNISH: And this is at a time when they very much need aid, right? I mean, they've suffered greatly in their altercation with Russia.

TOOSI: That's correct. And, actually, to be clear, the State Department has said that it was the Ukrainians who reached out to Volker and said, connect us with Giuliani. And so, yes, they needed aide. They also just needed to make sure that President Trump was on their side and knew who they were. I mean, the U.S. president is such a huge figure on global foreign policy that if you're the new Ukrainian leader, you definitely want to get to know him. And if Rudy Giuliani is his personal lawyer and going around talking about Ukraine all the time, it's hard to avoid him.

CORNISH: Speaking of that, can you tell us about Volker's background? I mean, he was appointed under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to be a special representative. It was, like, a part-time, unpaid position. Remind us Volker's qualifications.

TOOSI: Well, he is a former career foreign service officer, spent years working on Europe and other related issues. He was temporarily the U.S. ambassador to NATO. He served under Republican and Democratic administrations, but he's known to be aligned with Republicans. And...

CORNISH: I heard him described as a Russia hawk.

TOOSI: Yes, absolutely. And that's one reason that when the Trump administration announced his appointment, a lot of people, including Democrats in Washington, were really happy because they were like, well, given Trump's, you know, supposed softness on Russia, they thought it was great that you had Volker, who is a hawk, taking over this portfolio to deal with the negotiations between the Russians and the Ukrainians.

CORNISH: Just a short time left - Volker was due to appear before several House committees. What would they want to ask him about?

TOOSI: Well, I think they're going to want to know exactly what role he played and the rest of the State Department played in facilitating these contacts with Giuliani. And they're going to probably want to know as much as they can about anything else that President Trump may have done in the relationship with Ukraine. And just to be clear, even though he has now resigned, I'm told from people on the Hill that they still expect him to show up for the deposition.

CORNISH: That's Nahal Toosi, foreign affairs correspondent for Politico.

Thank you for coming in.

TOOSI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.