“Everything we need from the president [Zelensky] that is, I will hire an honest prosecutor, he will investigate and dig up the evidence that currently exists and whether there is any other evidence of participation in the 2016 elections, and then the Biden thing must end, “Giuliani said loudly Audio. “… Someone in Ukraine has to take this seriously.”
The call was one of the opening volleys in Trump and his allies’ years of quest to harm Biden and undermine the 2020 election
process – by soliciting foreign interference, lying about voter fraud, trying to overturn the results and instigating the deadly January 6th attack on the Capitol.
There is an ongoing criminal investigation into Giuliani and his dealings with Ukraine, including whether he violated lobbying laws in coordinating with ex-officials who smeared him on the Bidens. The federal investigation intensified when the FBI searched Giuliani’s home and office in late April. It is unclear whether the call with Yermak is part of the investigation. Giuliani denies any wrongdoing.
A partial transcript of the phone call between Giuliani and Yermak was first published by BuzzFeed News in April, and Time Magazine first published some key excerpts from the call in February.
Again and again, Giuliani urged the investigation, according to the audio recording. Giuliani even said diplomatic relations between the US and Ukraine would improve if Zelenskyi opened the investigation. Giuliani and Volker suggested during the phone call that a public announcement could pave the way for Zelenskyj’s long-awaited visit to the US or for personal meetings with Giuliani.
“That would clean the air really well,” said Giuliani, according to the recording. “And I think it would allow me to come and allow me to speak to the President (Trump) to see what I can do to make sure that all misunderstandings are put aside … I kind of think that this could be a good thing for having a much better relationship. “
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The tape offers a firsthand perspective on one of the most momentous moments of Trump’s presidency. Occasionally one hears the Ukrainians shuffling through papers, during the conversation the phone that is dialed into the conversation rings a few times – but Yermak stays on the line with Giuliani.
Giuliani did not respond to CNN’s request to comment on the new audio tape. In the past he said he had done nothing wrong in Ukraine and was only pursuing the best interests of his clients. (He was Trump’s personal attorney at the time.) Giuliani also condemned Trump’s impeachment in the Ukraine affair, saying Trump’s conduct was constitutional and appropriate.
Flatter and arm twisting
The call marked a major moment in Giuliani’s efforts to damage Biden’s candidacy.
The former New York City mayor had spent months meeting with Ukrainians to find filth on the Biden family and confirm right-wing conspiracies that anti-Trump forces in Ukraine undermined his 2016 campaign. Giuliani met with officials considered untrustworthy by US diplomats in Ukraine, including Volker – but they told Giuliani what he wanted to hear.
Zelensky, who was a comedian and actor before entering politics, was sworn in as Ukrainian president in May 2019. Giuliani sounded eager to get in touch with the new president and his team.
A few weeks later, Volker put a call between Giuliani and Yermak, a longtime friend and advisor of Selenskyj. This was Giuliani’s first opportunity to pitch the Biden investigation in front of Zelenskyi’s small circle, who were keen to get to know Trump’s team and cement US military support for Ukraine’s ongoing war against Russian proxies in the east.
The call started with Giuliani explaining several tangled right-wing conspiracy theories about Biden’s diplomatic dealings in Ukraine and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
Giuliani advocated many of these theories, even after Volker warned him that the Ukrainian officials who provided him with information were not trustworthy, saying the corruption allegations against Biden were “simply not credible,” Volker said in the impeachment investigation by the House of Representatives .
“I received information from a reliable investigator, an international investigator, that there was some activity during the 2016 elections in Ukraine,” Giuliani told Yermak during the call, displacing the false claim that US embassy officials were trying to “Dirt on” to produce then-candidates Trump and Paul Manafort. “
“Another was involved with (George) Soros … Soros is apparently behind a lot,” Giuliani said, referring to the liberal billionaire and philanthropist who is the subject of many GOP conspiracies.
Giuliani also made the false claim that Biden acted corruptly as Vice President when in 2016 he urged Zelensky’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko to dismiss the country’s chief prosecutor that the Ukrainian prosecutor had to leave for being corrupt.)
“To me as a lawyer that sounds like bribery,” said Giuliani. “A bribe offers something of value in exchange for official action. So he offered Poroshenko a $ 1.2 billion loan guarantee, which is vital to Poroshenko’s success as president, in exchange for getting rid of an attorney general.”
Throughout the conversation, he added several disclaimers, such as saying he was not sure the corruption allegations against Biden were true and that he just wanted “the truth” to come out. Giuliani also told Yermak, “I’m not saying (Zelensky) what to say,” although on a few occasions he was very clear that Selensky should announce the specific investigations Trump wanted.
One of the Ukrainians who overheard the phone call, former Zelenskyi adviser Igor Novikov, told CNN last month that Giuliani’s antics threaten Ukraine’s already fragile national security situation.
“We are a country that has been at active war with Russia for many years,” he said. “Anything to do with trading favors in our bilateral relationship to include us in US domestic politics is morally, ethically, and possibly even legally wrong on many levels.”
“That would do us all good”
During the call, Yermak listened patiently and tried to redirect the conversation to official diplomatic matters, such as making appointments for Zelenskyi’s first official visit to the United States. But he also gave the Americans signals on the line that he would work to get the ball forward in the “investigation”.
“I am absolutely certain that as soon as the dates of President Zelensky’s upcoming visit to the United States are known, I will be ready to take over the preparations in person,” said Yermak. “And of course I am ready to come, and we can (be) personally (sit down) and discuss in detail all the questions, all these investigations that you listed in our conversation.”
The tone of the Americans changed – Giuliani and Volker liked what they heard. And Volker mentioned that Trump will speak to Selenskyj soon and congratulate him on his great parliamentary victory.
At the end of the call, it seemed to Yermak what had to happen to be on Trump’s side.
“I’m sure Zelensky will say that,” said Yermak, referring to the requests from Giuliani and Volker that Zelensky should mention the investigation in his upcoming phone call with Trump.
“Good,” said Volker.
“Believe me, Andriy, that would be good for all of us,” replied Giuliani. “That would get it moving very quickly. And I can assure you that, as for myself, I think you should talk this week.”
Volker said, “I’ll press on that too,” referring to getting Trump to call Zelenskyi.
Trump connected with Zelensky three days later, on July 25, 2019. According to a crude transcript released by the White House, Trump and Zelensky brought up some of the same unsubstantiated theories that Giuliani mentioned to Yermak. Trump said, “I want you to do us a favor” and investigate the allegations.
His conduct during that now infamous phone call with Zelenskyi sparked a whistleblower complaint from a U.S. intelligence agency alleging that Trump had abused his powers and requested foreign aid from Ukraine in the 2020 elections. The plan was unraveled within a few months, and Trump was indicted by the House of Representatives. He would be acquitted after a Senate trial.
CNN’s Zahra Ullah contributed to this story.