Who's Who In The Texts Between Government Officials Working On U.S.-Ukraine Relations

Oct 4, 2019
Originally published on October 4, 2019 6:57 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, context, as they say, is everything. And unless you are very well-versed in the who's who of the State Department, you may have questions about the people involved in those text messages made publicly yesterday by the House Intelligence Committee. Those exchanges were, of course, about Ukraine and what the administration wanted to do regarding Ukraine. Thankfully for us, our State Department correspondent Michele Kelemen is very well-versed in these players. And she is here now to explain.

Hey, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hi. So OK, I want you to start with the three diplomats who were texting each other - Kurt Volker, Gordon Sondland and William Taylor. What jobs were they each occupying at the time that these texts were flying?

KELEMEN: So Kurt Volker was, until he resigned last week, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine - you know, helping Ukraine push back at Russian aggression. He's a former foreign service officer. But this was a political job and a volunteer one, by the way. Gordon Sondland is a businessman and a Republican fundraiser who's Trump's ambassador to the European Union. He and Volker were the ones who were facilitating meetings between Trump's private lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the incoming Ukrainian government.

KELLY: OK. And number three is, as I mentioned, William Taylor. He's a career diplomat, right?

KELEMEN: Yeah, that's right. He's a longtime diplomat, a Vietnam War veteran, and he was ambassador to Ukraine a decade ago. He was brought back by the Trump administration as the acting ambassador this summer. That was after Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador that Trump didn't like, was abruptly brought home.

KELLY: OK. When you read these text messages, Michele, what do you see in them that stakes out differing opinions, the differing views, differing influences each of these characters may have been coming under?

KELEMEN: Well, Taylor seems to be the one that comes out looking the best in these exchanges because he seems to be building a record through his text messages. So on September 1, for instance, he writes, are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations? Sondland writes back, just call me. On September 8, Taylor writes, the nightmare is they give the interview and don't get the security assistance. The Russians love it. And I quit, he adds in parentheses.

KELLY: What interview are they talking about there?

KELEMEN: This was all part of the effort to get the Ukrainians to go on record and promise some investigations. Remember; the stated U.S. policy at the time is to push back against Russian aggression in Ukraine. It's not to tie Ukraine instead of Russia to the 2016 election meddling, which is what Giuliani appears to be doing throughout the year.

KELLY: What has been the reaction among career diplomats and staffers at the State Department to the revelation of these text messages overnight?

KELEMEN: Well, career people, both current and former, are writing things on Twitter calling, you know, Taylor a national treasure or American heroes. Career State Department officials are in a very difficult spot with this administration. You know, they can quit, they can blow the whistle, of course. But you have a secretary of state who's gone out of his way to make sure there's no daylight between him and Trump. And Pompeo, for instance, did not publicly support ambassador Marie Yovanovitch when she faced a smear campaign by Rudy Giuliani and others, including President Trump's son. Yovanovitch was recalled back to Washington. She is still employed at the State Department, but she's at Georgetown University for the year.

KELLY: I was curious about how typical this is for U.S. diplomacy to be carried out via text messages. Do diplomats usually discuss matters of state like this?

KELEMEN: Well, you'll remember there was the Clinton email scandal, so people have moved off a little bit from email. But diplomats do have to create a record. And all of that record is supposed to be public. And I think it seems like Bill Taylor was clearly informed about that.

KELLY: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.

Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

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