MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
One of the diplomats at the center of the impeachment inquiry is set to appear tomorrow before the House committees investigating the whistleblower complaint. Kurt Volker was, until last week, the Trump administration's envoy to Ukraine. His job was to promote a peace process between Russia and Ukraine, but he also found himself helping Trump's lawyer on a quest to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on Trump's rivals. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: A former foreign service officer whose career focused on Europe, Kurt Volker was an ambassador to NATO at the end of the Bush administration. By the time Russia annexed Crimea and fomented an uprising in eastern Ukraine, Volker was running the McCain Institute and was critical of the Obama administration's approach. Here's how he put it in an interview in 2015 on the sidelines of a conference in Munich.
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KURT VOLKER: The most frequent phrase you hear out of mouths now is there is no military solution. And I think we just have to reject that. We are seeing a military solution play out before our eyes on the ground in Ukraine, and it happens to be one that we don't like. It's Putin's military solution.
KELEMEN: Volker was brought into the State Department as special Ukraine envoy at a time when the upper diplomatic ranks were thinning. And he faced a daunting challenge with President Trump, according to Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
ANDREW WEISS: Donald Trump came into office with a very bad attitude about Ukraine. As a candidate, he repeatedly talked about how Crimea would have been happier being part of Russia and how basically Ukraine was secondary to his all-important goal of resetting relations with the Kremlin.
KELEMEN: Weiss says Volker came in against that backdrop.
WEISS: And in a very bureaucratically nimble way put U.S.-Ukraine relations on a track of continuity with what the previous administration had been doing, plus a couple of added incentives, including these much talked about shipments of anti-tank weapons from the Pentagon.
KELEMEN: The job was a part-time one. Volker held on to positions at the McCain Institute and at a major lobbying firm with ties both to Ukraine and to defense contractors. Volker had to recuse himself from those deals as he made a big push to get defensive weapons to Ukraine.
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VOLKER: In Ukraine's case, it is particularly important because it is under attack every day. And so it has a desperate need to strengthen these defensive capabilities and prevent any further loss of territory, hold the line and hopefully create the conditions where peace can again be negotiated.
KELEMEN: He was speaking there in May before President Trump temporarily delayed the military aid package. Lawmakers are now investigating whether Trump used that aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Volker's role in helping Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, make contacts with the new Ukrainian government is also under investigation. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee who traveled to Ukraine recently, sees Volker as a patriot.
CHRIS MURPHY: My esteem for Kurt, frankly, makes me even more disappointed that he has become part of this mess and perhaps facilitated the corruption of the State Department.
KELEMEN: Volker resigned as special representative last week, and Murphy is calling on him to speak up now.
MURPHY: I'm glad that Kurt stepped down, and now he needs to, you know, fess up to what he knows and what he did.
KELEMEN: The whistleblower complaint says Volker was trying to help the incoming Ukrainian president navigate President Trump's demands. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters today his department was carrying now U.S. foreign policy.
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MIKE POMPEO: That's what our team, including Ambassador Volker, were focused on, was taking down a threat that Russia poses there in Ukraine. It was about helping the Ukrainians to get graft out and corruption outside of their government.
KELEMEN: And he says that will continue despite what Pompeo calls, quote, "all this noise." Kurt Volker has not commented publicly in weeks. His deposition Thursday will be behind closed doors.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.