WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Wednesday questioned John Sulllivan, the nominee to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Russian Federation, at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Murphy pressed Sullivan on his knowledge of who directed the policy to press the Ukrainian government to open specific investigations into topics connected to the Biden family and alternative theories about who interfered in the 2016 elections. He further pressed Sullivan on why he did not question the existence of a shadow foreign policy on Ukraine being run in part by individuals under his jurisdiction.
Murphy asked: “These as I mentioned, were individuals acting under the auspices of the State Department and so I think it's important for the Committee to understand where their authority came from. We talked a little bit about this in our private meeting. Did you order Volker, Sondland, and Taylor to coordinate with Rudy Giuliani in pressing the Ukrainians for these investigations into Burisma or the origins of the 2016 interference?”
Murphy concluded: “[Y]our testimony as to your lack of interest in asking questions about why people under your control were being given direction that did not come from you or the Secretary, and your lack of attempts to delve into what the policy actually was during this period of time—you’re accepting hypotheticals but you don't seem to have an opinion as to whether it actually was the policy of the United States, which by the testimony that the House has received clearly was, to encourage these investigations, I do think is concerning.”
Murphy traveled to Ukraine in September, where he met directly with President Zelensky and discussed the U.S. military aid being withheld and Rudy Giuliani’s pressure to investigate Hunter Biden. In May and following reports that Rudy Giuliani was traveling to Ukraine, Murphy sent a letter to U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch to submit an official congressional inquiry to the Trump administration about why a private citizen was traveling to Ukraine to work with a foreign government in a Trump campaign re-election effort. After news broke of the whistleblowers complaint, Murphy again sent a letter to the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) to open an investigation into the matter. This month, Murphy wrote an op-ed about the Trump administration’s systematic abandonment of Ukraine.
A complete transcript of Murphy’s exchange with Mr. Sullivan is below:
MURPHY: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Good to see you again. Ambassador Sullivan—thank you very much for your service to the country.
“You've been asked, I think, a version of this question in a couple different ways, but let me ask it specific to the events that we now know took place over the course of the summer and fall.
“We've learned now with some certainty, as you've testified, that employees of the State Department, people under your supervision – specifically Kurt Volker, Gordon Sondland, and Bill Taylor – were pressing the Ukrainian government to open specific investigations into topics connected to the Biden family and alternative theories about who interfered in the 2016 elections. Knowing what you know now about what was happening and those specific requests that were being made. Do you think the actions of those individuals were proper?”
SULLIVAN: “What they were doing back then, was it proper? I'd have to think about that. I don't think that, as I've testified previously, if the concept of investigating a political rival as opposed to encouraging anti-corruption reform, which is legitimate, I think, and consistent with our values, that that would be inconsistent with our values.”
MURPHY: “And so in this case, they were specifically requesting investigations connected to a political rival of the President of the United States. And so your testimony is that those requests were improper?”
SULLIVAN: “To the extent that they were made, I'm going to have to assume that what I read in the paper, I'm not present at the depositions, but what has been reported in the press, have said as a general matter in response to one of the first questions from Senator Menendez—that investigation of a political—asking a foreign government to investigate a domestic political rival, as opposed to as part of a larger anti-corruption campaign, which we've been engaged in, encouraging the Ukrainians for years. Those are two different things.”
MURPHY: “And do you have any reason to believe that the reports in the press and the testimony of Ambassador Taylor are wrong?”
SULLIVAN: “I don't. I also don't know that they're accurate. I just I don't know one way. I will except for purposes, that hypothetically, if they are, I'll answer the question now. I just don't know personally.”
MURPHY: “These as I mentioned, were individuals acting under the auspices of the State Department and so I think it's important for the Committee to understand where their authority came from. We talked a little bit about this in our private meeting. Did you order Volker, Sondland, and Taylor to coordinate with Rudy Giuliani in pressing the Ukrainians for these investigations into Burisma or the origins of the 2016 interference?”
SULLIVAN: “I did not.”
MURPHY: “Did Secretary Pompeo order these individuals to request these investigations?”
SULLIVAN: “Not to my knowledge.”
MURPHY: “Did John Bolton order these individuals to coordinate with Rudy Giuliani in pressing for these investigations?”
SULLIVAN: “I don't have a basis to answer. I don't believe so. But I don't know that he did. I have no reason to think that he did. I just I don't have a factual basis to provide a definitive answer.”
MURPHY: “But clearly, if these are people, under your supervision, you didn't ask them to undertake these activities. I would imagine you would want to get to the bottom of that. And so, what is your understanding as to where their instructions were coming from if they weren't coming from you or the Secretary of State?”
SULLIVAN: “Well, they're getting their instructions, Ambassador or Chargé, Ambassador Taylor in Kyiv, is getting instructions from the Secretary, from me, and from our Undersecretary for—“
MURPHY: “But on this case. You testified the neither you nor the secretary asked them to request the specific investigations. And so where did those instructions?”
SULLIVAN: “I don't know.”
MURPHY: “And have you made any attempt to find out?”
SULLIVAN: “Since I learned of it in September? I have not.”
MURPHY: “I think that's curious, if people operating outside of your specific instructions. I think it's curious that you would not try to find out. Let me just ask a few more quick questions. Is it currently the policy of the United States that Ukraine must conduct investigations into Burisma and CrowdStrike?”
MURPHY: “Why not? If it was, this was the policy over the summer. So why is it not the policy now?”
SULLIVAN: “I had accepted as a hypothetical that that was our policy, I don't know that. It is not our policy. Our policy has been to encourage anti-corruption reform, generally in Ukraine. That's something that I've worked on for over two years, but never with respect to a particular investigation or company or individual.”
MURPHY: “Is Rudy Giuliani currently carrying out any diplomatic business on behalf of the United States?”
SULLIVAN: “Not to my knowledge.”
MURPHY: “So, Mr. Sullivan, I have a great deal of respect for the work that you have done. You've toiled under difficult circumstances and I'm, frankly pleased that you're willing to take on this difficult assignment. But your testimony as to your lack of interest in asking questions about why people under your control were being given direction that did not come from you or the Secretary, and your lack of attempts to delve into what the policy actually was during this period of time—you’re accepting hypotheticals but you don't seem to have an opinion as to whether it actually was the policy of the United States, which by the testimony that the House has received clearly was, to encourage these investigations, I do think is concerning. But, again, I appreciate the service you've given the country and I appreciate your testimony today.”
MURPHY: “Yeah, thank you just a few more additional questions. You testified earlier that it is not without precedent for the president to use individuals outside of the State Department to conduct conversations with foreign governments. And that is true.
“There's a long history of presidents seeking advice outside of the State Department and occasionally using channels outside of the State Department. I would argue that there's really no precedent for what Rudy Giuliani was doing, which was using his access to the president as a means to try to score political points on the president's behalf with foreign nations. But for the purposes of this hearing, Rudy Giuliani does not actually say that he was acting simply at the direction of the president. He says he was acting at the direction of the State Department. In fact, he says, ‘you know who I did it at the request of’ speaking about his conversations with Ukraine, ‘the State Department. I never talked to Ukrainian officials until the State Department called me and asked me to do it.’
“So did the State Department call Rudy Giuliani and ask him to have these conversations with Ukrainian officials?”
SULLIVAN: “My recollection is that that's a reference to his communications with Kurt Volker, who is a State Department Special Representative for Ukraine, and perhaps even Gordon Sondland as well. But I think, in particular, my recollection is that quote, is in reference to communications he's had with Kurt Volker.”
MURPHY: “You nor the secretary asked Rudy Giuliani to carry out any diplomatic efforts?”
SULLIVAN: “I did not and I'm not aware that the secretary did either.”
MURPHY: “And so to the extent that he's reporting back to individuals, you believe he's referring to the others we've discussed?”
SULLIVAN: “Kurt Volker in particular.”
MURPHY: “The second question is, I want to support your nomination, you know that I believe in you as a public servant. I'm having a little hard time understanding your reluctance to make a conclusion as to what the policy of the United States was over the course of the summer.
“Because you've seen the July 25 transcript, you've read the testimony, you've seen the text, and I hope that you've conducted your own investigation. So let me just sort of ask the question I asked earlier again.
“Is it your understanding that it was the policy of the United States to press the Ukrainian government to conduct investigations into Burisma and alternative theories about the 2016 election interference? I understand that you may not have been part of these efforts. But is it now your opinion that that was the policy of the United States having read the transcript of the call with the president and seeing all this other evidence?”
SULLIVAN: “So the president has been clear in his subsequent statements about there not being what, the phrase that's been used is a ‘quid pro quo.’ We're talking about the foreign-“
MURPHY: “That's not what I'm asking.”
SULLIVAN: “I understand you're talking about the policy.”
MURPHY: “Was it our policy to request these specific investigations related to Burisma and related to re-litigating, or at least looking into, alternative theories about the 2016 election interference?”
SULLIVAN: “Sure. So my understanding is that there was, as part of our general anti-corruption policy, encouraging anti-corruption reform in Ukraine, from reading the transcript of, or the summary of the July 25th call, that looking at, as the chairman mentioned, that gas company and board member and U.S. person involvement was certainly mentioned by the president and therefore, part of U.S. policy. What the president denied was that there was any quid pro quo.”
MURPHY: “Do you have knowledge that the president has ever raised any other specific corruption investigations that he wishes Ukraine to undertake, other than the investigation related to Joe Biden and the investigation related to the 2016 election interference?”
SULLIVAN: “Not specific investigations, but he has been emphatic about the need for anti-corruption reform generally, in Ukraine.”
MURPHY: “I think, again, I think this is, as we sort of move forward on how to proceed as a Senate. I just don't buy this idea that there was this general interest in corruption given the fact that the president has only raised two of these issues in the phone call, but I have no doubt that you care about the issue of corruption in Russia, Ukraine and the region and I hope you pursue it vigorously, as you have testified to before this committee.”