A top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a central figure in the current impeachment saga, disputed Democrats’ allegations that President Donald Trump pressured the Eastern European country into investigating allegations of corruption against former Vice President Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden.
Democrats have accused Trump of withholding millions in foreign aid to Kyiv in exchange for politically advantageous elections. Articles of impeachment were drafted against the president, according to House Democrats on Tuesday.
“We had a clear understanding that the aid has been frozen. We honestly said, ‘Okay, that’s bad, what’s going on here.’ We were told that they would figure it out. And after a certain amount of time the aid was unfrozen. We did not have the feeling that this aid was connected to any one specific issue,” Yermak told the magazine.
He then commented on the widely publicized House hearings.
“Of course, now, when I watch these shows on television, my name often comes up, and I see people there whom I recognize, whom I met and know,” he said, referring to the witness testimony. “That is their personal opinion, especially the positions they expressed while under oath. I have my own truth. I know what I know.”
Yermak disputed a claim from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who testified before the House Intelligence Committee that he met with Yermak in Poland.
“Gordon [Sondland] and I were never alone together,” he said about the alleged Warsaw meeting. “We bumped into each other in the hallway next to the escalator, as I was walking out.”
Several members of the U.S. and Ukrainian delegations were near. “And I remember—everything is fine with my memory—we talked about how well the meeting went. That’s all we talked about,” Yermak added.
Sondland’s lawyer told Time that the ambassador “stands by his prior testimony and will not comment further.”
Yermak’s comments come about a week after his boss, President Zelensky, denied there was any quid pro quo involved in his dealings with Trump, although he criticized the United States for withholding the aid.
“Look, I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing,” Zelensky told several news outlets in early December, including Time magazine.
Trump has highlighted Zelensky’s Time interview a number of times in the past week, including on Tuesday.
“[House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold] Nadler just said that I ‘pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 Election.’ Ridiculous, and he knows that is not true. Both the President & Foreign Minister of Ukraine said, many times, that there ‘WAS NO PRESSURE.’ Nadler and the Dems know this, but refuse to acknowledge!” the president tweeted.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said last month that aid and investigations were never linked.
“Ambassador Sondland did not tell us, and certainly did not tell me, about a connection between the assistance and the investigations. You should ask him,” Prystaiko said about Sondland, reported Reuters.
During his testimony, Sondland offered a conflicting account about whether there was any quid pro quo. In his opening statement, he said there was, in fact, quid pro quo in Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and investigations. However, when he was questioned by GOP lawmakers later in the day, Sondland said that no one told him that the aid was tied to investigations.
In September, after the impeachment inquiry was announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Zelensky said he didn’t feel pressured by Trump.
“I don’t want to be involved to democratic open elections of USA [sic],” Zelensky told reporters at the time. “You heard that we had good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. I think, and you read it, and nobody pushed me.”
Biden bragged in a video in 2018 that he pressured then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2016 into firing the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was probing Burisma, after threatening to withhold $1 billion in security aid. Obama officials and Biden have described Shokin as a corrupt official. Hunter Biden was on the board of Burisma from 2014 through 2019.
On Tuesday, Nadler said Trump tried to conceal evidence from Congress and betrayed the public trust, endangering the Constitution and the United States’ national security.
Nadler said Trump “engaged in unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry,” prompting the obstruction of Congress article.