Trump Campaign’s 2016 Co-chair Recalls Preelection Meeting With Ukraine Lobbyists

Trump Campaign’s 2016 Co-chair Recalls Preelection Meeting With Ukraine Lobbyists
Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign co-chair, arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Dec. 12, 2017. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s campaign, during a 2016 meeting with a prominent pro-Ukraine advocacy group in Washington, made it clear that Trump wasn’t prepared to automatically send military aid to Ukraine to confront Russia, and this angered the Ukraine advocates in attendance, a Trump campaign co-chairman told The Epoch Times.

Sam Clovis, national co-chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign, said Trump’s position at the time was identical to the position that he took in withholding $250 million in approved aid from Ukraine while in office, based on his stated belief that NATO member countries should pay their fair share for their participation in the transnational defense alliance.

While Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO, it aspires to be one.

Clovis met with the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) in June 2016 in Washington. The New York-based group describes itself as “the largest representation of 1.5 million Americans of Ukrainian descent,” uniting “20 national organizations and over 70 branches nationwide.”

“They wanted us to ‘confront Russia’ and provide military aid to Ukraine,” Clovis told The Epoch Times in an interview. “We told them we couldn’t do anything until we had better information. I don’t think they were very happy with that.

“They asked us, very clearly and very forcefully, what we were going to do about Ukraine. I said we would take a look when the election was over, if we won, at what the situation was and we would evaluate that. It was not appropriate for us to be making policy decisions without the full information available on Ukraine.

“We made it very clear. One, we were not going to make a statement on Ukraine. Two, we expected the countries that are part of NATO to pay their load. And at the time, there were only five countries doing that.

“Right now, I think we are suffering mightily in a readiness perspective. I don’t think this nation needs to be the police force of the world. We have a lot of people in Congress, and we’re hearing a lot of chatter out there from the hawks that are globalists and they want us to go be the policeman of the world.

“It’s totally inappropriate to use the U.S. tax dollars on that. We need to make sure our allies are out there supporting their own defense, and our allies are protected by us. But it’s not appropriate for us to pay the bill for everybody else.”

Different Recollection

Andrij Dobrinsky, UCCA’s communications director, offered his own recollection of the June meeting, which he said involved himself and a handful of other members of his group.

“The main thing was about arming Ukraine, and there was something to the effect that Ukraine would be armed without limit,” Dobrinsky said, referring to his meeting with Clovis. “I don’t recall any kind of qualifier on that.”

Referring to Clovis’s claim that the campaign wouldn’t commit to funding weaponry, Dobrinsky said, “That is not my recollection.”

Then-candidate Trump quickly angered Dobrinsky’s group with one of his public statements on Crimea.

“Mr. Trump started talking about the fact that when he was asked about Crimea, he was not supportive of that return” of the territory to Ukraine from Russia, Dobrinsky said. “We reached out to Mr. Clovis, saying this is a clear difference in what you said, and then, Mr. Trump decided to say something different. Mr. Clovis had no response for us.”

Trump generated controversy during an ABC interview, in which he said: “[Putin is] not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.”

Trump added that Putin is “there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet.”

In an August 2016 statement promoting the Sixth Ukrainian World Forum, UCCA representative Roksolana Stojko-Lozynska said: “We addressed his co-chair, Mr. Sam Clovis, and expressed not only our surprise, but also our shock and indignation. His colleagues always apologize for his statements and tell us that, ‘He didn’t mean that,’ but then, we hear the same again.”
Politico later reported that “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire,” writing, “A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort, and Russia” during the 2016 campaign.

‘Tired of Paying the Bill’

Clovis said that the pro-Ukraine group’s recollection of the meeting is a “mischaracterization,” as evidenced by the fact that Trump or the campaign never put out a public statement committing to arming Ukraine, as Clovis said the group demanded.

“I did not say that we were going to support them if the candidate was elected,” he said.

“They also mischaracterized what the candidate was saying about that effort in general. What he was saying was, ‘We were not going to be the policemen of the world.’ I think they interpreted what he said as saying he was not going to support Ukraine.

“They were very upset with the fact that we would not make a commitment before the election.

“It would be irresponsible. It would be foolish. We were tired of paying the bill for everyone else.”

Clovis noted that the pro-Ukraine group was also “upset” about foreign policy language in the 2016 Republican platform.

“His position has not changed,” Clovis said about Trump. “We were clear in the campaign we were expecting our NATO allies to pay their fair share. The president was absolutely right to make those demands. I think from a foreign policy perspective, I think he is doing exactly what he said he was going to do. I think that has been a surprise to many people in the press and to members of Congress. For many people in the establishment in both parties, it’s a shock for a businessman running for office to do exactly what he said he was going to do.

“I met with them because they expressed their displeasure with what went into the platform.”

When the group reached out again, Clovis said he repeated the campaign’s position.

“I reiterated that the candidate was not going to do anything until we had more information,” he said.

“You end up with a situation where you have countries where you have smaller local governments that won’t buy their protection because they know that the cities and the states will cover them, so these are the kinds of things that we had talked about with the candidate. We felt it was important for the Trump administration if we won the election to make it very clear that our allies needed to pay their fair share, because it was not appropriate, when they had made commitments decades ago to pay their fair share in their own defense.

“The president was very clear in the campaign that was what he was going to do.

“We were his staff, and we were responsible for coming up with the policies. We discussed it with the candidate and the candidate agreed. It was not Trump directing us to say anything. ... That was what we passed on to embassies, organizations that were lobbying us, so they knew exactly where we stood. When we were talking to embassies, we made it clear it was their responsibility to pay their fair share.” Clovis noted that he had “hundreds” of meetings during the campaign.

“We told them that it was hard for us to continue, we need to look at the alliance, if these guys were not going to pay their fair share. The president has been consistent.

“The president is very clear in what he thinks. We would suggest a position, and he would either agree or disagree, and if he agreed, I think he really left it to us to make sure he articulated his point of view correctly.”

He remained with the president-elect through the transition period before accepting a position with the Department of Agriculture, which he left last year.