U.S. State Department officials were informed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was feeling pressure from the Trump administration to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden even before the July phone call that has led to impeachment hearings in Washington, two people with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press.
In early May, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, including then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, were told Zelensky was seeking advice on how to navigate the difficult position he was in, the two people told the The Associated Press.
He was concerned President Donald Trump and associates were pressing him to take action that could affect the 2020 U.S. presidential race, the two individuals said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic and political sensitivity of the issue.
State Department officials in Kyiv and Washington were briefed on Zelensky's concerns at least three times, the two sources said. Notes summarizing his worries were circulated within the department, they said.
The briefings and the notes show that U.S. officials knew early that Zelensky was feeling pressure to investigate Biden, even though the Ukrainian leader later denied it in a joint news conference with Trump in September.
The U.S. briefings — and contemporaneous notes on Zelensky's early anxiety about Trump's interest in an investigation — suggest that Democrats have evidence in reach to contradict Republican arguments that Zelensky never felt pressure to investigate Biden.
The Associated Press reported last month about Zelensky's meeting on May 7 with, two top aides, as well as Andriy Kobolyev, head of the state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz, and Amos Hochstein, an American who sits on the Ukrainian company's supervisory board. Ahead of the meeting, Hochstein told Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador, why he was being called in.
Zelensky's office has not replied to requests for comment about the May 7 meeting.
Notes circulated internally at the State Department indicated that Zelensky tried to mask the real purpose of his May 7 meeting, which was to talk about political problems with the White House, by saying it was about energy, the two people with knowledge of the matter said.
After the meeting with Zelensky, Hochstein separately briefed two U.S. Embassy officials, Suriya Jayanti and Joseph Pennington, about Zelensky's concerns, said the two people who spoke to the AP. Jayanti and Pennington took notes on the meeting, the people said.
Hochstein told the embassy officials about Zelensky's concerns and then traveled to Washington to update Yovanovitch on the meeting. The ambassador, who was facing a smear campaign, had just been called back to Washington, where she was informed that she no longer had the confidence of the president. She was relieved of her duties as ambassador on May 20.