Pompeo plays clean-up in Ukraine

Friday, January 31, 2020
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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrive for a joint news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — As the Senate lurched toward a vote to acquit President Donald Trump on impeachment charges, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played clean-up in the country at the center of the inquiry on Friday.

Visiting the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Pompeo denied the main allegations that prompted the investigation, contradicting witness testimony that Trump withheld critical military aid and a coveted visit to the White House for the nation’s leader in exchange for a corruption investigation into a political rival.

Pompeo also sought to distance himself from heated comments he reportedly made to a radio interviewer last weekend in which he questioned whether Americans actually care about Ukraine.

Pompeo met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday, hours before the Senate was to cast crucial votes that could lead to an abrupt end and acquittal in Trump’s trial. Democrats accuse Trump of withholding American security aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and debunked theories of 2016 election interference. Several witnesses at House impeachment hearings testified about the link, but Pompeo, a loyal Trump ally, denied the allegations.

“It’s just simply not the case. We will find the right time, we will find the appropriate opportunity” for a visit by Zelenskiy, Pompeo said at a press conference after meeting with the Ukrainian leader. Pompeo had not been expected to announce a White House visit while in Ukraine.

Pompeo is the highest-ranking American official to visit Ukraine since the impeachment process began last year. That process started with revelations about a July 25 phone call between Zelenskiy and Trump.

Ukraine is eager for good relations with Trump as it depends heavily on U.S. support to defend itself from Russian-backed separatists. Although the military assistance was put on hold, it was eventually released after a whistleblower complaint brought the July 25 call to light. The Trump administration has also supplied Ukraine with lethal defense equipment, including Javelin anti-tank weapons.

Zelenskiy said the impeachment had not had a negative effect on U.S.-Ukraine relations and thanked the Trump administration for its financial and military support.

A senior U.S. official in the meeting said Pompeo and Zelenskiy mainly discussed investment and infrastructure and that there was no talk of impeachment or corruption investigations. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.