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Ukraine's President Struggled With Trump's Pressure To Announce Investigations


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where lawmakers and investigators and reporters have now spent weeks trying to unravel that July 25 phone call, the call in which President Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to, quote, "do us a favor." The House impeachment inquiry has been interviewing witness after witness to find out more about the U.S. side of that exchange.

Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Andrew Kramer has been looking into the other end of the call - what officials in Ukraine thought was going on. Well, he's on the line now from Kyiv. Andrew Kramer, welcome.

ANDREW KRAMER: Thank you for having me on.

KELLY: You open your story in today's paper by outlining how, back in September, President Zelenskiy believed he was facing a pretty stark choice. What was it?

KRAMER: It was an agonizing choice for the new Ukrainian president. They had heard from U.S. diplomats and from also a back channel involving the president's personal lawyer, Giuliani, that the White House wanted an announcement about politicized investigations. These were investigations that related to Joe Biden, a front-runner in the U.S. election, and two accusations, which are not proven, of Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.

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And they had to make a choice. They were up against a deadline by the end of September - either make the announcement, a public announcement, of these two politicized investigations or lose desperately needed military aid for Ukraine's war in the east.

KELLY: To put it bluntly, did the government in Ukraine understand this as a quid pro quo, as a - we need you to do this before we're going to give you that?

KRAMER: There certainly is clear indication that they did understand the choice. We see this in Ambassador Taylor's testimony in Congress that Ukrainian officials were telling him that they didn't want to have to make this choice. I've also heard this from Ukrainian officials directly involved in deciding what their president should do.

KELLY: You document how close Zelenskiy came to delivering this public statement that he believed the White House wanted. His senior aides were drafting different versions of it for him?

KRAMER: What exactly would be said in the statement we don't know. After meeting with U.S. senators in Kyiv on September 5 and then speaking with diplomats, his administration became aware that the aid would be lost by the end of the month if this problem were not resolved. And they reached out at this time to media about providing a written statement, and then the approach changed to a on-camera interview, which was planned for September 13 with CNN.

KELLY: And then what happened? Why didn't that ever come to pass?

KRAMER: There was an uproar in the U.S. Congress. At that point, the whistleblower complaint had made its way to Congress, and both parties in the United States were demanding that the Trump administration release the aid, which was done on September 11, so two days before the planned interview with CNN. By this stroke of luck, they avoided having to make the decision and avoided going public with a statement, which was what the White House wanted.

KELLY: Have you uncovered, in your reporting in Ukraine, anything that fundamentally changes or undermines our understanding of the narrative that's emerging here in Washington? Are there any facts that just don't line up?

KRAMER: No. I think that most of the storyline of this impeachment inquiry has come out in Washington through the hearings, through statements by U.S. officials. And what we see in Ukraine is corroboration of this information. For example, the U.S. officials have testified that a quid pro quo message was delivered to the Ukrainian government. And logically, the Ukrainians must have debated that, and that's what this story documents, that in fact they were considering this decision in precisely the terms that it was presented to them by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

So what you see on Ukrainian side, what I have seen, is corroboration of the information that has come out in the impeachment hearings.

KELLY: That is Andrew Kramer of The New York Times speaking with us from Ukraine, the capital Kyiv. Thanks, Andrew.

KRAMER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIG STAR'S "THE BALLAD OF EL GOODO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.