A group representing the soon-to-be Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, met with a group of former Trump officials and lobbyists several months before the phone call that led to Trump’s impeachment, CNBC report says.
According to the report, shortly before Zelensky’s presidential victory on 21 April, his campaign hired Signal Group Consulting, a US lobbying firm, and paid it at least $60,000 to set up meetings with US government officials. The contact with Signal was reportedly made through Marcus Cohen, an attorney.
One such meeting reportedly took place on 16 April, in Trump International Hotel’s BLT Prime. The meeting included Mike Rubino, a former Trump campaign advisor and an ex-representative in the Health and Human Services department, and Matt Mowers, who worked for the State Department, CNBC says, citing unnamed sources. Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also attended briefly but left quickly due to prior arrangements.
“I just did it as a favor. I showed up, sat down, ate dinner and left. I didn’t really speak to anybody because they spoke in a different language,” Rubino said in an interview, adding that he only later learned that the people he met with were from Zelensky’s team.
Unlike Rubino, Spicer understood that he was meeting with Zelensky’s campaign team, but he could not tell if the man he was introduced to was the team’s leader.
“They introduced me to the campaign guy,” Spicer said in an interview. “I had every impression that they [Signal] were trying to impress this client.”
The sources familiar with the subject claim that at no point during the meetings was there discussion regarding the Biden family. During his July phone call, Trump dropped hints at probing Joe and Hunter Biden for political wrongdoings.
The Signal company admitted they arranged the meetings for Cohen, but also said there was never a discussion about the Biden family.
Trump officials refused to identify who they met at the Trump Hotel. However, Douglas Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, said he met with Ivan Bakanov, Zelensky’s future chief of staff, on the same day.
“It was apparent that Zelensky was going to win and it appeared that Bakanov hoped to introduce the soon-to-be president to the Washington policy community,” Bandow said, according to CNBC.
According to Bandow, he and Bakanov discussed Zelensky’s bid to root out corruption in Ukraine.
Jonathan Katz, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a think tank, said he met with Zelensky’s team and allegedly discussed rooting out corruption with at least three political advisors from Ukraine.
Several months after the events, Trump withheld military funding to Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, a phone call between the two leaders took place in which Trump asked for a favor. According to Democrats, the “favor” and the funding are connected, which is being used to justify impeaching a sitting president.