Three U.S. senators will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev on Friday, seeking to reinforce the importance of his country as a strategic U.S. ally after he found himself at the center of President Donald Trump's acrimonious impeachment trial.
"The U.S.-Ukraine relationship is as important now as ever," Republican Sens. Ron Johnson and John Barrasso and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said Wednesday in a statement announcing their trip.
"The future of Ukraine matters to the United States and we must make sure Ukraine knows that we view them as a strategic ally," they said.
Johnson and Murphy last met with Zelenskiy in Kiev on Sept. 5, as his government was dealing with Trump's decision to freeze nearly $400 million in security assistance. The money was to help Ukraine in its ongoing conflict with Russia.
Murphy told reporters at a news conference in Washington with Johnson on Sept. 10 that Ukrainian officials did not have a full understanding of why the money might be withheld, and that they had brought up the issue in every meeting during their trip.
That decision, and Trump's telephone call with the Ukrainian leader to discuss it, became central to the investigation of Trump that led to his impeachment by the Democratic-led House of Representatives late last year.
The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump last week. His defense argued that the money had been withheld because of corruption in Ukraine, not to put pressure on Zelenskiy. Trump insisted his call with Zelenskiy had been "perfect."
Democratic impeachment managers contended that Trump withheld the money to put pressure on Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic rival to Trump as he seeks re-election this year, and Biden's son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian company.
The Bidens are at the heart of another significant subtext for the Kiev meeting, besides reassuring that nation of its strategic importance to America. As the news website Axios pointed out, the meeting comes just days after U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr said the Justice Department had set up an "intake process" for Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to feed information he'd gathered about the Bidens in Ukraine.
Giuliani's efforts to gather incriminating information about the Bidens in Ukraine -- efforts that were under intense scrutiny during impeachment -- are said to be continuing.
Politico reported that Murphy would express to Zelenskiy his discomfort with Giuliani's ongoing efforts.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn't raise the danger of Giuliani’s continued overtures in Ukraine. So I'm sure that we will talk about the need to keep U.S.-Ukraine policy separated in the 2020 election," he said, according to Politico.
Johnson is chairman, and Barrasso and Murphy are members, of a Senate subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation.
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