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CNN host was set to interview Ukrainian President until scandal took shape

CNN host Fareed Zakaria said on Thursday that he had been set to interview Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before news about the Ukrainian’s call with President Donald Trump broke.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Zelensky had planned to announce an investigation into Trump’s political rivals during a September interview on CNN, but those plans had been scrapped once Trump released promised security aid. Zakaria told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Thursday that the interview had been months in the making, but it fell apart when the Ukraine scandal began to unfold — though CNN did not cancel it.

“We had been negotiating with President Zelensky and his office for a while, for months, to try to get an interview with him anyway, ever since he was elected President,” Zakaria, host of “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” told Baldwin.

Once news of the whistleblower’s complaint surfaced, “it became clear to us that the interview was off,” he continued.

The Times reported that the decision to unfreeze the aid to Ukraine erased the need for Zelensky’s televised appearance.

Almost all of Zelensky’s aides supported the planned announcement on the show, one of the officials who debated the issue told the Times. They agreed that American military aid and diplomatic support during upcoming peace talks were worth the risk of seeming to support Trump in the American political process, the paper reported.

Zakaria said Thursday that it was his belief that the White House did not specifically request that Zelensky appear on “Fareed Zakaria GPS” but simply that it should be a televised interview.

He added that he had no idea that Zelensky had planned to announce Ukraine’s investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Asked for his reaction when he found out that Zelensky’s announcement would have been on his show, Zakaria replied, “You win some, you lose some. I would have loved to have it. He’s a fascinating guy. I still would love to have an interview with him one of these days.”

“They acted, his office, acted very professionally throughout the process,” Zakaria said. “But I have to say, I had no idea the pressure they were under — they were acting pretty cool considering all the pressure they were under.”

The Times reported that Andriy Yermak, a senior Zelensky aide, had hashed out wording with then-US Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker in drafting a public statement to discredit Joe Biden.

Zelensky had told Trump on their July 25 call that he would investigate Biden regarding his son’s position on the board of directors of a Ukrainian natural gas company. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.

The news comes following House impeachment investigators’ move on Thursday to release the transcript of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent’s closed-door deposition that mentions Zelensky’s planned CNN appearance.

After a conference where “Fareed Zakaria was one of the hosts, but there was no special interview” of Zelensky, Kent said, “there was discussion that President Zelenskyy would have an interview with CNN the week of the U.N. General Assembly leaders meetings,” which lasted from September 23 to 27. It was during that week that the transcript of the July 25 call and the whistleblower report would both be released. Trump also met with Zelensky that week in New York.

Volker wanted Zelensky to convey “his willingness to open investigations in the two areas of interest to the President and that had been pushed previously by Rudy Giuliani,” the President’s personal lawyer, Kent said.

Earlier this week, investigators also released revised testimony from US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland‘s revealing a quid pro quo linking US aid to Ukraine with an investigation into Trump’s political rival.

“I now recall speaking individually with Mr. (Andriy) Yermak, where I said resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland said.

CNN