En­voy crit­i­cal of Gi­u­liani ef­fort

Of­fi­cial says lawyer’s com­ments about am­bas­sador un­true

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By John Wag­ner, Feli­cia Son­mez and Colby Itkowitz

WASH­ING­TON — In the tran­script of his closed-door de­po­si­tion, Ge­orge Kent, the deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state re­spon­si­ble for Ukraine, crit­i­cized Rudy Gi­u­liani, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s per­sonal lawyer, for his com­ments about Marie Yo­vanovitch, the former U.S. am­bas­sador to Ukraine.

Kent tes­ti­fied that Gi­u­liani’s “as­ser­tions and al­le­ga­tions against former Am­bas­sador Yo­vanovitch were with­out ba­sis, un­true, pe­riod.”

Kent also tes­ti­fied that Trump “wanted noth­ing less than Pres­i­dent Ze­len­skiy to go to the mi­cro­phone and say: in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Bi­den and Clin­ton.”

“That was the mes­sage. Ze­len­skiy needed to go to a mi­cro­phone and ba­si­cally there needed to be three words in the mes­sage, and that was the short­hand,” he said.

Kent told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that that was his un­der­stand­ing of what Trump wanted Ukraine Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy to say in pub­lic, based on con­ver­sa­tions re­layed to him by oth­ers in the ad­min­is­tra­tion who were in con­tact with Am­bas­sador Gor­don Sond­land.

Nu­mer­ous cur­rent and former Trump of­fi­cials have tes­ti­fied that the pres­i­dent was con­di­tion­ing U.S. aid on Ukraine pub­licly in­ves­ti­gat­ing po­lit­i­cal foe Joe Bi­den, Bi­den’s son and other Democrats. That aid is at the heart of the im­peach­ment in­quiry.

Clin­ton, Kent clar­i­fied, was “short­hand” for the 2016 elec­tion. It was a ref­er­ence to Trump’s view, pushed by Gi­u­liani but out­side of U.S. in­tel­li­gence, that Ukraine played a role in­ter­fer­ing in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Kent, a ca­reer of­fi­cial at the State De­part­ment, tes­ti­fied that he was told to “lay low” on Ukraine pol­icy as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Gi­u­liani were in­ter­act­ing with Ukraine out­side of reg­u­lar for­eign pol­icy chan­nels.

Kent had tes­ti­fied for hours in Oc­to­ber about the shift­ing U.S. pol­icy to­ward Ukraine as ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and Gi­u­liani were tak­ing the lead, act­ing out­side of reg­u­lar for­eign pol­icy chan­nels.

The ca­reer of­fi­cial be­gan to un­der­stand that un­less Ukraine took on the in­ves­ti­ga­tions Trump wanted, the ad­min­is­tra­tion would hold up nearly $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid to the young democ­racy that re­lies on U.S. sup­port to counter Rus­sian ag­gres­sion.

Kent said he memo­ri­al­ized in writ­ing the con­ver­sa­tions he was hav­ing with other diplo­mats amid his con­cerns of “an ef­fort to ini­ti­ate po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated pros­e­cu­tions that were in­ju­ri­ous to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and U.S.” The mem­o­ran­dum was sub­mit­ted to the State De­part­ment.

He told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he was un­com­fort­able with what he was hear­ing about Gi­u­liani push­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tions and Trump’s spe­cial en­voy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, en­gag­ing Ukrainian of­fi­cials on the sub­ject.

“And I told Bill Tay­lor, that’s wrong, and we shouldn’t be do­ing that as a mat­ter of U.S. pol­icy,” Kent said, re­fer­ring to Wil­liam Tay­lor, the top diplo­mat in Ukraine who has also tes­ti­fied in the in­quiry.

At one point, Kent said, Volker’s as­sis­tant, Cather­ine Croft, asked if any­one had sought in­ves­ti­ga­tions from Ukraine. Kent said he hoped the U.S. had not, be­cause “that goes against every­thing that we are try­ing to pro­mote in post-Soviet states for the last 28 years, which is the pro­mo­tion of the rule of law.”

In one par­tic­u­larly un­set­tling scene, Kent de­scribes mount­ing un­ease over Trump’s July phone call with Ze­len­skiy.

Within days, he was re­ceiv­ing a read­out from Lt. Col. Alexan­der Vind­man, an Army of­fi­cer as­signed to the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil who was among the of­fi­cials lis­ten­ing to the call. Vind­man has be­come a key wit­ness in the House in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Vind­man was “un­com­fort­able” as he gave Kent the read­out and un­will­ing to share much of what was dis­cussed, even over the se­cure phone line be­tween the NSC and State.

“It was dif­fer­ent than any read­out call that I had re­ceived,” Kent said. “He felt — I could hear it in his voice and his hes­i­tancy that he felt un­com­fort­able.”

Vind­man told him the tone of the Trump-Ze­len­skiy call was “cooler, re­served” and that Ze­len­skiy, a former co­me­dian, had tried to turn on the charm.

He said that Vind­man told him that “the con­ver­sa­tion went into the di­rec­tion of some of the most ex­treme nar­ra­tives that have been dis­cussed pub­licly.”

Kent, Yo­vanovitch and Tay­lor are ex­pected to ap­pear in the pub­lic ses­sions next week.

Mean­while, Jen­nifer Wil­liams, a spe­cial ad­viser to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence on Eu­rope and Rus­sia, ap­peared af­ter be­ing sub­poe­naed and tes­ti­fied be­hind closed doors for about five hours.

Former na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton de­clined to ap­pear be­fore House in­ves­ti­ga­tors Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to an In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee of­fi­cial, who said Bolton’s at­tor­ney said he would have con­tested a sub­poena in court.

The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted.

AN­DREW HARNIK/AP

Deputy As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State Ge­orge Kent leaves Capi­tol Hill on Oct. 15 af­ter tes­ti­fy­ing at the House in­quiry.

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