Envoy critical of Giuliani effort
Official says lawyer’s comments about ambassador untrue
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.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent leaves Capitol Hill on Oct. 15 after testifying at the House inquiry.