Witness tells of smear effort
Giuliani involved in campaign ‘full of lies’ to oust envoy, official says
WASHINGTON — Ukrainian officials seeking “revenge” against the U.S. ambassador used Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, to orchestrate a disinformation campaign that led to her ouster, a State Department official told the impeachment inquiry.
The official, George Kent, deputy assistant secretary in the department’s European and Eurasian Bureau, said Giuliani had engaged in a campaign “full of lies and incorrect information” about thenu.s. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was removed in May.
The transcript of Kent’s Oct. 15 closeddoor deposition also shows his concern about Giuliani’s role guiding White House priorities, which included pushing for an investigation of a Ukrainian energy company,
whose board included Hunter Biden, son of a potential 2020 presidential rival of Trump’s, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Kent, further corroborating the testimony of other witnesses, said the Trump administration had two points of leverage for that demand: an Oval Office meeting for the newly elected Ukrainian president and military aid already authorized by Congress.
Kent said he wrote a memo in August noting “concerns that there was an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law, both Ukraine and the U.S.”
Kent has emerged as a top witness for House Democrats in their impeachment inquiry against Trump. He is scheduled to be one of the two witnesses in the first open impeachment hearing held by the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.
Kent described an orchestrated campaign against Yovanovitch that involved two of Giuliani’s business associates, Sovietborn Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who subsequently were charged in the United States with illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. officials and a political action committee that backed Trump.
Parnas and Fruman “started reaching out actively to undermine Ambassador Yovanovitch, starting in 2018 with a meeting with former Congressman Pete Sessions on May 9th, 2018,” Kent said, according to the transcript.
After meeting with Parnas and Fruman, Sessions, a Dallas Republican, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “impugning Ambassador Yovanovitch’s loyalty and suggesting that she be removed,” Kent said in his testimony. Session has denied wrongdoing.
Also involved in the effort was the thenprosecutor general of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, who was under pressure from the U.S. State Department for “essentially colluding with a corrupt official to undermine the investigation” into a ring that was selling fake Ukrainian passports, according to Kent.
Lutsenko “vowed revenge, and provided information” to Giuliani “in hopes that he would spread it and lead to her removal,” Kent said, referring to Yovanovitch. He said Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told him that Lutsenko had made a private trip to New York to meet with Giuliani “to throw mud” at Yovanovitch and others in the State Department.
Lutsenko resigned in August under pressure from newly elected Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Kent also testified about acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s designation of a threeperson team — special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — to help Giuliani in this shadow diplomacy effort. Kent said these three came to call themselves as the “three amigos.”
Sondland was one of the leading figures pushing for Zelenskiy to give a public statement confirming the investigations Giuliani sought, according to Kent’s testimony.
“I think the anticipation or the hope was that sending that signal would clear the way for both the White House visit as well as the resumption or the clearing of the administrative hold on security assistance,” Kent said.
Kent was one of the career State Department officials who tried to shield Yovanovitch in March from what he viewed as a Giulianiled campaign to discredit her.
Kent said Giuliani’s “assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period,” according to the transcript.
Texts of emails given to Congress, and obtained by Bloomberg News, show that Kent, along with acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Reeker, sought to provide department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale with facts to counter conspiracy claims being pushed about Yovanovitch.
Yovanovitch, in her own testimony on Oct. 11 to the impeachment panels, said she was told there had been a concerted campaign to remove her — and that Giuliani was involved.
“I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me.
But individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anticorruption policy in Ukraine,” she said in her prepared remarks.
Kent and Yovanovitch are scheduled to testify next week in the first open hearings in the impeachment inquiry.
Pence aide testifies
Earlier, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Dcalif., gave Republicans a Saturday deadline to propose witnesses in the impeachment inquiry.
“The Committee looks forward to receiving by November 9, within the Resolution’s stipulated deadline, the Minority’s written request for witnesses, and is prepared to consult on proposed witnesses to evaluate their relevance to the inquiry’s scope,” Schiff said in a letter to Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the panel.
Some Republicans have floated the idea of requesting that the anonymous whistleblower testify before the committee. Others have proposed that Schiff himself be required to testify, although the likelihood of that happening appears slim: All witnesses must be approved by Schiff or by a vote of the full committee, on which Democrats hold a majority.
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 as House Democrats prepared to release more transcripts from previous testimony.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton declined to appear before House investigators on Thursday, according to an intelligence committee official.
The Washington Post reported earlier Thursday that Bolton was willing to defy the White House and testify in the impeachment inquiry about his alarm at the Ukraine pressure campaign if a federal court clears the way, according to people familiar with his views.
‘Dollars for dirt’
Meanwhile, Rep. Eric Swalwell, Dcalif., said Democrats should exercise their right to block Republicans from subpoenaing testimony from the anonymous whistleblower whose report triggered the inquiry. Earlier, Rep. Jim Jordan, Rohio, said his party planned to add that person to their list of impeachment witnesses.
Swalwell said Thursday that Republican attacks seem designed to “punish the whistleblower, put the whistleblower in harm’s way.”
Swalwell said lawmakers have “not heard a single witness yet” provide testimony that undercut allegations of a quid pro quo in which security aid for Ukraine was being conditioned on an announcement of investigations sought by Trump — an arrangement Swalwell called a “defense dollars for dirt” scheme.
“We have not yet seen an arrow going in any direction other than this was a shakedown led by the president of the United States,” he said.
In New Hampshire, Pence defended Trump and maintained there was “no quid pro quo” with Ukraine, despite the testimony of current and former administration officials.
George Kent (left), a deputy assistant secretary of state, arrived at the Capitol on Oct. 15 to testify in the impeachment inquiry. He expressed concern over the role of President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani in shaping U.S. policy in Ukraine.