Wit­ness tells of smear ef­fort

Gi­u­liani in­volved in cam­paign ‘full of lies’ to oust en­voy, of­fi­cial says

The Dallas Morning News - - FRONT PAGE - By BILLY HOUSE

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.

Throw­ing ‘mud’

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.

Shadow diplo­macy

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.

An­drew Harnik/the As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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