State Dept. of­fi­cial lays out Trump’s Ukraine de­mands

Kent also al­leges Gi­u­liani ‘cam­paign of lies’ against en­voy

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY GREG JAFFE AND MIKE DEBO­NIS

A se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial de­scribed in per­haps the stark­est terms to date Pres­i­dent Trump’s shadow ef­forts to force Ukraine’s lead­er­ship to open in­ves­ti­ga­tions that would ben­e­fit him po­lit­i­cally, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of his impeachmen­t in­quiry tes­ti­mony re­leased Thurs­day.

Deputy As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary Ge­orge Kent, who over­saw Ukraine pol­icy, told law­mak­ers that Trump de­manded that the coun­try’s new pres­i­dent, Volodymyr Ze­len­sky, an­nounce in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the 2016 U.S. elec­tion, Trump’s for­mer ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton and for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, a pos­si­ble 2020 chal­lenger, in ex­change for an Oval Of­fice meet­ing.

Trump “wanted noth­ing less than Pres­i­dent Ze­len­sky to go to a mi­cro­phone and say in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Bi­den and Clin­ton,” Kent told House impeachmen­t in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Kent’s as­sess­ment came from a sum­mary of a con­ver­sa­tion that Trump had with Gor­don Sond­land, a Trump megadonor turned diplo­mat, who from his perch as U.S. am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union in Brus­sels had seized con­trol of Ukraine pol­icy.

The se­nior diplo­mat, in tes­ti­mony de­liv­ered last month, also blasted Rudolph W. Gi­u­liani, Trump’s

per­sonal lawyer, whom he de­scribed as wag­ing a “cam­paign of lies” aimed at the for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Ukraine and de­signed to ad­vance his and the pres­i­dent’s per­sonal agenda.

Democrats ex­pect Kent to tes­tify pub­licly Wed­nes­day with Wil­liam B. Taylor Jr., the act­ing U.S. am­bas­sador to Ukraine, as the impeachmen­t in­quiry moves into a new phase.

Trump, mean­while, of­fered a glimpse into the de­fense he would like Re­pub­li­cans to mount on his be­half, in­sist­ing that Bi­den and his son Hunter be called to tes­tify as part of the impeachmen­t pro­ceed­ings. The younger Bi­den served on the board of Burisma, a con­tro­ver­sial and ob­scure Ukrainian gas com­pany that Trump pressed Ze­len­sky to in­ves­ti­gate in a July 25 call.

In a tweet, Trump quoted Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-LA.) ask­ing, “What did Hunter Bi­den do for the money?”

“A very good ques­tion,” Trump added in his own words. “He and Sleepy Joe must tes­tify.”

Kent’s tes­ti­mony was re­leased on the same day that Jennifer Wil­liams, a For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cer and top aide to Vice Pres­i­dent Pence, of­fered in­sight be­hind closed doors into Pence’s knowl­edge of the shadow cam­paign to ex­tract po­lit­i­cal fa­vors from the Ukraini­ans.

Wil­liams is ex­pected to be the last wit­ness in the non­pub­lic phase of the in­quiry.

The tran­script of Kent’s hours­long de­po­si­tion sug­gests that the ca­reer diplo­mat’s pub­lic tes­ti­mony will lay bare his dis­ap­point­ment and anger with the pres­i­dent’s ap­proach to Ukraine and the con­duct of his own State Depart­ment in re­spond­ing to Con­gress as law­mak­ers moved to in­ves­ti­gate the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s deal­ings with Ukraine.

Kent be­gan his closed-door tes­ti­mony by de­scrib­ing “snake pits” in Wash­ing­ton and Kyiv that were pop­u­lated by cor­rupt Ukrainian politi­cians, self-in­ter­ested busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives and am­bi­tious U.S. of­fi­cials scram­bling to win the pres­i­dent’s fa­vor.

Through­out March, Gi­u­liani traf­ficked in “slan­der” de­signed to get the for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Ukraine, Marie Yo­vanovitch, fired from her post­ing in Kyiv and clear a road­block to the agenda Gi­u­liani and his clients were pur­su­ing there, Kent said. Yo­vanovitch is also ex­pected to be among the Democrats’ ros­ter of pub­lic wit­nesses next week.

At var­i­ous points Kent also de­scribed him­self as bat­tling of­fi­cials in­side the State Depart­ment to en­sure that con­gres­sional sub­poe­nas were hon­ored and a full ac­count­ing of Gi­u­liani’s ac­tiv­i­ties reached law­mak­ers.

In his tes­ti­mony, Kent de­scribed Ukraine as a strug­gling democ­racy be­set by Rus­sian-backed forces, crooked pros­e­cu­tors and ra­pa­cious oli­garchs.

“If you took the ros­ter of the rich­est Ukraini­ans, they didn’t build value, they largely stole it,” he said. “Most of the bil­lion­aires in the coun­try be­came bil­lion­aires be­cause they ac­quired state as­sets for largely un­der­val­ued prices and en­gaged in preda­tory com­pe­ti­tion.”

That harsh as­sess­ment also ex­tended to Burisma, the gas com­pany that of­fered Hunter Bi­den a lu­cra­tive po­si­tion on its board de­spite his lack of ex­pe­ri­ence in Ukraine or the en­ergy in­dus­try.

“You knew Burisma was a trou­bled, cor­rupt com­pany, right?” asked Rep. Jim Jor­dan (R-ohio), in a pre­view of the strat­egy Re­pub­li­cans are likely to de­ploy in their de­fense of Trump next week.

Kent agreed that it had “a rep­u­ta­tion for not be­ing the . . . clean­est mem­ber of the busi­ness com­mu­nity.”

And he noted that he had raised con­cerns with the vice pres­i­dent’s of­fice in 2015 about Hunter Bi­den’s $50,000 a month po­si­tion with the firm, but was ig­nored.

Kent, though, was equally crit­i­cal of Gi­u­liani’s will­ing­ness to work with cor­rupt Ukraini­ans when it served his po­lit­i­cal agenda.

He de­tailed how lo­cal of­fi­cials lit­er­ally thought there were “bags of cash” at the U.S. Em­bassy in Kyiv that U.S. of­fi­cials would hand over, and noted that for­mer pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko was up­set that the Amer­i­cans wouldn’t “show him the money.” Lut­senko, who Trump lauded as a “good guy” in his July 25 call with the Ukrainian pres­i­dent, be­came one of Gi­u­liani’s key al­lies in his suc­cess­ful ef­fort to bring down the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador.

At the time Trump was sin­gling out Lut­senko for praise, the Ukrainian pros­e­cu­tor was “es­sen­tially col­lud­ing” with cor­rupt of­fi­cials in Kyiv to un­der­mine a probe into a fake pass­port ring, Kent said.

“We were very an­gry and up­set be­cause this threat­ened our se­cu­rity, and po­ten­tially also threat­ened [the Ukraini­ans’] abil­ity to re­tain their visa-free status in the Euro­pean Union,” he told the impeachmen­t in­quiry.

Kent called the pass­port investigat­ion a “break­ing point” for the United States, which de­cided to end “ca­pac­ity build­ing as­sis­tance” to Lut­senko’s of­fice as a re­sult.

Mean­while, Kent de­tailed the frus­tra­tion of se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton who sought to coun­ter­act Gi­u­liani’s “non-truths and non-se­quiturs” with a high-level en­dorse­ment from Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo or other top of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton. The state­ment was never is­sued, “even though this was clearly a cri­sis for Am­bas­sador Yo­vanovitch and a cri­sis that was threat­en­ing the re­la­tion­ship” between the United States and Ukraine.

Shortly af­ter the am­bas­sador was sent home, con­trol over Ukraine pol­icy shifted to Sond­land, En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry and Kurt Volker, the U.S. spe­cial en­voy to Ukraine. Sond­land, rather than work­ing through tra­di­tional State Depart­ment chan­nels, had his own “net­work of in­flu­ence” that ran through Mick Mul­vaney, the act­ing White House chief of staff.

Mul­vaney was sub­poe­naed Thurs­day evening to ap­pear for his sched­uled de­po­si­tion Fri­day morn­ing. Mul­vaney, like oth­ers in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion who de­fied House in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ sub­poe­nas, is still not ex­pected to show up.

Kent also de­scribed Volker as too will­ing to cut cor­ners in an ef­fort to please Trump and Gi­u­liani, and to help the Ukrainian pres­i­dent se­cure an Oval Of­fice meet­ing.

In early July, af­ter Volker said he would be seek­ing out Gi­u­liani, Kent ex­pressed con­cern be­cause Gi­u­liani was “tweet­ing that the new pres­i­dent needs to in­ves­ti­gate Bi­den and the 2016 cam­paign.”

Volker, ac­cord­ing to Kent, re­sponded: “Well, if there’s noth­ing there, what does it mat­ter?”

Kent was dis­mayed by this re­ac­tion, and replied that such think­ing went against Amer­ica’s pro­fessed val­ues and “un­der­mines our ad­vo­cacy of the rule of law.”

About one week be­fore Trump spoke by phone with Ze­len­sky, the White House put a hold on $391 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid ear­marked for Ukraine. The move took of­fi­cials through­out the U.S. gov­ern­ment by sur­prise.

“There was a lack of clar­ity,” he said. “The par­tic­i­pants . . . did not re­ceive an ex­pla­na­tion for why this par­tic­u­lar ac­tion was taken.”

Kent’s tes­ti­mony also sheds light on the con­cern sur­round­ing Trump’s con­duct on his call with Ze­len­sky. Al­though Pom­peo lis­tened in from the State Depart­ment, Kent was not in­vited to mon­i­tor the con­ver­sa­tion.

The first sign that some­thing had gone wrong came in a con­ver­sa­tion he had with Lt. Col. Alexan­der Vind­man, who serves as the top Ukraine ex­pert in the White House. Kent de­scribed a “hes­i­tancy” in Vind­man’s voice that he took as a sign that the Army of­fi­cer was “un­com­fort­able.”

Vind­man said that “he could not share the ma­jor­ity of what was dis­cussed be­cause of [its] very sen­si­tive na­ture.”

Con­cerns about the call spread through the White House and State Depart­ment, and quickly made their way to a CIA of­fi­cer who used them as the ba­sis for an un­prece­dented whistle­blower com­plaint that sparked the his­toric impeachmen­t probe.

By mid-au­gust, Kent grew wor­ried that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was with­hold­ing a White House visit, and pos­si­bly the mil­i­tary aid, to force the Ze­len­sky ad­min­is­tra­tion to dig up dirt on the Bi­dens. He de­tailed his con­cerns that such “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated pros­e­cu­tions were in­ju­ri­ous to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and the U.S.” in an in­ter­nal memo and in­formed a su­per­vi­sor, he said.

Kent’s tes­ti­mony also of­fered a glimpse into the frus­tra­tion of those who have had to weigh tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the impeachmen­t in­quiry — fol­low­ing their pro­fes­sional oaths and even their con­sciences — against the in­struc­tions not to do so from lead­ers at agen­cies to which they have en­trusted their ca­reers.

“This is where I find my­self to­day,” Kent said, “faced with enor­mous pro­fes­sional and per­sonal cost and ex­pense of deal­ing with a con­flict between the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches not of my mak­ing.”

At one point he con­fronted an uniden­ti­fied State Depart­ment lawyer over a de­ci­sion to hold back doc­u­ments that chron­i­cle Gi­u­liani’s ef­forts to se­cure a visa for for­mer Ukrainian pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral Vik­tor Shokin, who was blocked from vis­it­ing the United States.

“The con­ver­sa­tion rapidly, I would say, ei­ther es­ca­lated or de­gen­er­ated into a tense ex­change,” Kent said. “He ob­jected to my rais­ing of the ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion. . . . I do not re­mem­ber his ex­act words, but he made clear that he did not think it was ap­pro­pri­ate for me to make the sug­ges­tion.”

The two men then con­tin­ued spar­ring over a State Depart­ment state­ment that ac­cused con­gres­sional Democrats of bul­ly­ing diplomats into tes­ti­fy­ing.

Kent said he chal­lenged that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion: “I said, well, you say that the ca­reer For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cers are be­ing in­tim­i­dated. . . . There are only two ca­reer For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cers who sub­ject to this process. I’m one of them.” The other, he said, was Yo­vanovitch, who had been dis­missed from her post.

Asked about the lawyer’s re­sponse, Kent said, “He spent the next five min­utes glar­ing at me.”

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