Last month, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told impeachment investigators that Rudy Giuliani lobbied the State department to grant Viktor Shokin a visa in January.
Kent also told Congress he tried to warn Obama officials about the bad optics surrounding Hunter Biden’s business interests in Ukraine, only to be ignored.
All in all, the story that emerged from accounts of his testimony was consistent with the picture painted by the parade of officials who spoke to lawmakers in October. Irrespective of the bad optics around Biden’s decision to preserve his business interest in Ukraine while his father was overseeing US policy towards the country years ago, Giuliani’s shadow campaign was a source of extreme consternation for all parties involved, even Trump donor-turned EU ambassador Gordon Sondland.
On Thursday, the House committees released the transcript of Kent’s deposition and, much like transcripts of testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, Sondland, Kurt Volker and Bill Taylor, it underscores just how nefarious the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy (as conducted primarily behind the scenes by Giuliani) really was.
“On May 14, Rudy Giuliani told Ukrainian journalists that [Marie Yovanovitch] was recalled because she was part of… efforts against the President. Were you aware of Mr. Giuliani’s statement at the time?”, lawmakers inquired of Kent, who said that although he wasn’t specifically aware of that, he “did see an interview that [Giuliani] gave with a Ukrainian publication… that expressed a variant of that opinion”.
Asked what his reaction was, Kent said this:
Mr. Giuliani, at that point, had been carrying on a campaign for several months full of lies and incorrect information about Ambassador Yovanovitch, so this was a continuation of his campaign of lies. I believe that Mr. Giuliani, as a U.S. citizen, has First Amendment rights to say whatever he wants, but he’s a private citizen. His assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period.
And yet, those lies (which now jailed Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman had a role in perpetuating) were used as an excuse to remove Yovanovitch. Despite calls from State department officials to come to her rescue in the face of what was clearly a baseless smear campaign, Mike Pompeo refused.
Below are some additional excerpts from the Kent transcript which, again, serve to further corroborate everything the public already knows – namely that this was an overtly illegal campaign to enlist the fledgling Volodymyr Zelensky government in the service of Trump’s reelection bid.
Ambassador Volker had a private discussion with President Zelensky “to underscore the importance of the messaging that Zelensky needed to provide to President Trump about his willingness to be cooperative.” (Page 242-244)
Q: Was there any discussion in that meeting in Toronto on July 2 about the investigations that Rudy Giuliani had been promoting? A: There was not a discussion in the full format of everyone on both sides of the table. However, prior to the meeting, Ambassador Volker told me that he would need to have a private meeting separately with the President, that he would pull him aside. And he explained to me that the purpose of that private conversation was to underscore the importance of the messaging that Zelensky needed to provide to President Trump about his willingness to be cooperative. And that happened—as the meeting broke up, he announced that he needed to have a private meeting. He went around to the Ukrainian side of the table and pulled Zelensky, his chief of staff, Bohdan, and the translator. I was standing about 10 feet [out] of the way, introducing myself to Andriy Yermak and talking to him. So that was—Volker had several minutes with Zelensky, his chief of staff and the interpreter.
Ambassador Volker said “he planned to start reaching out to” Rudy Giuliani because “it was clear that the former mayor had influence on the President in terms of the way the President thought of Ukraine.” (Page 246-247)
I do not recall whether the follow-on conversation I had with Kurt about this was in Toronto, or whether it was subsequently at the State Department. But he did tell me that he planned to start reaching out to the former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. And when I asked him why, he said that it was clear that the former mayor had influence on the President in terms of the way the President thought of Ukraine. And I think by that moment in time, that was self-evident to anyone who was working on the issues, and therefore, it made sense to try to engage the mayor. When I raised with Kurt, I said, about what? Because former Mayor Giuliani has a track record of, you know, asking for a visa for a corrupt former prosecutor. He attacked Masha, and he’s tweeting that the new President needs to investigate Biden and the 2016 campaign. And Kurt’s reaction, or response to me at that was, well, if there’s nothing there, what does it matter? And if there is something there, it should be investigated. My response to him was asking another country to investigate a prosecution for political reasons undermines our advocacy of the rule of law.
There was “great confusion” during a call on July 18, 2019, when an OMB official announced that “the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, at the direction of the President had put a hold on all security assistance to the Ukraine.” (Page 303-304, 310)
A: It was described as a hold, not a freeze. There was a representative of the Office of Management and Budget. I was at the State Department in a secure video conference. I did not recognize the face. And I believe the individual representing OMB at the time was not normally the person who did. It was the summer vacation cycles. And he just stated to the rest of the those [sic] participants, either in person or video screens, that the head of the Office of Management and Budget who was the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, at the direction of the President had put a hold on all security assistance to the Ukraine.
Q: Mulvaney had put a hold at the direction of the President. Is that what you heard? A: That is what the representative of the Office of Management and Budget stated in the sub-PCC on July 18th, yes.
Q: Was there any discussion following that announcement? A: There was great confusion among the rest of us because we didn’t understand why that had happened. …
Q: Did OMB provide any reasoning beyond simply it was at the direction of the President? A: Not to my recollection, no.
After the call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky on July 25, 2019, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was “uncomfortable” and said “he could not share the majority of what was discussed because of the very sensitive nature of what was discussed.” (Page 163-165)
Q: What did he tell you to the best of your recollection? A: It was different than any read-out call that I had received. He felt—I could hear it in his voice and his hesitancy that he felt uncomfortable. He actually said that he could not share the majority of what was discussed because of the very sensitive nature of what was discussed. He first described the atmospherics and compared it to the previous call, which was April 21st. That had been a short, bubbly, positive, congratulatory call from someone who had just won an election with 73 percent. He said this one was much more, the tone was cooler, reserved. That President Zelensky tried to turn on the charm, and he is a comedian and a communicator, but that the dynamics didn’t click in the way that they had on April 21st. Again, he did not share the majority of what was said. I learned the majority of the content after reading the declassified read-out. He did share several points. He mentioned that the characterization of the Ambassador as bad news. And then he paused, and said, and then the conversation went into the direction of some of the most extreme narratives that have been discussed publicly.
With respect to President Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Biden, Mr. Kent stated: “I do not believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in politically associated investigations and prosecutions.” (Page 112-114, 158)
Q: I want to ask you actually about what the President said, because he didn’t talk generically about corruption. He asked for a favor involving an investigation into CrowdStrike and that conspiracy theory and for an investigation into the Bidens. Is it appropriate for the President of the United States in the context of an ally seeking military support to ask that ally to investigate his political rival? A: The first time I had detailed knowledge of that narrative was after the White House declassified the transcript that was prepared—not transcript, the record of conversation that was prepared by staff at the White House. As a general principle, I do not believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in politically associated investigations and prosecutions.
Q: Particularly those that may interfere with the U.S. election? A: As a general principle, I don’t think that as a matter of policy the U.S. should do that period, because I have spent much of my career trying to improve the rule of law. And in countries like Ukraine and Georgia, both of which want to join NATO, both of which have enjoyed billions of dollars of assistance from Congress, there is an outstanding issue about people in office in those countries using selectively politically motivated prosecutions to go after their opponents. And that’s wrong for the rule of law regardless of what country that happens.
After Ambassador Volker raised with a senior aide to President Zelensky that President Trump and Rudy Giuliani were interested in initiating investigations, Mr. Kent said, “that’s wrong, and we shouldn’t be doing that as a matter of U.S. policy.” (Page 262-263)
Frankly, what a private citizen tweets is an exercise in one way of First Amendment rights, but when you have U.S. Government employees, or in this case, a special U.S. Government employee potentially seemingly to align to that view, that’s when it became real for me and a matter of concern. And that was, as I said, I said the 15th or the 16th, because the next day, I had a conversation with Chargé Taylor in which he amplified the same theme. And he indicated that Special Representative Volker had been engaging Andriy Yermak; that the President and his private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were interested in the initiation of investigations; and that Yermak was very uncomfortable when this was raised with him, and suggested that if that were the case, if that were really the position of the United States, it should be done officially and put in writing, essentially what I described to Catherine the day before, which is the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty option. And I told Bill Taylor, that’s wrong, and we shouldn’t be doing that as a matter of U.S. policy.
In September 2019, according to Ambassador Sondland, “POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton.” (Page 267-268, 274-275)
A: I came back after Labor Day. The next communication or data point that I can recall was a WhatsApp message that Chargé Taylor sent me on September 7, which would have been, I think, the Saturday after Labor Day.
Q: And what did that WhatsApp message say? A: Chargé Taylor indicated that he had talked to Tim Morrison, who is the senior director for Europe, who replaced Fiona Hill. And Tim indicated that he had talked to Gordon. And Gordon had told him, Tim, and Tim told Bill Taylor, that he, Gordon, had talked to the President, POTUS in sort of shorthand, and POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton. …
Q: Okay. Moments ago you referenced the name Clinton? A: What I said— Q: Could you just go through that again? A: Right. Q: I haven’t heard that name lately. A: That was a message—that was described in the shorthand of the desire to have— this was the Gordon Sondland messaging of what the Ukrainians need to say in shorthand 2016. And in shorthand, it was suggested that the Ukrainians needed— Zelensky needed to go to a microphone and basically there needed to be three words in the message, and that was the shorthand. Q: Clinton was shorthand for 2016? A: 2016, yes.