The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
Jennifer Williams, an aide for Vice President Mike Pence who listened to the call between President Trump and Ukraine's leader, told Congress that she found the conversation to be unusual because it was political in nature, according to a source familiar with the testimony.
Williams, who testified this morning to House investigators, said the phone call did not have the normal tone of a diplomatic call. Williams did not raise concerns about the call with her superiors.
She was asked what Pence knows and she testified that she never heard him mention anything about investigations of the 2016 election, Burisma or the Bidens. She did not know of any request from Trump to the Pence to bring up investigations during the meeting in Warsaw with Ukraine’s president.
Williams made note of the call and the transcript in her nightly notes but testified she did not know if Pence read the transcript.
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, testified that Marie Yovanovitch, the US ambassador to Ukraine, was recalled in May 2019 because then-Ukraine prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko “vowed revenge.”
Kent also said Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman worked to “undermine” Yovanovitch. Parnas and Fruman are associates of Rudy Giuliani who have pleaded not guilty to charges that they funneled foreign money to US campaign coffers.
“Based on what I know, Yuriy Lutsenko, as prosecutor general, vowed revenge, and provided information to Rudy Giuliani in hopes that he would spread it and lead to her removal,” said Kent. “I believe that was the rationale for Yuriy Lutsenko doing what he did.”
“Separately, there are individuals that I mentioned before, including Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who started reaching out actively to undermine Ambassador Yovanovitch, starting in 2018 with a meeting with former Congressman Pete Sessions on May 9th, 2018, the same day he wrote a letter to Secretary Pompeo impugning Ambassador Yovanovitch’s loyalty and suggesting that she be removed,” said Kent. “And others also in 2018 were engaged in an effort to undermine her standing by claiming that she was disloyal.”
“So that’s the early roots of people following their own agendas and using her as an instrument to fulfill those agenda,” he added.
Kent’s testimony builds on past testimony from other key witnesses who said they did not find Lutsenko’s claims to be credible. While senior State Department officials scrambled to deal with the fallout from Lutsenko’s allegations, Trump and Giuliani were promoting his theories on TV and social media.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent told lawmakers that the President’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani’s attacks on the former US ambassador to Ukraine were part of a “campaign of lies." These lies contributed to Kent's decision not to speak out at the State Department about Giuliani in the run up to the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president, according to a transcript of Kent’s closed-door deposition.
Kent told lawmakers in his deposition last month that he did not the speak to anyone at the State Department to express his concerns about Giuliani because he had previously been told to “keep my head down” following Giuliani attacking him by name.
“I did not, in part because after Giuliani attacked me, as well as Ambassador Yovanovitch and the entire embassy, in his late May interview, I was told to keep my head down and lower my profile in Ukraine,” Kent testified.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George has been in the foreign service since 1992. He currently oversees policy for a number of eastern European nations, including Ukraine. Before that, he was the deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Kiev.
Today lawmakers released transcripts from their interview with Kent, who met with the three House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry last month.
At that time, former State Department official Molly Montgomery said Kent "is professional and one of the the US government's foremost experts on Ukraine." She also described him as someone who has "never been shy with his opinions."
Where Kent fits in with the impeachment inquiry: Kent was among the career officials who sought to shield former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from the campaign of false allegations against her in March 2019, according to internal emails turned over to Congress by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick in early October. Yovanovitch was removed from her post in May.
Those emails show Kent, along with Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Reeker, working to provide department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale with facts to counter the conspiratorial narratives being pushed about the career diplomat.
In an email from March 27, Kent flagged to his colleagues a "totally manufactured/fake list of untouchables." Then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko had claimed Yovanovitch had given him such a "do not prosecute" list — a claim the State Department denied and he later walked back. It was nonetheless seized upon by some in conservative media and compounded Rudy Giuliani's campaign against Yovanovtich.
In his email, Kent noted that "one key sign of it being fake is that most of the names are misspelled in English."
"This list appears to be an effort by Lutsenko to inoculate himself for why he did not pursue corrupt Poroshenko associates and political allies -- to claim that the US told him not to," Kent wrote, referencing the former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. "Complete poppycock."
Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, testified behind closed doors for more than four hours on Capitol Hill today.
Williams was on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, and she was concerned about what she heard on the call but there is no indication Williams raised her concerns to her superiors, according to the source.
Career diplomat George Kent was asked for his reaction to Rudy Giuliani’s May 14 statement to Ukrainian journalists, during which he claimed the then-US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was recalled because of efforts made against President Trump.
Kent said the statement was “ a continuation of his campaign of lies.”
“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,” Kent said.
“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,” Kent continued. “His assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovich were without basis, untrue, period.”
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, offered more corroboration that Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland asked former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch to write a “tweet declaring full support for the foreign policy of President Trump.”
Kent said it was an ask for her to “defend herself as opposed to having the State Department defend her.”
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, testified that former US special envoy Kurt Volker told him in July that he would be reaching out to Rudy Giuliani because President Trump's personal attorney “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,” Kent said.
Kent’s testimony sheds additional light on Volker’s thinking when he worked with Giuliani and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland to have Ukraine announce an investigation that included Burisma and the 2016 election.
Kent said in July he had asked Volker why he would be reaching out to Giuliani, given Giuliani’s public efforts to investigate the Bidens and his attacks on Marie Yovanovitch, former US Ambassador to Ukraine.
“And Kurt's reaction, or response to me at that was, well, if there's nothing there, what does it matter? And if there’s something there, it should be investigated,” Kent said. “My response to him was asking another country to investigate a prosecution for political reasons undermines our advocacy of the rule of law.”
Volker told Kent that he felt it was worthwhile engaging with Giuliani because of his influence on the President’s thinking of Ukraine.
“What I understood was Kurt was thinking tactically and I was concerned strategically,” Kent said.
Lawmakers have released transcripts from their interview with George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs.
Kent met with the three House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry last month.
"The testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent strongly corroborates testimony from numerous other witnesses. Mr. Kent affirms that he and his colleagues recognized the impropriety of pressuring Ukrainian officials to undertake politically-motivated investigations to help President Trump’s reelection prospects in 2020," the committees' chairs said in a statement.