State Dept. official believed Trump-Ukraine conduct was injurious to the rule of law, transcripts show

State Dept. official believed Trump-Ukraine conduct was injurious to the rule of law, transcripts show

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State Department official George Kent, a key witness in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, told House investigators last month he created contemporaneous memos of specific conversations he’d witnessed related to the White House’s attempted quid pro quo that he said were “injurious to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and the U.S,” according to a transcript of his testimony made public Thursday.

“I wrote a note to the file saying that I had concerns that there was an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and the U.S.,” Kent told the committees last month of two particular conversations he witnessed.

Lawmakers have focused on Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state who worked on Ukraine and five other countries, and other witnesses to establish that the Trump administration froze aid money intended for Ukraine as part of an attempt to pressure the country to open probes that would benefit Trump politically.

NBC News reported last month that Kent told investigators that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tapped three other Trump administration officials — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker, the then-U.S. special envoy to Ukraine — to oversee U.S. policy in Ukraine, sidelining experienced State Department officials. The trio, who Kent testified called themselves “the three amigos,” elbowed all other officials out of the way, according to lawmakers in the room.

The transcript of Kent’s closed-door testimony before the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump was just the latest document made public this week as the probe moves to a public phase. House Democrats have released transcripts of testimony from Sondland, Volker, Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

The transcripts from those key figures have largely established a narrative that suggests Trump directed officials to tie nearly $400 in military and security aid to Ukraine to demands that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announce probes into Burisma Holdings — the Ukrainian gas company whose board of directors former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden joined in 2014 — as well as a conspiracy theory about alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

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This week, Sondland made a significant change to his testimony: He said he now remembers telling a top aide to Zelenskiy that Ukraine would not receive U.S. military assistance until it committed to investigating the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sondland had no diplomatic experience before Trump nominated him in 2017 to become ambassador to the E.U., a club of nations that does not include Ukraine. He was a wealthy hotelier who donated about $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and referred to himself in his prepared testimony as a “lifelong Republican.”

Kent’s testimony, according to the transcript, appeared to corroborate large chunks of that narrative.

The Government Accountability Office said Thursday it had opened a review of the Trump administration’s decision to hold up the aid to Ukraine at the request of Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the the nonpartisan congressional watchdog said in a statement. The Wall Street Journal was first to report that the GAO was probing the matter.

Trump has repeatedly denied engaging in a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

In his testimony, Kent also took aim at Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who had been working to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the Biden family, for his role in leading a smear campaign against Yovanovitch.

Giuliani “had been carrying on a campaign for several months full of lies and incorrect information” — and his “assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period,” Kent said, according to the transcript.

Yovanovitch departed Ukraine in May, months ahead of her scheduled departure, after coming under attack from right-wing media, which alleged she was hostile to the president. Her departure set off alarm bells among Democrats in Congress but the State Department said at the time her exit was planned.

Yovanovitch testified to House investigators Oct. 11 that Trump had personally pressured the State Department to remove her, even though a top department official assured her that she had “done nothing wrong.”

In Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump referred to Yovanovitch as “bad news.” That call is at the heart of the intelligence community whistleblower complaint that touched off the impeachment inquiry.

In a statement, the chairs of the three committees leading the inquiry — House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. and House Oversight Committee acting Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. — said Kent’s testimony “strongly corroborates testimony from numerous other witnesses” and “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 chairs also note that Kent’s “contemporaneous documentation of conversations and events” — which are property of the State Department — have not been turned over by the agency, despite a subpoena.

“The State Department and White House continue to withhold these key documents from the Committees in defiance of duly authorized subpoenas. These actions demonstrate the President’s clear obstruction of Congress and support the inference that these documents further corroborate the testimony of presidential misconduct that we have received,” the chairs said.

Kent is slated to be one of the witnesses testifying on Nov. 13 in the first open impeachment inquiry hearing.

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.

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