Testimony from the impeachment inquiry’s deposition of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent was released on Thursday, offering a deeper look inside the department’s reaction to the Ukraine scandal as it unfolded.
Kent’s testimony made clear that, despite President Donald Trump and his defenders’ claims that he had legitimate reasons to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee’s 2016 conduct, the scheme was the farthest thing from appropriate.
He argued that the plot was pushed by corrupt officials in Ukraine, and the idea of the administration pushing political investigations in foreign countries undermines its own stance against corruption.
Here are five key details from the transcript:
1. Rudy Giuliani carried out a “campaign of lies” against the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
“Well, Mr. Giuliani was almost unmissable starting in mid-March. As the news campaign, or campaign of slander against, not only Ambassador Yovanovitch unfolded, he had a very high—a media promise [presence], so he was on TV, his Twitter feed ramped up and it was all focused on Ukraine, and it was focused on the four story lines that unfolded in those days between March 20 and 23rd,” Kent said.
One lawmaker asked: “On May 14, Rudy Giuliani told Ukrainian journalists that the Ambassador was recalled because she was part of the efforts against the President. Were you aware of Mr. Giuliani’s statement at the time?”
Kent explained: “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.”
2. Giuliani was pushing his campaign in coordination with “corrupt” former and current Ukrainian officials, Kent said.
While Giuliani has been claimed that he was working to uncover corruption and protect his client, Kent said that he was actually dealing with corrupt prosecutors in his work in Ukraine.
“Mayor Giuliani has a track record of, you know, asking for a visa for a corrupt former prosecutor,” Kent said.
“What corrupt Ukrainians in the Ukraine were you talking about?” a lawmaker asked.
“The series of corrupt former—or still current prosecutors who engaged former Mayor Giuliani and his associates, and those included former Prosecutor General Shokin, the then Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, who no longer is, the special anti-corruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky, and another deputy prosecutor general named Kostiantyn Kulyk,” Kent said.
He also said that Lutsenko had “vowed revenge” against Yovanovitch, and he used Giuliani to punish her.
3. Trump’s effort to push Ukraine to conduct political investigations undermined U.S. policy and anti-corruption efforts.
Further undermining the claim that Trump was engaged in a good-faith effort to fight corruption by extorting Ukraine to investigate his political enemies, Kent said that this conduct undermines the United States’ anti-corruption goals.
“I do not believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in politically associated investigations and prosecutions,” he said. “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.”
4. Trump reportedly referred to one of the investigations he wanted Ukraine to conduct as being of “Clinton.”
Kent is the first person who has indicated that the investigation of the 2016 election that Trump sought was, in part, and investigation of Hillary Clinton.
“[Ambassador] Gordon [Sondland], 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,” Kent said. He explained that “Clinton” was “shorthand” for the 2016 investigation.
5. Kent completely undermined Secretary Mike Pompeo’s attack on the impeachment inquiry.
After the House Intelligence Committee started investigating the State Department’s role in the Ukraine scandal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shot back with a letter announcing his intent to stonewall the investigation and saying that the House’s tactics were unfair to his employees.
“There was a letter sent to these committees that characterized interactions that I do not feel was accurate,” Kent said.
“Can you explain what you didn’t feel was accurate?” a lawmaker asked.
Kent explained: “Well, there was a line in there that the committees had been attempting to bully, intimidate, and threaten career foreign service officers. And I was one of two career foreign service officers which had received letters from the committees, and I had not felt bullied, threatened, and intimidated.”