Top takeaways from George Kent’s newly released impeachment inquiry testimony

Top takeaways from George Kent’s newly released impeachment inquiry testimony

WASHINGTON – The committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump released the testimony transcript Thursday of top State Department official George Kent.

Kent testified that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led a “campaign of slander” against former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch that was “without basis, untrue, period.” He said Giuliani was guiding a back-channel effort to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 U.S. election, which he said was politically motivated.

WASHINGTON – The committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump released the testimony transcript Thursday of top State Department official George Kent.

Kent testified that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led a “campaign of slander” against former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch that was “without basis, untrue, period.” He said Giuliani was guiding a back-channel effort to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 U.S. election, which he said was politically motivated.

The House will begin with its open hearings starting next week, and Kent is scheduled to testify publicly Nov. 13. 

More: Read the full transcript of State Department official George Kent’s testimony

Here are the top takeaways from Kent’s testimony:

Throughout the testimony, Kent describes Giuliani’s active involvement in Ukraine relations, noting that Giuliani was “unmissable” starting in March of 2019.

He laid out that Giuliani was extensively involved in pushing a narrative surrounding Ukraine and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where former vice president Joe Biden’s son sat on the board, as well as the recalling of Yovanovitch from her position. She testified in October to lawmakers that she felt threatened by Trump. 

Yovanovitch was damaged by a narrative pushed by former Ukrainian general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, who Kent testified wanted “revenge” for Yovanovitch’s anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. That narrative was buoyed by Giuliani’s media presence. 

“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 testified.

Kent reinforced that Yovanovitch was recalled because Giuliani and his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, “started reaching out actively to undermine” her and “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 agendas,” Kent continued.

Additionally, Lutsenko traveled privately to New York City to meet Giuliani, according to Kent, who testified that during that meeting, Giuliani continued to “throw mud” toward Ambassador Yovanovitch, Kent and others. 

Kent agreed with lawmakers that Ukrainian officials don’t typically meet with private citizens and that Giuliani wasn’t a “regular private citizen,” explaining that Ukrainian officials “understood that Mr. Giuliani asserted he represented Mr. Trump in his private capacity.”

Kent detailed four “story lines” that he said Giuliani pushed through the media. These started emerging after Lutsenko did an interview with The Hill in March 2019, according to Kent.  

Kent said the information given by Lutsenko was “if not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs.”

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Throughout the testimony, Kent recalled multiple times where he thought Ukraine conducting political investigations Trump wanted was wrong.

He told Catherine Croft, a special adviser for Ukraine who has also testified, that “if you’re asking me, have we ever gone to the Ukrainians and asked them to investigate or prosecute individuals for political reasons, the answer is, I hope we haven’t, and we shouldn’t because that goes against everything that we are trying to promote in post-Soviet states for the last 28 years, which is the promotion of the rule of law.”

Kent reiterated that he thought the idea of using the desired investigations as leverage was “injurious to the rule of law.”

“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 Ukraine and the U.S.,” he stated.

Kent told lawmakers that he does “not believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in politically associated investigations and prosecutions.” 

In the closed-door deposition, Kent reiterated that he was distressed to see multiple channels in terms of U.S. policy in Ukraine.

This reflects the testimony of Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, who said there was an additional channel, along with the official line of communication with the State Department, that was guided by Giuliani and raised concerns that it was “conditioning an important component of our assistance on what would ultimately be a political action.”

Kent testified that “our engagement with Ukraine shifted into, shall we say, unusual channels.”

He also expressed concern that there were “two snake pits” attacking Yovanovitch.

“My reference to the snake pits would have been in the context of having had our ambassador just removed through actions by corrupt Ukrainians in Ukraine as well as private American citizens back here,” he explained.

In his testimony, Kent also revealed that he had raised a concern in February 2015 about Hunter Biden’s position at Burisma creating “the perception of a conflict of interest.”

And when I was on a call with somebody on the vice president’s staff, and I cannot recall who it was, just briefing on what was happening into Ukraine, I raised my concerns that I had heard that Hunter Biden was on the board of a company owned by somebody that the U.S. government had spent money trying to get tens of millions of dollars back and that could create the perception of a conflict of interest.

“The message that I recall hearing back was that the vice president’s son Beau was dying of cancer and that there was no further bandwidth to deal with family-related issues at that time,” Kent said.

But when asked if he had escalated the issue of Hunter Biden’s presence, he said he had not, citing numerous other Ukraine issues the ambassador at the time was dealing with: “It’s easy in a conference room like this to have a considered discussion about things. In Ukraine at that time … it was nonstop.”

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Kent said it was clear to him what Trump wanted: “nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton.”

This, he said, he understood from his conversations with other officials, who conveyed to him that Trump was pushing for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens’ involvement in Ukraine and the claim that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential elections.

When asked in his deposition what that declaration was in exchange for, Kent said, “That was not clear to me. I wasn’t part of this exchange.”

“This is a personal opinion. It strikes me that the association was a meeting with the White House, at the White House, not related to the security assistance. But again, that’s just my personal opinion, other people may have different opinions,” Kent said.

More: Read all the transcripts from the closed-door testimony in the Trump impeachment inquiry

Contributing: Bart Jansen and Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY

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