Democrats’ highlights of Kent’s testimony | Full transcript
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How other officials rationalized dealing with Giuliani
Kent makes clear in his testimony that he was alarmed by the role the president’s personal lawyer was playing in trying to shape Ukraine policy — especially his efforts to work with a Ukrainian prosecutor to smear the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch.
But he said that others, like Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, thought that it was better to engage with Giuliani than to ignore him because of the influence he wielded on President Donald Trump. Volker even brushed off Giuliani’s campaign against Yovanovitch and push to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a rival for the White House in 2020, saying, according to Kent: ”Well, if there’s nothing there, what does it matter?”
Kent, however, was worried about the precedent set, and the long-term implications. Or, as he put it: “What I understood was Kurt was thinking tactically and I was concerned strategically.”
The Trump-Zelensky call made for uncomfortable talk even among colleagues.
Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was so unusual that a National Security Council official — Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, who also has testified for the inquiry — didn’t want to get into the details with Kent. That call is now at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
“It was different than any read-out call that I had received,” Kent told investigators. “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.”
Trump’s message for Zelensky: ‘Investigations, Biden, Clinton’
Kent told investigators that, based on his conversations with other senior American diplomats, Gordon Sondland relayed that Trump “wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone [sic] and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton.”
Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was describing “in shorthand” what Trump wanted the Ukrainians to do, according to Kent.
“Zelensky needed to go to a microphone and basically there needed to be three words in the message, and that was the shorthand,” Kent added.
The word “Clinton” was shorthand for 2016, Kent said, a likely reference to the debunked conspiracy theory — pushed by Trump and Giuliani — that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.
Giuliani and Lutsenko waged a ‘campaign of lies’
As Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani was interested in getting Ukraine to investigate Biden and the 2016 election. And Yuriy Lutsenko, a top prosecutor in Ukraine at the time, saw Yovanovitch as an apparent threat to his ability to keep his position as it became clear that U.S. officials felt he was not doing enough to battle corruption.
The two men found each other useful, Kent said.
“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,” Kent said.
Kent said he learned that Lutsenko had even met in private with Giuliani in New York, where Lutsenko’s purpose was to “throw mud” at Yovanovitch and Kent himself.
Kent said the two men essentially waged a “campaign of lies” about Yovanovitch, who would be recalled early from her post in May.
“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 told lawmakers. “His assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period.”
Kent’s boss told him to keep his ‘head down’
Top officials at the State Department seemed unsure of how to deal with someone like Giuliani, who, although not a U.S. official, clearly wielded an outsized influence on Trump when it came to Ukraine. His presence was a divergence from the usual policy-making process.
At one point, after Giuliani slammed Yovanovitch, Kent and others in a May 2019 interview, Kent was told by his superiors to “keep my head down and lower my profile in Ukraine,” he said.
The instruction came via an intermediary from David Hale, the undersecretary of State for political affairs, according to Kent’s understanding. It wasn’t clear if Hale had talked to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about it.
Hale testified to impeachment investigators on Wednesday, but little has yet emerged about what he told them.
Hunter Biden’s role was scrutinized, too
Republicans will be able to hang their hat on at least one aspect of Kent’s testimony.
Kent said he spoke with a member of Biden’s staff in February 2015 and raised concerns about his son Hunter’s role on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
“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,” Kent told investigators.
The foundational basis of Giuliani’s efforts to spur a Biden investigation was the unsubstantiated theory that the then-vice president sought to oust a prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was looking into Burisma. The prosecutor was widely viewed by the Western world as corrupt, and the State Department’s view was that Shokin became an impediment to efforts to root out corruption in Ukraine.
Sondland’s ‘independent relationship’ with Mick Mulvaney
Kent testified to a previously unreported detail about Sondland’s relationship with the White House: namely, that Sondland had “connections” to the acting chief of staff that got him into high-level meetings with both Ukraine’s president and Trump, despite Ukraine not being in the European Union and therefore not a key part of his portfolio.
“It was Ambassador Sondland’s connections with Mulvaney” that got the U.S. delegation that attended Zelensky’s inauguration a meeting afterwards with President Trump, Kent testified. That meeting “was not done through NSC staff,” Kent said, explaining how it deviated from the typical process for such debriefings.
Sondland, for his part, had testified that “I don’t believe I’ve ever had a formal meeting with Mulvaney … we say hello, we walk by and wave. I don’t believe I’ve sat down with him for a formal meeting on any subject.”
Notably, Mulvaney, as the former head of the Office of Management and Budget, also ordered the hold on military assistance aid that Trump had directed, Kent testified. His relationship with Sondland suggests the EU ambassador might have had more insight into the reasons for the hold than Sondland let on during his own testimony.
In revised testimony submitted earlier this week, Sondland said he understood that the aid would only be resumed if Ukraine launched the investigations Trump demanded.
House Democrats have demanded that Mulvaney give a deposition of his own, but the White House said on Thursday that he would not show up to his scheduled appearance on Friday, calling the impeachment probe “a ridiculous, partisan, illegitimate proceeding.”
Kent kept a receipt, too
At a certain point, Kent said, he realized he needed to make a record of his concerns about Ukraine policy. Two conversations in particular triggered the move.
One was with Catherine Croft, a special assistant to Volker. She asked Kent in mid-August, he recalled, whether the U.S. had “ever asked the Ukrainians to investigate anybody.”
He explained to her that if there had been a crime committed in the U.S., there was a treaty that allowed for asking for such assistance, among other options. But if she was talking about asking the Ukrainians to prosecute someone for political reasons, he said, “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.”
The next day, he learned from William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv after Yovanvitch had been pulled out, that Volker had raised the possibility of “investigations” with top Ukrainian officials. So Kent decided to write 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.”
Kent’s frustration with Volker in this process was palpable. In his conversation with Croft, he told her: “Kurt has a lot of ideas. Some of them great; some of them are not so good. And part of the role of the special assistant as well as people like me is to ensure that the ideas stay within the bounds of U.S. policy.”
Republican senators pushed Trump to lift hold on aid
Republican Senators Jim Inhofe, Rob Portman and Mitch McConnell called Trump and asked him about the hold on military aid to Ukraine just before the hold was lifted, according to Kent. The questions, and bipartisan criticism of the hold from members of Congress, may have contributed to Trump’s decision to release the aid on September 11.
Kent recalled Republican senators “who had traveled to Ukraine from the relevant committees” getting involved, presumably because they were aware of the importance of the aid to fending off Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.
Describing the aid as “critically important” for Ukrainian security and in the “national interest” of the United States, Kent said, “I would say that we probably derive more benefit from the relationship than the Ukrainians do.”
Kent clashed with State higher-ups over their response to inquiry
As the House committees investigating impeachment pressed the State Department to hand over records, Kent grew frustrated over how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his aides were handling the matter.
For one thing, he took exception to Pompeo’s claim in an Oct. 1 letter to lawmakers that the committees were “attempting to bully, intimidate, and threaten career foreign service officers.”
He, for one, “had not felt bullied, threatened, and intimidated,” Kent said.
He also pointed out that despite receiving requests for documents on Sept. 9 and Sept. 23, as well as a Sept. 27 subpoena, it wasn’t until “after the close of business on Oct. 2” that the department issued a “formal instruction” on gathering documents. The committees wanted the material by Oct. 4.
Along the way, Kent said he had a “very public exchange” with a State Department lawyer over who should be responsive to the subpoena.
Kent argued that a top consular official should also share information because he’d spoken with Giuliani about a dispute over a visa for a prominent Ukrainian. The lawyer disagreed that the consular official, who was not named in the subpoena, needed to get involved.
Kent remains a U.S. diplomat, and it’s not yet clear how his decision to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry will affect his career. He told lawmakers he was “faced with enormous professional and personal cost and expense of dealing with a conflict between the executive and legislative branches not of my making.”
Kent doesn’t believe aid was part of quid pro quo
Several witnesses have testified both a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky and the U.S. military aid package were conditioned on Ukraine publicly committing to the investigations Trump and Giuliani were seeking.
But Kent says it was his “personal opinion” that only the White House meeting, not the military assistance, was part of a quid pro quo.
“It strikes me that the association was a meeting with the White House, at the White House, not related to the security assistance,” Kent told investigators. “But again, that’s just my personal opinion, other people may have different opinions.”