Live updates: State Department official says Giuliani was engaged in a campaign ‘full of lies and incorrect information’ about former ambassador thumbnail

Live updates: State Department official says Giuliani was engaged in a campaign ‘full of lies and incorrect information’ about former ambassador

Earlier Thursday, Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Pence on Europe and Russia, appeared after being subpoenaed and testified behind closed doors for about five hours as former national security adviser John Bolton declined to appear before House investigators.President Trump, meanwhile, complained Thursday morning after a Washington Post report that he wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that Trump broke no laws during a July phone call in which he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the investigations. He also lashed out at an attorney for the whistleblower whose complaint prompted the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry●Trump wanted Barr to hold news conference saying the president broke no laws in call with Ukrainian leader.5:50 p.m.: Hill says Sondland lied about Oval Office conversationsKent was asked what concerns Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, had expressed about Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union. Kent said Hill “had concerns possibly based on having been in conversations in the Oval Office [in which] he made assertions about conversations that did not match with what had actually been said in the Oval Office.”He added, “I think she may have been as direct as saying that Gordon Sondland lies about conversations that occur in the Oval Office.”Asked whether Sondland had any conversations with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Ukraine, Kent said, “It was clear to me that Ambassador Sondland had a direct connection with Chief of Staff Mulvaney, and that’s actually how the May 23 readout was put on the president’s schedule.“It was not, to the best of my knowledge, done through the national security staff and Ambassador Bolton. It was done [through] Ambassador Sondland directly to Chief of Staff Mulvaney,” he said.— Ellen Nakashima5:05 p.m.: Top Zelensky aide privately accused U.S. officials of hypocrisyKent described a Sept. 14 meeting that William B. Taylor Jr., the acting ambassador to Ukraine, and Kurt Volker, the special envoy, had with Andriy Yermak, the top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.Kent did not attend the meeting but got an account of it the next morning from Taylor, who described an “awkward” exchange. It happened days before the Trump-Ukraine dealings started to break into public view.Volker, according to the account Taylor relayed to Kent, pressed Yermak on an investigation the Ukrainians had opened into Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko.“He didn’t think that was appropriate,” Kent said of Volker.Yermak, according to Kent’s indirect account, had a sharp reply: “What? You mean the type of investigations you’re pushing for us to do on Biden and Clinton?”“And at that point Kurt Volker did not respond,” Kent said.According to this account, the possibility of a Trump-Zelensky meeting later came up, and Volker told Yermak that “it’s important that [Zelensky] give the messages that we discussed before” — an apparent reference to the request for the investigations Trump allegedly sought.“Taylor told me that he then said: ‘Don’t do that,’” Kent recalled. “My understanding is that he was concerned. And when Kurt made a suggestion that [Taylor] felt was inappropriate he weighed in with his own personal opinion, which that was not appropriate.”–Mike DeBonis4:45 p.m.: Kent describes tense exchange with State Department lawyer over subpoenaed documentsIn an unusually dramatic example of bureaucratic warfare, Kent described tangling with an unnamed State Department lawyer over the scope of documents demanded earlier this year by House committees — illustrating the high tension inside the department as the Ukraine saga unfolded.The exchange took place at a meeting attended by about 20 people on the morning of Oct. 3, as senior department officials discussed who precisely was obligated to hand over documents to Congress. Kent suggested that Carl Risch, the assistant secretary for consular affairs, ought to be included given his direct talks with Giuliani regarding a visa for former prosecutor general Viktor Shokin.“The conversation rapidly, I would say, either escalated or degenerated into a tense exchange,” he said. “He objected to my raising of the additional information.”The two men, Kent said, continued sparring over whether it was appropriate for Kent to participate in the discussion and whether a statement issued by the State Department suggesting that officials had been bullied and intimidated by Congress was accurate.Eventually, the lawyer summoned Kent outside where there was another contentious exchange.“I said, ‘That was unprofessional.’ And he then said, ‘You were unprofessional.’ He got very angry. He started pointing at me with a clenched jaw,” arguing that Congress could interpret Kent’s comments as trying to influence the collection of document.“I said, ‘That’s called projection,’” he continued. “What I hear you saying is that you think that I am doing that. What I was trying to do was make sure that the department was being fully responsive.”Kent then left the meeting, and he said that he had no further personal interactions with the lawyer.–Mike DeBonis4:40 p.m.: Vindman set up Trump-Zelensky call, and later gave Kent an ‘uncomfortable’ readoutThe infamous July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky was set up by National Security Council Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who gave Kent a bare-bones readout of it, in which Kent said it was clear Vindman was “uncomfortable” with what transpired.“It was different than any readout call that I had received. He felt — I could hear it in his voice and his hesitancy that he felt uncomfortable,” Kent testified. “He actually said that he could not share the majority of what was discussed because of the very sensitive nature of what was discussed.”Vindman didn’t mention anything about Burisma, Biden or 2016. But he did tell Kent that Yovanovitch had been characterized as “bad news,” Kent said, and noted that “the conversation went into the direction of some of the most extreme narratives that have been discussed publicly.”Kent said he had no advance knowledge that the transcript of the call would be released Sept. 25, and didn’t read it until it was declassified. He said he only recalled discussing Vindman’s readout with a few State Department officials, including Tyler Brace, who used to work for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the acting assistant secretary, and possibly the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr.Kent said he “may have made some reference to the negative characterization” of Yovanovitch to her during an early September dinner with his wife and Yovanovitch’s mother, but “wouldn’t have discussed the substance of the call in part because the readout of the call I got was not substantive, and second of all, it wouldn’t have been appropriate.”He did not recall Yovanovitch having an obvious reaction, noting that she “is an intensely private person, she’s an introvert.”— Karoun Demirjian4:36 p.m.: Kent: Brechbuhl told Sean Hannity to cool it on YovanovitchKent testified that a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reached out to conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity in late March or early April and asked him to back off his attacks on Yovanovitch.At the time, a journalist-turned-conservative columnist had run a series of stories accusing Yovanovitch of trying to get Ukraine to interfere in the U.S. election against Trump, allegations that have never been substantiated and have been fervently denied by not only her but top State officials.Hannity, a Trump ally, had picked up the allegations and discussed them on his program.“I believe, to the best of my recollection, the counselor for the Department, Ulrich Brechbuhl, reached out and suggested to Mr. Hannity that if there was no proof of the allegations, that he should stop covering them,” Kent told impeachment investigators.— Rachael Bade4:30 p.m.: Kent’s ‘growing concerns’ with changes to Ukraine policyOn Aug. 15, Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker’s new assistant, Catherine Croft, went to Kent’s office and asked, “Have we ever asked the Ukrainians to investigate anybody?”Kent suspected that she was really asking whether U.S. officials had ever gone to the Ukrainians “and asked them to investigate or prosecute individuals for political reasons,” he testified. “And if that was the question, the answer is, ‘I hope we haven’t’,’ ” he said he told her. “And we shouldn’t because that goes against everything that we are trying to promote in the post-Soviet states for the last 28 years, which is the rule of law.”The following day, he said, he spoke with the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., who “amplified” the theme. Taylor told him that Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak made a remark referring to the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, a formal process by which one government requests legal help from another.“And I told Bill Taylor, that’s wrong, and we shouldn’t be doing that as a matter of U.S. policy,” Kent said. He said Taylor agreed.In short, Kent was worried about a shadow policy being run outside the normal policy and diplomatic channels, by people including Giuliani — who was not a government official — as well as Sondland, Perry and Volker.“I had growing concerns that individuals were pushing communications with Ukrainians that had not been discussed and endorsed in the formal policy process, yes,” he said.— Ellen Nakashima4:20 p.m.: Trump wanted Zelensky to go to the microphone and say, ‘investigations, Biden and Clinton’ On the Saturday after Labor Day, Ambassador Taylor sent Kent a WhatsApp message indicating that he had spoken to Tim Morrison, the NSC senior director for Europe. Morrison had spoken to Sondland, who had spoken to the president.According to Morrison, Taylor told Kent, “POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to the microphone and say, ‘investigation, Biden and Clinton.’ ”In return for what was not clear.But in a follow-up call to Kent, Taylor elaborated that Sondland was trying to “open up the possibility of a [Zelensky] visit to the White House.”Taylor indicated that Sondland was pushing for Zelensky to do an interview, maybe with CNN, “in which he would send this public signal of announcing a willingness to pursue investigations,” Kent testified.He said he thought the “hope was that sending that signal would clear the way for both the White House visit as well as the resumption or the clearing of the administrative hold on security assistance … although . … Taylor asserted to me that both Tim Morrison and Gordon Sondland specifically said that they did not believe the two issues were linked.”Taylor told Kent he told Sondland, “This is wrong.”— Ellen Nakashima4:15 p.m.: Appeals court to review order to release Mueller grand jury material to CongressA federal appeals court in Washington will consider next week whether the Justice Department must release to Congress certain grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit announced Thursday that it would hear oral arguments Tuesday to review a ruling from last month that requires disclosure of the secret material the House Judiciary Committee is seeking in its impeachment inquiry.In her ruling last month, Judge Beryl A. Howell, chief of the U.S. District Court in Washington, found the House was legally engaged in a judicial process that exempts Congress from grand jury secrecy rules.The Justice Department, which opposes release of the information, quickly appealed.— Ann E. Marimow4:15 p.m.: Kent suggests Trump set a bad example for Ukraine on corruption”Pushed by Intelligence Committee Chair Adam B. Schiff about whether it was appropriate for a U.S. president to ask for an investigation of an American citizen, Kent said it was not.“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 … there is an outstanding issue about people in office in those countries using selectively politically motivated prosecutors to go after their opponents. And that’s wrong for the rule of law regardless of what country that happens.”Schiff pressed, “And … having the President of the United States effectively ask for a political investigation of his opponent would run directly contrary to all of the anticorruption efforts that we were making. Is that a fair statement?”Kent agreed: “I would say that request does not align with what has been our policy towards Ukraine and many other countries, yes.”—Rachael Bade4:10 p.m.: Kent describes Giuliani’s effort to secure visa for Ukrainian prosecutor accused of corruptionKent told the House impeachment inquiry that he never had any personal dealings with Giuliani, but he described having a central role in a key episode: Trump’s effort to secure a U.S. visa for Viktor Shokin, Ukraine’s former prosecutor general.Kent was brought into the loop once Giuliani’s request reached the upper echelons of the State Department in January 2019.Asked for his view of Shokin, Kent was withering: “There was a broad-based consensus that he was a typical Ukraine prosecutor who lived a lifestyle far in excess of his government salary, who never prosecuted anybody known for having committed a crime, and having covered up crimes that were known to have been committed.”He added: “We felt, under no circumstances, should a visa be issued to someone who knowingly subverted and wasted U.S. taxpayer money. And as somebody who had a fiduciary responsibility for anticorruption programs, I felt personally strongly … that it was incorrect and so we stated that view clearly” to the department officials overseeing visas.Kent said he understood that Shokin wanted to come to the U.S. “to share information suggesting that there was corruption at the U.S. Embassy” — an allegation that Kent said he and others gave little credibility: “I had full faith that it was bunch of hooey, and he was looking to basically engage in a con game out of revenge because he’d lost his job.”—Mike DeBonis4:05 p.m.: Kent says Shokin’s ouster was over corruption, not BurismaKent delivered a blow to Trump allies’ repeated assertions that former vice president Joe Biden sought to oust Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin because he was probing a company linked to his son Hunter Biden, called Burisma.Rather, Kent testified that as the No. 2 at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv at the time, even he, a seasoned diplomat with vast Ukrainian connections, was unaware of any investigation into Burisma. Kent also emphasized that U.S. officials and American allies found Sholkin to be corrupt after the so called “diamond prosecutor affair,” when law enforcement “confiscated from his former driver … a cache of diamonds.”“Our concerns about Shokin’s conduct in office were triggered by the reaction to the so-called diamond prosecutor case,” Kent told lawmakers, later adding: “The conversation was very much focused, first and foremost, on the so-called diamond prosecutors case that involved these corrupt prosecutors, Korniyets and Shapakin.”“So as the number two in the embassy, at this time, you weren’t even aware of even an allegation that there was an investigation underway by Shokin involving Burisma?” House Intelligence Chair Adam B. Schiff asked for clarity.“That was not something that I recall ever coming up or being discussed,” Kent said.— Rachael Bade4 p.m.: Kent says Giuliani associates Parnas and Fruman sought meetings with top UkrainiansIn the spring of 2019, Ukrainian officials started reporting to State Department officials that they were getting requests to meet with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida business executives working with Giuliani on his project to dig up dirt on Democrats in Ukraine. The duo were arrested last month and charged with illegally channeling foreign money into U.S. campaign donations.According to the transcript of Kent’s testimony, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told Kent that during a trip to the U.S. in February, he’d been asked to detour to Florida to sit down with Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani. He told Kent that his schedule had been too busy to accommodate the sit-down.Kent testified another Ukrainian named Ivan Bakanov also said that he’d received a similar request. Kent described Bakanov as the oldest friend of Volodymyr Zelensky, who was elected Ukraine’s president that month. Zelensky later made Bakanov head of the country’s security services. Kent said that Bakanov told him that Giuliani and his associates were planning a trip to Ukraine and wanted to meet with him.Bakanov asked Kent his opinion of accepting such a meeting. According to the transcript. Kent said he repeated to Bakanov what he had once been told by Avakov: “He told me, ‘you can always meet and have a cup of coffee and not make any commitments
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