Ukrainians used Giuliani to in effort to oust US ambassador, State Department official says

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees Oct. 15, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Kent was on Capitol Hill to testify to the committees as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
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By Billy House Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Ukrainian officials seeking “revenge” against the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv used Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, to orchestrate a disinformation campaign that led to her ouster, a State Department official told the House impeachment inquiry.

The transcript of George Kent’s Oct. 15 closed-door deposition also shows his concern about Giuliani’s role guiding White House priorities, which included pushing for an investigation of a Ukraine company connected to the son of a potential 2020 presidential rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Kent, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s European and Eurasian Bureau, said the Trump administration had two points of leverage for that demand: an Oval Office meeting for the newly elected Ukrainian president and military aid authorized by Congress.

Kent said he wrote a memo in August noting “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.”

Part of that included Giuliani engaging in a campaign “full of lies and incorrect information” about then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was removed in May.

Kent has emerged as a top witness for House Democrats in their impeachment inquiry against Trump. He is already scheduled to be one of the two witnesses in the first open impeachment hearing held by the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

Kent described an orchestrated campaign against Yovanovitch that included two of Giuliani’s business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who subsequently were charged in the U.S. with illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. officials and a political action committee that backed Trump.

Parnas and Fruman “started reaching out actively to undermine Ambassador Yovanovitch, starting in 2018 with a meeting with former Congressman Pete Sessions on May 9th, 2018,” Kent said, according to the transcript.

Also involved in the effort was the then-prosecutor general of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, who was under pressure from the U.S. State Department for “essentially colluding with a corrupt official to undermine the investigation” into a ring that was selling fake Ukrainian passports, according to Kent.

Lutsenko “vowed revenge, and provided information” to Giuliani “in hopes that he would spread it and lead to her removal,” Kent said, referring to Yovanovitch. He said Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told him that Lutsenko had made a private trip to New York to meet with Giuliani “to throw mud” at Yovanovitch and others in the State Department.

Lutsenko resigned under pressure from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in August.

Kent also testified about acting white house chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s designation of a three-person team — then-Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — to help Giuliani in this shadow diplomacy effort. Kent recalled these three came to call themselves as the “three amigos.”

Sondland was one of the leading figures pushing for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to give a public statement confirming the investigations Giuliani sought, according to Kent’s testimony.

“I think the anticipation or 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,” Kent said.

Kent was one of the career State Department officials who tried to shield Yovanovitch in March from what he viewed as a Giuliani-led campaign to discredit her.

Kent said Giuliani’s “assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period,” according to the transcript.

Kent noted that was the same day Parnas and Fruman met with Sessions, the then-House Rules Committee chairman, “wrote a letter to Secretary Pompeo impugning Ambassador Yovanovitch’s loyalty and suggesting that she be removed.”

“And others also in 2018 were engaged in an effort to undermine her standing by claiming that she was disloyal,” Kent told the committees.

Texts of emails given to Congress, obtained by Bloomberg, show that Kent, along with Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Reeker, sought to provide department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale with facts to counter conspiracy claims being pushed about Yovanovitch.

Yovanovitch, in her own testimony on Oct. 11 to the impeachment panels, said she was told there had been a concerted campaign to remove her — and that Giuliani was involved.

“I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me. But individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine,” she said, in prepared opening remarks, released publicly.

Yovanovitch is also scheduled to testify in a public hearing Nov. 15.

(Nick Wadhams contributed to this report.)
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