WASHINGTON – George kent, an expert in Ukraine and Russia who now serves as deputy assistant secretary of the State Department, told lawmakers that he raised red flags over Rudy Giuliani's efforts to pressure Ukraine for more than six months, according to a Democratic lawmaker.
Kent commented on Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, during more than 10 hours of closed impeachment inquiry on president Donald Trump.
"He was clearly troubled by the role Giuliani was playing, the misinformation he was spreading, and the fact that he had heard the president, which was negatively affecting our relationship with the new government in Ukraine," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D- Va., I told reporters after leaving the session.
Kent arrived Tuesday morning under a congressional subpoena because the State Department tried to block his appearance, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry. He quickly passed through two oak doors to a private courtroom, ignoring reporters' questions.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said witnesses like Kent showed "enormous courage" in testifying despite efforts by the White House to prevent cooperation.
"We are running a complete government effort to prevent it," Schiff told a news conference on Tuesday night. He noted that the State Department and other agencies have met deadlines for filing documents.
"Evidence of congressional obstruction continues to increase," he added.
House Democrats are investigating allegations, made by an unidentified whistleblower, that Trump used his office power to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 elections. In a July 25 call, Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the top Democrats in the 2020 presidential race.
Kent's appearance may be important to lawmakers because he played a key role in the State Department, as Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, increased his pressure on the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who were on the council. of a Ukrainian energy company.
Kent had the wrath of Giuliani earlier this year. In an interview with a Ukrainian news site in May, Giuliani claimed, without evidence, that Kent was working with George Soros, the billionaire liberal philanthropist, to find "dirty information" about Trump's campaign officials.
Representative Tom Malinowski, D-N.J. and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Kent's testimony on Tuesday opened new ground and helped support the information the impeachment panel learned the day before from Fiona Hill, former Trump consultant in Russia.
"All the witnesses gave more support to the whistleblower's initial story," he said. He said he could not disclose additional details.
Hill reportedly told the panel that former National Security Adviser John Bolton did not want to participate in the White House efforts in Ukraine, comparing it to a "drug deal," according to the New York Times and NBC.
Republican lawmakers have so far said witnesses have not supported Democrats' allegations that Trump froze US military aid to Ukraine and refused to meet Zelensky until or unless the Ukrainians opened a Biden investigation.
"The more we are at it, the more I am convinced that a promise and a promise to do something is conditional on an investigation so that aid can be delivered, which just didn't happen," said Rep. Mark Meadows, RN.C., a firm ally of Trump.
Republicans also attacked the impeachment inquiry as unfair and opaque.
Arriving for Tuesday's hearing, Rep. Michael McCaul, the senior Republican of the Foreign Relations Committee, denounced the Democrats for keeping the impeachment process behind closed doors – in the "most secret room in the Capitol."
He was referring to the safe room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center, usually reserved for secret meetings, where witnesses were questioned by lawmakers and officials leading the impeachment investigation.
"If Congress goes ahead with this measure – which is probably the most important thing Congress can do is remove a president from office – it must do so in the spirit of justice and the spirit of due process," McCaul said.
The Democrats, however, argued that the process was best done privately to prevent witnesses from hearing each other's testimony. Three committees, the foreign affairs, oversight, and intelligence committees, are leading the investigation.
Prior to taking up his current position, Kent served as deputy head of mission in Kiev and also spent years working on anti-corruption efforts across Europe. He joined the foreign service almost 30 years ago and speaks Ukrainian, Russian and Thai, among other languages.
Tuesday's closed-door session came when Congress returned from a two-week break; During this time, the impeachment investigation continued to advance rapidly, with scheduled hearings and subpoenas issued almost every day.
Along with Kent's appearance, Tuesday also set the deadline for Vice President Mike Pence Giuliani, the Pentagon and the Office of Administration and Budget to deliver documents regarding Trump's July 25 call with the President of Ukraine. and the delay in military aid to Ukraine. ward off Russian aggression.
House Democrats have subpoenaed these documents except in Pence's case, although it is possible that they will issue one to force their cooperation as well. The White House has issued a general refusal to cooperate with the inquiry.
In a letter to Congress, a lawyer from Giuliani said the former mayor of New York will not comply with the document subpoena. The lawyer called the inquiry "unconstitutional, unfounded and illegitimate" and said the documents are protected by attorney-client privileges and executive privilege, despite the fact that Giuliani does not work for the government.
At least three other witnesses are also expected to attend the panel this week, according to a schedule released Monday by an official working on the impeachment inquiry:
• P. Michael McKinley, former senior consultant to the Secretary of State, is scheduled to appear in a closed session on Wednesday.
McKinley resigned only last week after a decades-long career and included positions as US ambassador to Brazil and Afghanistan. The timing of his departure raised questions and the Washington Post reported his resignation amid low State Department morale and is concerned that Pompeo did not support those involved in the Ukraine controversy, allegations that Pompeo denied in an interview with Tennessean.
"I protect all State Department employees," Pompeo said. "This is one of the reasons why we asked the House of Representatives to stop their abusive cases, where they would not let State Department attorneys sit with our employees. This is not fair."
• Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union, is due to return to the Capitol to testify on Thursday. The State Department prevented him from testifying last week. Sondland, a wealthy former Oregon hotel tycoon, has emerged as a central actor in the case of Ukraine.
Text messages released earlier this month show that he and Kurt Volker, Trump's former special envoy for Ukraine, have orchestrated a months-long effort to pressure newly elected Ukrainian President Zelensky to make a public promise that he would order investigations into Biden and the alleged Ukraine. role in meddling in the 2016 elections.
• Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper is expected to appear before the legislators on Friday in a closed session.
Cooper is a career defense officer, who joined the department in 2001, and is responsible for policy in a number of countries, including Russia and Ukraine, which policymakers will be eager to ask. Cooper could have known about the delay in military aid to Ukraine.
On Thursday, State Department adviser T. Ulrich Brechbuhl was scheduled to testify with the three committees, but it is unclear if he still plans to attend that day.
Brechbuhl is a longtime friend of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; both graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point and served together in Germany. Brechbuhl and Pompeo were also business partners of Thayer Aerospace, a Kansas defense company. Brechbuhl was among those who heard the call on July 25, according to a whistleblower's complaint about the call.
Contributing: Bart Jansen