White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Donald Trump (File — Jonathan Ernst)
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney organized the effort to bypass US agencies, enabling Donald Trump’s campaign for Ukrainian investigations of Presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.
George Kent, the State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy, told House investigators on Tuesday of Mulvaney’s initiative. Kent said the Chief of Staff designated Energy Secretary Rick Perry, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and US envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker to take charge.
Sondland and Volker assisted Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, who had pursued the campaign since November 2018 for the investigations to tarnish Biden and the Democrats, as well as to cover up Russia’s role in the 2016 US elections. They organized Giuliani’s meetings with current and former Ukrainian officials, and drafted a speech — which was never delivered — for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who took office in May.
The White House meeting was on May 23, days after US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was removed from her post on Trump’s orders.
Kent said he was instructed to “lay low” and defer to the “three amigos”. The official said that was because he was critical of the Trump-Giuliani campaign — “what [I] was saying was not welcome” — according to Rep. Gerald Connolly.
The shift in authority was communicated to the US Embassy in Ukraine in June. “For some Americans from the embassy, that was news to them,” Kent said.
On July 25 — days after he suspended almost $400 million of security assistance to Ukraine — Trump asked Zelenskiy to launch the investigations into Biden and other conspiracy theories, including Ukraine rather than Russia as the source of the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
“Classic Disinformation Operation”
According to State Department documents, given to Congress earlier this month, Kent suspected from March that Yovanovitch was the target of a “classic disinformation operation”. He expressed concern to superiors in the hope that they would defend the Ambassador.
On Tuesday, Kent confirmed that information as well as reports that Giuliani was working with former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko to discredit Yovanovitch. Material, including a fabricated document, was given to John Solomon, who posted the disinformation on The Hill site.
Kent’s testimony, which lasted more than seven hours, was the latest by a current or former official after House committees broke through a White House blockade of testimony and documents.
Volker was the first to give a deposition, earlier this month. Yovanovitch appeared last Thursday, detailing the Trump-Giuliani effort for her dismissal. On Monday former senior National Security official Fiona Hill spoke of her concern at Giuliani’s campaign, with National Security Advisor John Bolton lambasting him as a “hand grenade” blowing up US policy.
Sondland, whose scheduled appearance was cancelled last week by the State Department, will testify this Thursday. He is expected to say that his insistence of “no quid pro quos” in the Trump-Zelenskiy call — defending Trump against the claim that he linked military aid to the Biden investigation — was made under instruction from Trump.
Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine, appears on Friday.