In his impeachment inquiry testimony, career State Department official George Kent alleged that Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, sought to manipulate U.S. policy on Ukraine and oust former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Kent also said he had expressed concern over Hunter Biden's position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company in 2015. Nick Schifrin talks to Judy Woodruff.
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Just how far did the president's personal lawyer go to undermine America's normal diplomatic channels with Ukraine?
That was one of the major focuses last month when impeachment investigators in the U.S. House of Representatives interviewed career State Department official George Kent. The full 355-page transcript of Kent's testimony is public today, the sixth such transcript to be released this week.
And our own Nick Schifrin is here with me now to break it all down.
Nick, so, you have been looking at this all day long. So much to follow.
First of all, who is George Kent, and what did he say of significance?
So, George Kent is a career diplomat. He is currently the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Bureau, which makes him in charge of European — Ukraine policy.
And since he joined the State Department in 1992, he has served Democratic and Republican administrations.
And here are the two main takeaways from his testimony today. He was very explicit about calling out Rudy Giuliani, what he said was Giuliani's — quote — "campaign full of lies against the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine."
And unlike other diplomats who have testified, he expressed concern about Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a notoriously corrupt Ukrainian company while his father, the vice president, was trying to get Ukrainian officials to tackle corruption.
So both of those are at the core of this impeachment battle. For the Democrats, Giuliani is the beginning of the story they want to tell, that the president withheld aid to benefit politically. And for Republicans, they want to talk about how Hunter Biden was on the board right as Vice President Biden was working in Ukraine.
So, let's take both the things — both of those.
But let's start with Giuliani. We have heard a lot from different people about Rudy Giuliani's role. What is Kent saying that goes beyond what anybody else has said?
Kent's words are much more pointed.
And he went further in his language than most people. And he's really angry about one incident. And that is the ouster of former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Now, just a reminder, Yovanovitch was the Trump administration's ambassador to Ukraine, spent 33 years as Foreign Service officer, nominated by both Democratic and Republican administrations. She lost her job after Rudy Giuliani convinced the president that she was anti-Trump.
And this is what Kent said about that campaign that Giuliani led.
He said: "Giuliani at that point had been carrying on campaign for several months full of lies and incorrect information on Ambassador Yovanovitch. His assertions and allegations, when against former Ambassador Yovanovitch, were without basis, untrue, period."
What Democrats say is that this is important, not only because Giuliani helped oust her, Yovanovitch, but that, after that, Giuliani convinced the president to withhold that aid to Ukraine in order to investigate before Ukraine investigated three things, 2016, Clinton and Biden.
Those are the words that Kent said. That means investigate 2016 hacking and investigate the company that Hunter Biden was on the board.
So very, very specific.
So now let's talk about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, his father. You're telling us that George Kent very critical of them as well.
This is a point where Hunter Biden was on the board of a company called Burisma. It's a Ukrainian oil and gas company that is notoriously corrupt. Both U.S. and British officials were actually wanting to investigate Burisma.
And this was exactly as Vice President Biden was leading U.S. policy in Ukraine and trying to root out corruption.
So let's listen — let's look at what Kent said about this.
"I raised my concerns that I had heard that Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that could create the perception of a conflict of interest. The message that I recall hearing back was that the vice president's son, Beau, was dying of cancer" — this was in 2015 — "and that there was no further bandwidth to deal with family-related issues at that time."
So, I talked to a couple of officials who used to work for Vice President Biden at this time. And they are admittedly unsure whether that particular conversation took place.
But here's their larger point. They say that Vice President Biden's push to tackle corruption would have increased the exposure of Burisma, where his son was on the board, rather than decrease or somehow shield the exposure to Burisma.
And what they argue is that, even if there were some optics problems, the fact is that it didn't affect U.S. policy, didn't affect Vice President Biden's policy to try and get Ukraine to try to crack down on corruption.
So, coming back to who George Kent is, he is an employee of the State Department. And you were telling us the secretary of state had something to say about all this.
So, he is one of eight State Department employees who have testified, mostly because they have been subpoenaed by Democratic-led committees.
And one of the most critical of those employees all week or all over the last few weeks has been former Ambassador Mike McKinley. Just as a reminder of who this is, he's former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a four-time ambassador and, again, nominated by both Republican and Democratic administrations.
McKinley's accusation was that Secretary of State Pompeo didn't defend Yovanovitch during that campaign that Giuliani was leading, that campaign Kent called a campaign of lies. And that ended, of course, with Yovanovitch being fired.
Pompeo was asked about that today for the first time. And this is what he said:
With respect to Ambassador McKinley, I think he said at the opening statement that he put out that he wasn't particularly involved in the Ukraine policy.
So it's not surprising that, when Ambassador Yovanovitch returned to the United States, that he didn't raise that issue with me. It shouldn't surprise anyone that, in May, when that took place, he didn't say a thing to me.
So Pompeo is right. McKinley didn't bring that issue up in May, but he did in September after the president disparaged Yovanovitch using pretty specific words.
In September, McKinley says Pompeo chose not to defend Yovanovitch. That's why McKinley resigned.
Very quickly, separately, a State Department official tonight tells me that the State Department is going to pay for all these attorneys that are appearing inside these deposition rooms, because the committees are not allowing any government officials inside those rooms.