Trump wanted to hear 'investigations, Biden and Clinton' on Ukraine call, diplomat says
George Kent also testified that Rudy Giuliani conducted smear campaign against ex-ambassador
There were three words U.S. President Donald Trump wanted to hear from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky: "Investigations, Biden and Clinton." That's according to a transcript, released Thursday, of an impeachment inquiry interview with career State Department official George Kent.
"[Trump] wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to the microphone and say investigations, Biden and Clinton," Kent testified.
"That was the message.… Zelensky needed to go to a microphone and basically there needed to be three words in the message, and that was the shorthand," he said.
Kent told investigators that this was his understanding of what Trump wanted Zelensky to say in public, based on conversations relayed to him by others in the administration who were in contact with Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
Clinton, he clarified, was "shorthand" for the 2016 election. It was a reference to Trump's view, pushed by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani but outside of mainstream U.S. intelligence, that Ukraine played a role interfering in the U.S. presidential election.
Kent also told congressional investigators that Giuliani conducted a "campaign full of lies and incorrect information" against Marie Yovanovitch before she was recalled from her post as ambassador to Ukraine, according to the transcript of his testimony.
"His assertions and allegations against former ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period," Kent told lawmakers, during a closed-door session on Oct. 15 as part of the impeachment probe of Trump.
Kent, who had served as a top diplomat in Ukraine, also said he was subject to attacks by Giuliani and was told to "keep his head down" by a senior State Department official.
House investigators are releasing key transcripts from hours of closed-door interviews in the impeachment inquiry as they prepare for public sessions with witnesses next week. Kent, along with William Taylor — the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine — will testify publicly on Nov. 13. Yovanovitch will testify on Nov. 15.
Adviser to VP testifies, Bolton a no-show
Earlier, congressional committees met for the first time with an adviser to Vice-President Mike Pence, but former national security adviser John Bolton failed to heed a request to appear.
Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer and special adviser to Pence for Europe and Russia, was testifying in a closed-door hearing in front of members of the foreign affairs, intelligence and oversight committees of the House after receiving a subpoena.
Lawmakers were seeking information from Williams about how much Pence knew about efforts by Trump and those around him to pressure Ukraine to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as look into possible Ukraine interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The House investigation is focused on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, a leading Democratic rival at the November 2020 presidential election. Williams was one of a handful of U.S. officials who listened in on the call.
They are trying to determine whether Trump froze $391 million US in security assistance for Ukraine to put pressure on Zelensky to conduct the investigation, misusing U.S. foreign policy for his personal gain.
Bolton, who was fired by Trump in September, was called to appear on Thursday, but Bolton's attorney said he would not testify voluntarily, and he has not yet been subpoenaed.
The Washington Post, citing people familiar with Bolton's views, said he is willing to testify but wants to see how a court battle between Congress and the White House over the constitutionality of the subpoenas shakes out first.
The battle could go to the Supreme Court and spill into next year.
Members of the committees conducting the inquiry have said they want to see if Bolton will corroborate previous witnesses's testimony that he was alarmed at Trump asking a foreign government to get involved in domestic politics.
Shutdown complication looms
Senate Republicans have so far shown little appetite for ousting the president. Republicans in both Houses have variously blasted what they've deemed a partisan process, denied there was a quid pro quo attached to the disbursements of aid or suggested that such tradeoffs are typically part of international diplomacy.
Democrats have countered that any quid pro quos are usually in furtherance of U.S. interests abroad, not the personal interests of a president looking to damage a potential rival.
A potential complication to the timeline is looming on Nov. 21, a date on which additional funding is needed to avoid a partial government shutdown.
Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the U.S. House intelligence panel, has asked Republicans to submit witness requests by Saturday ahead of next week's public hearings.
Schiff, in a statement released Thursday, said Democrats do not intend to request public testimony from every witness who has provided depositions in closed-door sessions with lawmakers.
If the Democratic-controlled House votes to impeach Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove him from office.
With files from Reuters and CBC News