Kent cites bid for public Biden probe pledge: Impeachment update
House committees investigating President Donald Trump are expected to hear closed-door testimony Thursday from Jennifer Williams, a special adviser for Europe in Vice President Mike Pence’s office.
Former National Security Advisor John Bolton has also been invited, but a person familiar with the committees’ plans said lawmakers don’t expect him to appear.
Here are the latest developments:
Kent Says Trump Wanted Biden’ in Statement (4:40 p.m.)
The words “investigations, Biden, Clinton” were to be required elements of a public announcement the new Ukraine president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was being asked by the U.S. to make, Kent told impeachment investigators, according to the transcript.
This was the clear, even if shorthand, message being relayed from Trump through channels of what Zelenskiy had to talk about, said Kent.
“POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelenskiy to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden and Clinton,” Kent said, making a reference to Hillary Clinton.
Kent was asked if the word “Clinton” was shorthand for 2016, meaning an investigation into the 2016 campaign. “2016, yes,” he said.
He said that at the time, it wasn’t clear to him what Ukraine would get in return for such a statement.
Kent Raised Biden Conflict Concerns in 2015 (4:06 p.m.)
Kent described raising concerns to then-Vice President Joe Biden’s office in early 2015 that his son Hunter’s seat on the board of the Burisma company created the perception of a conflict of interest.
“I raised my concerns that I had heard that Hunter Biden was on the board of a company owned by somebody that the U. S. government had spent money trying to get tens of millions of dollars back, and that could create the perception of a conflict of interest,” Kent testified, according to the transcript.
Kent also said that after Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, he received a description of the call from National Security Council aide Alexander Vindman, who didn’t specifically mention Joe Biden or the 2016 campaign.
“He just said, as I said at the beginning, he said the majority of the conversation touched on very sensitive topics that I don’t feel comfortable sharing,” said Kent in his testimony.
Republicans argue that Kent wasn’t a direct witness to much of the information he provides in the deposition, and a substantial amount of what he described had been relayed to him from others, some of whom had only second-hand knowledge.
Kent Cites Bid for Public Biden Probe Pledge (3:47 p.m.)
Kent said senior diplomat William Taylor told him that Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, “was pushing a line that included having President Zelenskiy give an interview potentially with CNN” in which Ukraine’s leader “would send this public signal of announcing a willingness to pursue investigations.“
Sondland said Trump wanted investigations of Joe Biden’s family and the 2016 election, Kent said.
“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” to Ukraine, Kent said.
Kent said Taylor told him that Sondland and National Security Council official Tim Morrison had said they didn’t believe the issues were linked, but that Taylor said he told Sondland “that was wrong.”
Kent Cites Giuliani Lies’ About Yovanovitch (3:19 p.m.)
According to the transcript, Kent testified that he wrote a memo in August spelling out his concerns “that there was an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law, both Ukraine and U.S.”
“At that point it was clear that the investigations that were being suggested were the ones that Rudy Giuliani had been tweeting about, meaning Biden, Burisma and 2016,“ Kent said, according to the transcript.
Kent also said Giuliani, Trump’s private lawyer, engaged in a campaign “full of lies and incorrect information” about then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
He said some individuals – including Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman – started working in 2018 to “undermine” Yovanovitch.
Part of that effort included a meeting on May 9, 2018, with then-Representative Pete Sessions, who wrote to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo “impugning Ambassador Yovanovitch’s loyalty and suggesting that she be removed,” Kent said, according to the transcript. – Billy House
Kent Transcript Released By House Panels (2:54 p.m.)
House committees leading the inquiry released the transcript of testimony by Kent, deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s European and Eurasian bureau.
Kent testified behind closed doors last month that the White House had designated three U.S. officials – European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry – to accomplish Trump’s side goals and bypass formal U.S.-Ukraine policy.
Kent is scheduled to testify next Wednesday on the first day of public hearings by the House Intelligence Committee. – Billy House
Bolton Won’t Testify Without Court Ruling (11:47 a.m.)
Bolton’s counsel informed the impeachment committees that he won’t appear for his scheduled closed-door testimony on Thursday without a court ruling, according to a House Intelligence Committee official.
House Democrats are unwilling to litigate the issue in the courts because it would take too long, the official said, adding that the White House directive for Bolton not to appear will be considered additional evidence that Trump is obstructing Congress.
Chairmen of the three House committees leading the impeachment probe on Wednesday withdrew a subpoena for Bolton’s deputy, Charles Kupperman, saying that they plan to wait for the conclusion of a lawsuit to compel former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify before Congress in a previous case.
Bolton would be willing to testify, despite White House objection, if a federal court rules that officials should comply with Congress, the Washington Post reported Thursday, citing people familiar with his views.
State Department to Help With Legal Burden’ (11:42 a.m.)
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the State Department will soon issue a statement related to helping “our senior officials who will have legal burdens connected to all of this noise” coming from the House impeachment inquiry. Pompeo, speaking to reporters in Germany, criticized questions about the inquiry from U.S. reporters on his trip, saying they were focused on issues unrelated to the safety of Americans. But in what seemed to be a reference to legal fees incurred by a slew of State Department officials testifying to Congress, he said, “we’ll have an announcement shortly that will make good sense and be consistent with what we’ve done previously.” – Nick Wadhams and Patrick Donahue
Whistle-Blower Lawyer Decries Naming Attempt (11:03 a.m.)
Andrew Bakaj, one of the attorneys representing the whistle-blower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry, says attempts by Republicans, including Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, to name his client “will undermine our constitutional republic’s ability to oversee itself.“
Bakaj said in an earlier Twitter posting that the whistle-blower process for the intelligence community took decades to build and helps Congress in its oversight responsibilities.
Some Republicans in recent weeks have increasingly pushed for the whistle-blower’s identity to be revealed. Others have criticized on that effort, warning that such a step would have a chilling effect on future whistle-blowers.
Jordan said the whistle-blower will be on the GOP list of witnesses to call to appear for upcoming public hearings. Witnesses and subpoenas offered by Republicans will have to be approved by a majority of the Democratic-led Intelligence Committee.
Trump Says Biden and Son Must Testify (10:10 a.m.)
Trump tweeted that former Vice President Joe Biden and his son “must testify” as part of the impeachment inquiry.
Multiple witnesses have detailed how Trump and his associates pushed Ukrainian officials to investigate Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden served on the board. Joe Biden is now a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
GOP Plans Attempt to Subpoena Whistle-Blower (9:59 a.m.)
Republicans plan to try subpoenaing the intelligence community whistle-blower who helped trigger the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio says that the whistle-blower will be on the GOP list of witnesses to call to appear for the upcoming public hearings. In a transcript of one closed-door interview released Wednesday, Republicans used the name of a person they suspect of being the whistle-blower in attempts to gain confirmation from the witness.
Democrats led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California are likely to block any effort to compel the whistle-blower to testify. Witnesses and subpoenas offered by Republicans have to be approved by a majority of the committee.
GOP allies of Trump have been trying to discredit the whistle-blower by painting the person as a partisan with ties to the Obama administration and have attempted in various forums to disclose his identity. There was no immediate comment from the lawyer for the whistle-blower.
Pence Adviser Arrives to Provide Testimony (9:14 a.m.)
Jennifer Williams arrived at the Capitol Thursday for closed-door testimony before the House impeachment panels. She is only the second witness to appear this week in defiance of the White House policy not to cooperate with the proceedings.
Williams was on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and accompanied Pence on a trip to Warsaw two months ago during which he met with Zelenskiy, according to an official familiar with the committee’s activities.
Bolton had been invited to appear Thursday. But his lawyers have previously said he will not do so voluntarily, and that he has not yet received a subpoena. – Billy House
Trump Denies Barr Refused Ukraine Call Plea (8:01 a.m.)
Trump says Attorney General William Barr didn’t refuse a request from him to discuss Ukraine, rejecting a report by the Washington Post that Trump had wanted Barr to hold a news conference saying no laws were broken in his July 25 call with the Ukrainian president.
The Washington Post reported Barr had declined to do so, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.
“Bill Barr did not decline my request to talk about Ukraine,” Trump said in a tweet early Thursday. “The story was a Fake Washington Post con job with an anonymous’ source that doesn’t exist. Just read the transcript. The Justice Department already ruled that the call was good. We don’t have freedom of the press!”
The July call is now at the heart of an impeachment inquiry being conducted by three House committees into whether Trump pressured Zelenskiy to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats in exchange for a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in security assistance. – Kathleen Miller
The transcript of testimony by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, provided a detailed look at escalating efforts by a core group of Trump’s advisers to pressure Ukraine to open a politically motivated investigation.
The House Intelligence Committee will hold its first public hearings next week with Taylor and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, on Nov. 13. Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is scheduled for Nov. 15.
The Gordon Sondland transcript is here; former special envoy Kurt Volker’s transcript is here. Yovanovitch’s transcript is here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of state, is here. The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here.
– With assistance from Kathleen Miller.