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Official testifies Trump wanted Ukraine's Zelensky to mention "Clinton"

George Kent
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released the transcript of its closed-door interview with State Department official George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

Why it matters: Kent is scheduled to testify in open session next Wednesday as part of the House's first public impeachment hearings. He testified last month that he was instructed to "lay low" on Ukraine matters and that he was edged out on Ukraine policy by EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, per the New York Times.

  • House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted following the release of Kent's transcript: "Here’s why George Kent matters: He and his colleagues recognized the impropriety of Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign to undertake politically-motivated investigations. He corroborates testimony from numerous other officials, and he documented it."

Key excerpts

Kent testified that he shared concerns expressed by former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch that she was ousted as a result of a pressure campaign by Rudy Giuliani and his associates that was based on unsubstantiated allegations.

"I fully share the concerns in Ambassador Yovanovitch's statement on Friday expressing her incredulity that the U.S. Government chose to move an ambassador based, as best she tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives, at an especially challenging time in our bilateral elections with a newly elected Ukrainian President."

On Aug. 16, Kent says he sought to memorialize conversations he had with top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor and special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker because of his concerns about politically motivated investigations.

"And so after having had these two conversations, I wrote a note to the file saying that I had concerns that there was an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and the U.S."

Kent testified that after a conversation with President Trump, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland was under the impression that Trump wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to use the words "Biden" and "Clinton" when announcing investigations into the gas company Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election.

KENT: "POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelenskyy to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton."
Q: "And in return for what?"
KENT: "That was not clear to me."
...
KENT: "[I]n shorthand, it was suggested that the Ukrainians needed — Zelenskyy needed to go to a microphone and basically there needed to be three words in the message, and that was the shorthand."
Q: "Clinton was shorthand for 2016?"
KENT: "2016, yes."

Kent told investigators that an aide to Zelensky hit back at Volker for suggesting it wouldn't be appropriate for Zelensky to investigate the former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko.

"[T]he main part of the conversation was about negotiations with the Russians, and I won't mention that and that's not germane. But the more awkward part of the conversation came when Special Representative Volker made the point that the Ukrainians, who had opened their authorities under Zelenskyy, had opened investigations of former President Poroshenko, he didn't think that was appropriate. And then Andriy Yermak said: What? You mean the type of investigations you're pushing for us to do on Biden and Clinton? And at that point Kurt Volker did not respond."

Kent, who has served for more than 27 years under five presidents, also said it was the "consensus view" that the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden pushed to have fired was an impediment to reforming Ukraine's justice system.

Q: "And did you think it was appropriate for Vice President Biden to condition the release of the loan guarantees on the firing of Prosecutor General Shokin?"
KENT: "Prosecutor General Shokin was an impediment to the reform of the prosecutorial system, and he had directly undermined in repeated fashion U.S. efforts and U.S. assistance programs. And so, because we had a strategic interest in seeing the Ukrainian prosecutor system reformed, and because we have a fiduciary responsibility for U.S. taxpayer dollars, it was the consensus view that Shokin needed to be removed so that the stated goal of reform of the prosecutor general system could move forward."

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

Read the transcript