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President Trump. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Staff/Getty Images

Kash Patel, a senior National Security Council official accused of running a secret backchannel to President Trump on Ukraine matters, has categorically denied ever discussing Ukraine with the president.

What he's saying: "A number of media outlets have falsely reported that, as senior director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council, I have communicated with President Trump regarding Ukraine," Patel told Axios on Friday night. "At no time have I ever communicated with the president on any matters involving Ukraine.

  • "Any reporting to the contrary, and any testimony provided to Congress, is simply false, and any current or former staff who suggest I have raised or discussed Ukraine matters with President Trump, are similarly misinformed or spreading outright falsehoods."

Why it matters: Trump's former top Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, told impeachment investigators that she heard Trump thought Patel was his Ukraine director and that Patel was slipping Ukraine-related "materials" to the president outside of the normal NSC channels. Patel has never been assigned to Ukraine on the NSC.

  • Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee seized on Hill's allegations about Patel, who previously worked for ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and who helped write a memo that accused the Russia investigators of bias.

Between the lines: Hill said that when she heard from another NSC staffer about Patel's supposed involvement on Ukraine, she considered it to be so "strange" and alarming that she reported it to her superior.

  • Hill said, however, that she never found out what actually went on with Patel and that her superior, Charles Kupperman, never got back to her after telling her he'd look into the matter.
  • Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an NSC official who testified before impeachment investigators, also mentioned Patel in his testimony.
  • Vindman testified that Hill told him that Patel was misrepresenting himself as an Ukraine expert and the president had come to believe Patel was in charge of Ukraine policy on the NSC.

In a statement Friday night, Patel categorically denied all of these allegations from his current and former colleagues.

  • "I pride myself on my record as a dedicated national security professional who is entrusted to handle our nation's most sensitive matters," he said. "At no time have I strayed from my mission to protect the homeland in service to President Trump and the National Security Council."

Go deeper: Vindman says Mulvaney coordinated plan to push Ukraine for Biden investigations

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

Special report: Trump's U.S.-China transformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump began his term by launching the trade war with China he had promised on the campaign trail. By mid-2020, however, Trump was no longer the public face of China policy-making as he became increasingly consumed with domestic troubles, giving his top aides carte blanche to pursue a cascade of tough-on-China policies.

Why it matters: Trump alone did not reshape the China relationship. But his trade war shattered global norms, paving the way for administration officials to pursue policies that just a few years earlier would have been unthinkable.

McConnell: Trump "provoked" Capitol mob

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was "provoked by the president and other powerful people."

Why it matters: Trump was impeached by the House last week for "incitement of insurrection." McConnell has not said how he will vote in Trump's coming Senate impeachment trial, but sources told Axios' Mike Allen that the chances of him voting to convict are higher than 50%.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP leaders skip Trump sendoff in favor of church with Biden

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in July. Photo by Erin Scott-Pool/Getty Images

Congressional leaders, including House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will skip President Trump's departure ceremony in Maryland tomorrow morning in favor of attending mass with incoming President Joe Biden ahead of his inauguration, congressional sources familiar with their plans tell Axios.

Why it matters: Their decision is a clear sign of unity before Biden takes the oath of office.