House Investigators Release Transcript From Top State Department Official
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Each day, we're getting a clearer picture of what government officials are telling the House impeachment committees about President Trump's pressure strategy on Ukraine, and that is certainly the case today. House investigators released the transcript from another important witness - this one, a top official in the State Department. He confirms a great deal of what we've been learning so far about the Ukraine affair, and he also added a few new details.
Joining us now to talk about all of this is NPR's election security editor Phil Ewing. Hey, Phil.
: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right, so who did we hear from today, and where does he fit into this whole Ukraine story?
PHILIP EWING, BYLINE: His name is George Kent, and he's the deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian affairs. So he's the guy in charge in Washington of some of the diplomats that we've already been hearing from in this story.
EWING: We've heard about what Kent told members of Congress before, but because we released his transcript, we're seeing his exact words for the first time. Kent said the White House deputized what were called the three amigos to run policy on Ukraine, and that didn't include him, even though that was part of his job. He was told to, quote, "keep his head down" and have a lower profile on Ukraine.
The amigos were names we've heard a lot about - Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union; Kurt Volker, who is an envoy to Ukraine; and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. What Kent says is also what we've heard before. The White House wanted concessions from the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to get a meeting with him and to get military assistance. In fact, Kent said that the president wanted nothing less than Zelensky to go to a microphone and say the words, investigations Biden and Clinton. That was his quote.
CHANG: OK, so a lot of this sounds like just corroboration for the Ukraine narrative we've been hearing so far.
EWING: That's right. Very little about that is in dispute anymore.
CHANG: OK, so did Kent say anything that was new that we have not heard before?
EWING: He did. One thing he said was how much he personally opposed this pressure policy. He said the United States has spent a lot of time building institutions and good governance in Eastern Europe, in these former Soviet states, and these kinds of attempts at political conditions on assistance kind of made a mockery of those efforts. He said this. Quote, "Politically related prosecutions are not the way of promoting the rule of law. They undermine the rule of law," close quote.
CHANG: OK. There have been so many witnesses testifying. Transcripts are coming out. I just want to step back for a moment. Can you just catch us up on where we are in this impeachment process at this point?
EWING: It kind of feels like we're at a little bit of a threshold. Democrats seem to be closing down the closed phase of this, where they bring these people in to talk behind closed doors with investigators, lawmakers and their staffs. But next week it's going to be an open process. Kent is coming back to Congress. He has an open hearing on Wednesday. Appearing with him will be Ambassador William Taylor, another key diplomat in this story. And then on Friday there'll be a hearing with Marie Yovanovitch. She's the former ambassador to Ukraine, but she was recalled in what's been called a smear campaign that was run in part by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
CHANG: All right, so open hearings begin next week. Then presumably, there will be articles of impeachment, right? So how much longer could all of that take?
EWING: You know, that's a great question, and Democrats have gone back and forth about how much longer this might take or what their milestones are. There've been some press reports that the House part of this could wrap up by Christmastime, but the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, a Democrat of New York, was on CNN today, and he didn't give any timeline. He said it needs to take as long as it needs to take such that it's done right. He says he wants to change Americans' minds as well as go through the steps in Congress.
So all we can really say from our standpoint right now is that we'll be doing this probably for the rest of this year, and then that would set up a trial in the Senate potentially early in the new year.
CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Phil Ewing. Thanks, Phil.
EWING: Thank you.
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