State Dept. Officials To Testify Giuliani Was Seen As ‘Obstacle’ On Ukraine

Christopher Anderson, a career foreign service officer in the State Department, will tell House impeachment investigators today that President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani stood in the way of the White House strengthening ties with Ukraine, according to a copy of Anderson’s opening statement obtained by NPR.

Anderson, who spent five years working on Washington-Kyiv relations, will describe a meeting he had with former National Security Adviser John Bolton on the topic of having senior White House officials engage more with Ukraine. In it, Bolton noted a possible hitch.

“He cautioned that Mr. Giuliani was a key voice with the President on Ukraine which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagement,” Anderson will tell the House committees, according to his prepared remarks.

House committees are set to question Anderson and Catherine Croft, another foreign service officer and Ukraine expert, Wednesday as part of the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his office by prodding a foreign power to help his 2020 reelection bid.

Their appearance comes a day after Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s top expert on Ukraine, provided closed-door testimony to impeachment investigators.

In a rough transcript of a July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy that was released by the White House last month, Trump appears to condition nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine on Zelenskiy’s willingness to investigate the business dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

According to The New York Times, Vindman, who says he was one of several White House officials who listened in on the call, told lawmakers that key words and phrases were omitted from the transcript that was made public, and that he tried and failed to have the information restored. The Times’ report added, “[t]he phrases do not fundamentally change lawmakers’ understanding of the call.”

In Wednesday’s testimony, Anderson is expected to tell the committees that he saw a better relationship between the countries, including inviting Zelenskiy to the White House, as a way to help bring Russians back to the negotiating table with Ukraine. Yet Giuliani was persistent in his calls for Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens, even though Anderson and other top State Department officials cautioned against it.

“We agreed on the importance of not calling for any specific investigations,” Anderson will tell investigators.

Trump drafted a letter inviting Zelenskiy to the White House, which Zelenskiy had been pushing hard for, but Trump never committed to a specific date.

Anderson is also expected to say that in November 2018, when Russia seized three Ukrainian ships near Crimea, senior White House officials blocked the State Department from releasing a statement condemning Moscow’s action.

At the time, Anderson was an aide to Kurt Volker, the former special envoy for Ukraine. Anderson’s assignment ended on July 12, 2019, two weeks before Trump’s call with Zelenskiy.

He was succeeded by Croft, who had started working on Ukraine issues in 2013. She is also scheduled to testify before impeachment inquiry investigators today in a separate hearing.

The aid was held up “at the direction of the President”

According to Croft’s opening statement, obtained by NPR, she first learned of the White House’s plan to hold up Ukrainian military assistance during a July 18 Office of Management and Budget meeting she listened in on by video conference.

An OMB official told the group that White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had placed an “informal hold” on the $391 million in aid to Ukraine.

“The only reason given was that the order came at the direction of the President,” Croft is expected to tell House lawmakers.

Croft was traveling when the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy occurred. And Croft says she never had any direct contact with Giuliani, though she was aware that he was in touch with Volker.

Croft plans to tell House committee members that while she was at the NSC but before she became an aide to Volker, a lobbyist, Robert Livingston, called her several times in an effort to enlist her help in forcing the resignation of Marie Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled in May 2019.

Livingston described Yovanovitch as an “Obama holdover,” claiming she was “associated with George Soros,” according to Croft’s opening statement.

“It was not clear to me at the time—or now—at whose direction or at whose expense Mr. Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” Croft plans to tell impeachment investigators.

She plans to tell lawmakers she reported her interactions to her boss, Fiona Hill, who has testified that she was alarmed about the smear campaign against Yovanovitch and moved her concerns up the chain of command.

Both Anderson and Croft expect to tell lawmakers the important role the U.S. can play in addressing the bloody conflict stoked by Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

“It is my hope that even as this Committee’s process plays out, we do not lose sight of what is happening in Ukraine,” Croft will tell the committees.

White House insists impeachment inquiry is a “scam”

Text messages sent by Volker appear to indicate that he was furthering Trump’s wish to have Ukraine open an investigation into the Bidens, but Volker told House lawmakers that he did not know why exactly the administration had suspended the military assistance.

Anderson worked for two years as an assistant to Volker, a longtime Europe expert who was serving as a part-time, unpaid envoy in the Trump administration.

On Tuesday, Vindman, the NSC Ukraine expert, testified that he twice raised concerns over how Trump and “outside influencers” were undermining the U.S. government’s efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine.

Vindman’s testimony was backed up by other State Department officials who have told the impeachment investigators that Trump’s inner circle opened a back-channel of communication with Ukraine that ran afoul of long-established White House procedure on conducting foreign policy.

Significantly, Vindman was the first witness to testify who has first-hand knowledge of the phone call at the center of a whistleblower complaint that set the impeachment inquiry in motion.

Also on Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled a resolution expected to be brought for a full House vote on Thursday,establishing rules for the impeachment inquiry. The proposed rules say that witness hearings will start to be public, transcripts of previous witness interviews will be released and the president and his lawyers will be allowed to cross-examine witnesses.

The White House, which has attempted to prevent witnesses from testifying to House investigators, condemned the resolution as a “scam” and renewed attacks on the inquiry as being unfair to Trump.

“This resolution does nothing to change the fundamental fact that House Democrats refuse to provide basic due process rights to the Administration,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

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