State Department Officials Who Advised on Ukraine Issues Testify on Impeachment Inquiry

October 30, 2019 Updated: October 30, 2019

Two State Department officials who served as senior advisers on Ukraine are testifying before House lawmakers leading an impeachment inquiry on Oct. 30.

One of the officials, Catherine Croft, a foreign service officer who served under former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, will tell lawmakers in a closed-door hearing about Trump’s long-held view of Ukraine being a corrupt country and about her concerns over her interaction with Robert Livingston, a lobbyist and former GOP congressman.

Croft, whose work on Ukraine issues began in 2013 for the U.S. Mission at NATO before joining the National Security Council (NSC) in 2017, says that while staffing several meetings in the NSC in 2017, she had heard the president describing Ukraine as a “corrupt country” directly and indirectly. She says that she had hoped that a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would help “undo” the president’s view over Ukraine.

The House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is centered on allegations made by an anonymous whistleblower about the nature of the president’s phone call with Zelensky in July.

House Democrats have accused the president of leveraging his office and withholding U.S. aid to Ukraine to investigate a political opponent—2020 Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, Trump said his request for Ukraine’s assistance to look into Biden’s dealing was intended to investigate alleged corruption, not to look for information on a political opponent.

In 2018, Biden boasted that he had pressured then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Victor Shokin. Shokin at the time was investigating Ukraine-based gas company Burisma where the former vice president’s son held a lucrative board position.

In her opening statement, Croft raised concerns about receiving multiple calls from Livingston, who told her that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch should be fired.

“He characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros,” Croft says, according to her prepared statement (pdf). “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. I documented these calls and told my boss, Fiona Hill, and George Kent, who was in Kyiv at the time. I am not aware of any action that was taken in response.”

Moreover, her statement says she learned that the hold on aid to Ukraine on July 18 came from a “direction of the President” when she participated in a meeting with an Office of Management and Budget representative, adding that she had heard about the hold before the date but does not remember exactly when.

Christopher Anderson, who joined the State Department in 2005 and started his work in Ukraine in 2014 before becoming Volker’s special adviser for Ukraine Negotiations in 2017, was also set to testify before Congress on Oct. 30. Anderson accompanied Volker on June 13 to meet with former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who raised concerns about Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine issues, according to his prepared remarks (pdf).

Anderson said that Bolton expressed support for the administration’s efforts to improve their relationship and cooperation with Ukraine in security and energy, as well as getting Zelensky to pursue anti-corruption reform. He said the former national security adviser was also supportive about increased senior White House engagement.

“However, 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 says in his prepared remarks.

This comes a day after Alexander Vindman, National Security Council (NSC) director for European affairs, told lawmakers that he twice raised concerns about the conversation with the NSC’s lead counsel.

“I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman told lawmakers, according to a copy of his prepared statement.

“I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security. Following the call, I again reported my concerns to NSC’s lead counsel.”

Vindman is the first official who had listened to the July call to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan
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