Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

House Holds First Public Impeachment Hearing; George Kent: Giuliani Ran Smear Campaign Against U.S. Ambassador Yovanovitch. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 13, 2019 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00]

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): -- and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Air Medal for valor.

Following his military service, he worked at the Department of Energy as a staffer in the U.S. Senate; as an advisor as well to U.S. ambassador to NATO.

In the 1990s, Ambassador Taylor coordinated U.S. assistance to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and later served in Afghanistan, Iraq and worked on the Middle East peace process. In 2006, President Bush nominated him as ambassador to Ukraine, where he served until 2009 and then was appointed by President Barack Obama to be special coordinator for Middle East Transitions.

Ambassador Taylor was serving as the executive vice president of the nonpartisan U.S. Institute for Peace when, in June 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked him to return to lead the U.S. embassy in Kiev as charge d'affaires.

Mr. George Kent currently serves as deputy assistant secretary in the Department of State's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, overseeing policy towards Ukraine and other countries. He has served twice in Ukraine from 2004 to 2007. He was the deputy political counselor including during the Orange Revolution. And from 2015 to 2018, he served as deputy chief of mission in Kiev.

Since joining the foreign service in 1992, Mr. Kent has served in Poland, Uzbekistan, and Thailand. He also served as the senior anti- corruption coordinator and oversaw programs to strengthen the rule of law.

All witness depositions as part of this inquiry were unclassified in nature and all open hearings will also be at the unclassified level. Any information that may touch on classified information will be addressed separately.

Congress will not tolerate any reprisal, threat of reprisal or attempt to retaliate against any U.S. government official for testifying before Congress, including you or any of your colleagues.

SCHIFF: If you would both rise and raise your right hand, I will begin by swearing you in.

Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

TAYLOR: I do.

KENT: I do.

SCHIFF: Let the record show that the witnesses answered in the affirmative. Thank you, and please be seated.

STEFANIK: Mr. Chairman, before we hear from the witnesses I have a parliamentary inquiry.

SCHIFF: The gentlewoman will state her parliamentary inquiry.

STEFANIK: Mr. Chairman, when can we anticipate a response to our November 9th letter requesting certain individual witnesses to be called?

SCHIFF: The gentleman should -- gentlewoman should be aware that three of the witnesses the minority has requested are scheduled for next week, and for...

STEFANIK: Those were your witnesses, Mr. Chairman. What about the additional six witnesses?

SCHIFF: The gentlewoman may inquire about additional witnesses or make a request for a vote on (ph) additional witnesses following the witness testimony.

STEFANIK: And Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order under H.Res.660.

SCHIFF: Gentlewoman will -- will state her point of order.

STEFANIK: Mr. Chairman, will you be prohibiting witnesses from answering members' questions as you have in the closed-door depositions?

SCHIFF: As the gentlewoman should know -- she was present for the depositions...

STEFANIK: Which I was. Mr. Chairman...

SCHIFF: For some of them, yes.

STEFANIK: Correct.

SCHIFF: The -- the only times I prevented witnesses from answering questions, along with their counsel, was when it was apparent that members were seeking to out the whistleblower. We will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower's identity, and I'm disturbed to hear members of the committee, who have in the past voiced strong support for whistleblower protections, seek to undermine those protections by outing the whistleblower.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHIFF: So provided (inaudible)

STEFANIK: Mr. Chairman, only one member and their staff...

SCHIFF: The gentlewoman's -- and the gentlewoman...

STEFANIK: ... on this committee has direct knowledge of the identity of the whistleblower.

SCHIFF: Gentlewoman will suspend. You asked a parliamentary inquiry, and I am responding -- or point of order, and I'm responding.

We will not permit the outing of the whistleblower, and questions along those lines, counsel will inform their clients not to respond to. If necessary, I would -- will intervene. Otherwise, I want members to feel free to ask any questions they like.

(CROSSTALK)

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman...

SCHIFF: (inaudible)

(UNKNOWN): ...I'd like to make a motion, Mr. Chairman.

SCHIFF: I'm sorry.

(UNKNOWN): The subpoena (inaudible)

SCHIFF: This is an opportunity for members...

(UNKNOWN): ... the whistleblower and get all the rest of the questions they like.

SCHIFF: The -- the gentleman is not recognized.

(UNKNOWN): (OFF-MIKE) Mr. Conaway.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Conaway.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman?

SCHIFF: I'm -- I'm responding to the gentlewoman's point of order. Otherwise, members will have every opportunity to ask any questions they like.

Mr. Conaway, do you seek recognition? For what purpose?

CONAWAY: I seek recognition to make a motion that we actually subpoena the whistleblower for a closed-door, secret deposition so that the questions that should be appropriately asked the whistleblower by our side and your side may be asked. And I would prefer that rather than it be your single decision, that the committee speak to that issue, rather than just the chairman. And I move that we...

SCHIFF: I -- I think the gentleman -- it won't be my single decision.

CONAWAY: (inaudible) subpoena the -- the whistleblower.

SCHIFF: It won't be my single decision. We will entertain a motion to subpoena any witness, but after the witnesses have had an opportunity to testify.

CONAWAY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SCHIFF: That motion will be in order, but that motion will be suspended until after the witnesses (inaudible)

(CROSSTALK)

CONAWAY: All right, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

JORDAN: Mr. Chairman, do -- do you anticipate when we would vote on that?

SCHIFF: For what purpose does Mr. Jordan seek recognition?

[10:35:00] JORDAN: Just to ask a -- a clarifying question. Do you anticipate when we might vote on the ability to have the whistleblower in front of us, something you -- the 435 members of Congress, you are the only member who knows who that individual is, and your staff is the only staff of any member of Congress who's had a chance to talk with that individual. We would like that opportunity. When might that happen in this proceeding today?

SCHIFF: First, as the gentleman knows, that's a false statement. I do not know the identity of the whistleblower, and I'm determined to make sure that identity is protected. But as I said to Mr. Conaway, you will have an opportunity after the witnesses testify, to make a motion to subpoena any witness and compel a vote.

And with that, I now recognize the witnesses. Before I do, I want to just emphasize the microphones are sensitive, so please speak directly into them. Without objection, your written statements will be made part of the record.

And with that, Deputy Assistant Secretary Kent, you are recognized for your opening statement. Ambassador Taylor, you are recognized immediately thereafter for your opening statement.

KENT: Good morning. My name is George Kent, and I am the deputy assistant secretary of state for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. I have served proudly as a nonpartisan career foreign service officer for more than 27 years under five presidents, three Republican and two Democrat.

As I mentioned in my opening comments last month in the closed-door deposition, I represent the third generation of my family to have chosen a career in public service and sworn the Oath of Office that all U.S. public servants do in defense of our Constitution. Indeed, there has been a George Kent sworn to defend the Constitution continuously for nearly 60 years, ever since my father reported to Annapolis for his plebe summer. After graduating first in his Naval Academy class in 1965, the year best known for his Heisman-winning classmate, Roger Staubach, my father served a full, honorable 30 years, including as a captain of a nuclear ballistic missile submarine during the height of the Cold War.

Five great-uncles served honorably in the Navy and the Army in World War II. In particular, Tom Taggart was stationed in the Philippines at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He survived the brutal Bataan Death March, and three and a half years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, unbroken. He returned to service as an Air Force judge advocate, upholding the rule of law until his death in 1965.

Today, I appear before you once again under subpoena as a fact witness, ready to answer all of your questions about the events and developments examined in this inquiry to the best of my ability and recollection, subject to the limits placed on me by the law and this process.

I will begin with some opening comments on the key principles at the heart of what brings me before you today: to wit, principled public service in pursuit of our enduring national interests and the place of Ukraine in our national and security interests.

For the past five years, we have focused our united efforts across the Atlantic to support Ukraine in its fight for the cause of freedom and the rebirth of a country free from Russian dominion and the warped legacy of Soviet institutions and post-Soviet behavior. As I stated in my closed-door deposition last month, you don't step into the public arena of international diplomacy in active pursuit of principled U.S. interests without expecting vigorous pushback, including personal attacks. Such attacks came from the Russians, their proxies and corrupt Ukrainians. That tells me our efforts were hitting their mark.

It was unexpected and most unfortunate, however, to watch some Americans, including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas, launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine. In my opinion, those attacks undermined U.S. and Ukrainian national interests and damaged our critical bilateral relationship.

KENT: The United States has very clear national interests at stake in Ukraine. Ukraine's success is very much in our national interest in the way we have defined our national interests broadly in Europe for the past 75 years. After World War II, U.S. leadership furthered farsighted policies like the Marshall Plan in the creation of a rules- based international order.

[10:40:00] Protected by the collective security provided by NATO, Western Europe recovered and thrived after the carnage of World War II. Not withstanding the shadow of the Iron Curtain, Europe's security and prosperity contributed to our security and prosperity.

Support of Ukraine's success also fits squarely into our strategy for Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of the wall 30 years ago this past week. A Europe truly whole, free and at peace, our strategic aim for the entirety of my foreign service career, is not possible without a Ukraine whole, free and at peace, including Crimea and the Donbass, territories currently occupied by Russia, represented by the red in the map.

Looking forward, the Trump administration's National Security Strategy makes clear the global strategic challenge now before us: great power competition, with rivals such as Russia and China, and the need to compete for positive influence without taking countries for granted.

In that sense, Ukraine has been on the front lines, not just of Russia's conventional war in Eastern Europe since 2014 and its broader campaign of malign influence, but of the greater geopolitical challenges now facing the United States.

Ukraine's Popular Revolution of Dignity in 2014 forced a corrupt pro- Russian leadership to flee to Moscow. After that, Russia invaded Ukraine, occupying 7 percent of its territory, roughly equivalent to the size of Texas in the United States.

At that time, Ukraine's state institutions were on the verge of collapse. Ukrainian civil society answered the challenge. They formed volunteer battalions of citizens, including technology professionals and medics. They crowd-sourced funding for their own weapons, body armor and supplies. They were the 21st century Ukrainian equivalent of our own minutemen of 1776, buying time for a regular army to reconstitute.

Since then, more than 13,000 Ukrainians have died on Ukrainian soil, defending their territorial integrity and sovereignty from Russian aggression. America's support in Ukraine's own de facto war of independence has been critical in this regard.

By analogy, the American Colonies may not have prevailed against the British imperial might without the help of trans-Atlantic friends after 1776. In an echo of Lafayette's organized assistance to General George Washington's army and Admiral John Paul Jones' navy, Congress has generously appropriated over $1.5 billion over the past five years in desperately needed train-and-equip security assistance to Ukraine. These funds increase Ukraine's strength and ability to fight Russian aggression.

Ultimately, Ukraine is on a path to become a full security partner of the United States within NATO.

Similar to von Steuben training colonials at Valley Forge, U.S. and NATO allied trainers developed the skills of Ukrainian units at Yavoriv near the Polish border and elsewhere. They helped rewrite military education for Ukraine's next generation as von Steuben did for America's first.

In supporting Ukraine's brave resistance to Russian aggression, we have a front-row seat to the Russian way of war in the 21st century, gaining priceless insights that contribute to our own security.

This year, in 2019, Ukrainian citizens passed the political torch to a new generation, one that came of age not in the final years of the Soviet Union, but in an independent Ukraine. Presidential and parliamentary elections swept out much of Ukraine's previous governing elite and seated 41-year-old President Zelensky, a cabinet with an average age of 39, and a parliament with the average age of 41.

At the heart of that change mandate five years after Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity is a thirst for justice, because there cannot be dignity without justice.

Without a reformed judicial sector that delivers justice with integrity for all, Ukrainian society will remain unsettled. Foreign investors, including American investors, will not bring the great investment needed to ensure that Ukraine's long-term prosperity is secured.

This is why the principle promotion of the rule of law and institutional integrity is so necessary to our strategy for a successful Ukraine. It is also true for other former captive nations still recovering from the ashes of Soviet and communist misrule. It is why acting inconsistently with the core principle of the rule of law comes at great peril.

I am grateful to all of the members of Congress and staffers, including many of you sitting here today, who have traveled to Ukraine over the past five years and appropriated billions of dollars of assistance in support of our primary policy goals.

[10:45:00] Those funds increase Ukraine's ability to fight Russian aggression in the defense, energy, cyber and information spheres, and they also empower state institutions and civil society to undertake systemic reforms and tackle corruption.

I believe all of us can be proud of our efforts in Ukraine over the past five years, even though much remains to be done. And by all of us, I mean those of us in the legislative and the executive branches, in both parties, the interagency community working out of our Embassy Kyiv, with Ukrainians in government, the military and civil society and our trans-Atlantic allies and partners.

We cannot allow our resolve to waiver, since too much is at stake; not just for Ukraine and the future of European security, but for the national interest of the United States broadly defined.

My prior deposition covered a lot of ground over 10 hours. Here are the main 10 themes from my testimony.

I outlined my experience with long-standing U.S. interests in supporting anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. This work gave me a front-row seat to problematic activities by successive prosecutors general in Ukraine.

For many of the issues this committee is investigating, my knowledge and understanding is sometimes firsthand and sometimes comes from others involved in specific conversations and meetings. This is no different than how anyone learns and carries out his or her job responsibilities.

I have been and remain willing to share my factual observations with the committee and will make clear when those are based on personal knowledge or from information gleaned from others.

U.S. efforts to counter corruption in Ukraine focus on building institutional capacity so that the Ukrainian government has the ability to go after corruption and effectively investigate, prosecute and judge alleged criminal activities, using appropriate institutional mechanisms; that is to create and follow the rule of law.

That means, that if there are criminal nexuses for activity in the United States, U.S. law enforcement should pursue the case. If we think there's been a criminal act overseas that violates U.S. law, we have the institutional mechanisms to address that. It could be through the Justice Department and FBI agents assigned overseas or through treaty mechanisms, such as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.

As a general principle, I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power, because such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country.

The pervasive and longstanding problem of corruption in Ukraine included exposure to a situation involving the energy company Burisma. The primary concern of the U.S. government since 2014 was Burisma's owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, whose frozen assets abroad we had attempted to recover on Ukraine's behalf.

In early 2015, I raised questions with the deputy prosecutor general about why the investigation of Mr. Zlochevsky had been terminated, based on our belief that prosecutors had accepted bribes to close the case.

Later, I became aware that Hunter Biden was on the Board of Burisma. Soon after that in a briefing call with the National Security Staff of the Office of the Vice President in February 2015 I raised my concern that Hunter Biden's status as a board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest. Let me be clear, however, I did not witness any effort by any US official to shield Burisma from scrutiny. I fact I and other US Officials consistently advocated reinstituting a scuttled investigation of Zlochevsky, Burisma's founder as well as holding the corrupt prosecutors who closed the case to account.

Over the course of 2018 and 2019 I became increasingly aware of an effort by Rudy Giuliani and others including his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to run a campaign to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch and other officials at the US Embassy in Kiev. The chief agitators on the Ukrainian side of this effort were some of those same corrupt former prosecutor I had encounter particularly Yuriy Lutsenko and Viktor Shokin. They were no pedaling false information in order to extract revenge against those who had exposed their misconduct including US Diplomats, Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Officials and reformed minded simple society groups in Ukraine.

During the late spring and summer of 2019 I became alarmed as those efforts bore fruit. They led to the ouster of Ambassador Yovanovitch and hampered US efforts to establish rapport within Zelensky administration in Ukraine. In mid August it became clear to me that Giuliani's efforts to (gin) up politically motivated investigations were now infecting US engagement with Ukraine. Leveraging President's Zelensky's desire for a White House meeting. There are and always have been conditionality placed on our sovereign loan guarantees for Ukraine. Conditions include anti-corruption reforms as well as meeting larger stability goals in social safety nets (ph). The International Monetary Fund does the same thing.

[10:50:00] Congress and the Executive Branch work together to put conditionality on some security assistance in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. Regarding my testimony today I will do my best to answer your questions. Questions that will involve issues, conversations and documents that span a number of years. I made be limited by three considerations.

First the State Department has collected all materials in response to the September 27th subpoena that may contain facts relevant to my testimony. I have no such documents or materials with me today. I will thus do my best to answer as accurately, completely and truthfully as I can to the best of my recollection.

Second, as the this committee knows from deposition testimony throughout this process there have been concerns that questions may be asked about classified information. We have asked the State Department fro guidance about classification concerns related to the public release of my deposition and the State Department has declined to provide any. So if I'm asked a question today that I believe may implicate classified information. I will respectfully decline to answer in this public forum.

Third, there may be questions focusing on the identity of the intelligence community. These questions were redacted from my deposition's transcript. If such a question arises today I will follow my counsel's advice and decline to answer.

I would like to conclude my opening remarks with an observation about some of my fellow public servants who have come under personal attacks. Ambassador Yovanovitch, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and Doctor Hill. At least one of whom is going to appear before this body in the coming days. (Marsha, Alex and Fiona) were born abroad before their families or they themselves personally chose to immigrate to the United States. They all made the professional choice to sever the United States as public officials helping shape our National Security Policy towards Russia in particular. And we and our national security are the better for it. In this sense they are the 21st Century (errors) of two giant of 20th Century US National Security Policy who also were born abroad. My former Professor (Bignet Drugenski) and his fellow immigrant Henry Kissinger.

Like the (Drugenski's) and Kissinger's the Yovanovitch's and Vindman's fled Nazi and Communist oppression to contribute to a stronger more secure America. That honorable tradition of Trans-Atlantic ties goes back to the very founding of our republic. Our 18th Century independence would not have been secure without the choice of European Officers, the French Foreign Lafayette and Rochambeau, the German born (Von Steuben) and the Pols (Poloski and Gostrushko) to come to the new world and fight for our cause of freedom in the birth of a new country free from imperial dominion.

It is my privilege to sit next to my former boss Ambassador Taylor today and it is my honor to serve with all of these patriotic Americans. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. Ambassador Taylor.

WILLIAM TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I am appearing today at the committees request to provide my perspective on the events that are the subject of the committees inquiry. I want to emphasize at the outset that while I am aware that the committee has requested my testimony as part of impeachment proceedings I am not here to take one side or the other. Or to advocate for any particular outcome of these proceedings. My soul purpose is to provide facts as I know them about the incidents in question as well as my views about the strategic importance of Ukraine to the United States.

My way of background it has been a privilege for me to serve our country and the American people for more than 50 years. Starting as a cadet at West Point as you have mentioned Mr. Chairman (and as) an infantry officer for six years including with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. Then at the Department of Energy, then as a Member of a Senate Staff, then at NATO, then with the State Department here and abroad in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jerusalem, and Ukraine.

I retired from the State Department in 2009 to join the United States Institute of Peace. I'm neither a career member of the Foreign Service nor of the Civil Service. I am non partisan and have been appointed to my positions by every President from President Reagan to President Trump. Let me summarize my main points.

First, Ukraine is a strategic partner of the United States. Important for the security of our country as well as Europe. Ukraine is on the front line in the conflict with a newly aggressive Russia. Second, even as we sit here today, the Russians are attacking Ukrainian soldiers in their own country and have been for the last four years. I saw this on the front line last week. The day I was there a Ukrainian soldier was killed and four were wounded.

[10:55:00] Third, the security assistance we provide is crucial to Ukraine's defense and to the protection of the soldiers I met on the front line last week. It demonstrates to Ukrainians and Russians that we are Ukraine's reliable strategic partner. It is clearly in our national interest to deter further Russian aggression.

And finally, as the committee is aware, I wrote that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be crazy. I believed that then and I believe it now. Let me tell you why.

On May 28th of this year I met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who asked me to rejoin the State Department and return to Kiev to lead our Embassy in Ukraine. It was and is a critical time for US Ukraine relations. I had served as Embassy to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. Having been nominated by George W. Bush, and in the intervening 10 years had state engaged with Ukraine. Across the responsibilities I have had in public services, Ukraine is the highlight. And so, Secretary Pompeo's offer to return as Chief of Mission was compiling. Since I left Ukraine in 2009, the country had continued to turn toward the West.

But in 2013, Vladimir Putin was so threatened by the prospect of Ukraine joining the European Union that he tried to bribe the Ukrainian president. This triggered mass protests in the winter of 2013 that drove the -- that president to flee to Russia in 2014 -- in February 2014, but not before his forces killed 100 Ukrainian protesters in central Kyiv.

Days later Mr. Putin invaded Crimea, holding a sham referendum at the point of Russian army rifles. Russians absurdly claimed that 97 percent voted to join Russia. In early April, Putin sent his army and security forces into southeastern Ukraine to generate illegal armed formations and puppet governments in what we'd know as Donbass -- to see this on the map in the right hand portion, in the eastern portion of the country.

Fourteen thousand Ukraine's have died in the war in Donbass and more die each week. In July 2014, these Russian led forces in Donbass shut down a civilian airliner in en route from Amsterdam to Malaysia, killing all 298 people on board. We, the Europeans, and most of the West imposed economic sanctions and kicked the Russians out of the G8. Beginning in 2014, we and NATO began to provide military assistance to Ukraine's armed forces in the form of training advice, military equipment and weapons.

It is this security assistance that is at the heart of the controversy that we are discussing today. The pro Russian president who was run out of Kyiv in 2014 and let the Russian armed forces deteriorate to the point of ruin. In response to the Russian invasion, the new Ukrainian Authorities with an amazing outpouring of support from regular Ukrainian people rebuilt the army nearly from scratch, spending more than 5 percent of Ukrainian GDP on defense since the war started. The whole Ukrainian nation fiercely responded to the Russian attack, the nation united like never before.

A ragtag army developed into a strong fighting force and the United States played a vital role. Since 2014, you in Congress have provided over $1.6 billion dollars in military assistance to Ukraine. The security systems provide small unit training at an army base near Lviv in the western of the country. It provides ambulances, night vision devices, communications equipment, counter battery radar, navy ships, and finally -- weapons.

The security systems demonstrates our commitment to resist aggression and defend freedom. During the 2014 to 2016 period, I was serving outside of government and joined two other former ambassadors to Ukraine in urging the Obama administration officials at the state department, defense department, and other agencies to provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine in order to deter further Russian aggression.

I also supported a much stronger sanctions on Russia. I was pleased when the Trump Administration provided Javelin anti-tank missiles, and enacted stronger sanctions. All to say, I cared about Ukraine's future and the important U.S. interests there.

So when Secretary Pompeo asked me to go back to Kyiv, I wanted to say yes, but it was not an easy decision. Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch has been treated poorly.

[11:00:00]