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Top State Department official arrives for testimony in impeachment probe
A top State Department official arrived at the Capitol Tuesday morning to testify on President Trump's dealings with Ukraine, the latest witness in Democrats' fast-moving impeachment inquiry into allegations of presidential wrongdoing.
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, oversees administrative policy in a bloc of Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, which has emerged as the focal point of the growing investigation.
Trump and members of his inner circle have come under increased scrutiny following allegations that the administration recalled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, over her concerns that leading figures - including Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer - were pressing Ukrainian leaders to deliver political favors to the president.
Kent had tried to protect Yovanovitch from the internal smear campaign building against her, according to documents delivered to Congress earlier this month by the State Department's inspector general.
He is being deposed by three separate House committees leading the Democrats' impeachment inquiry: Intelligence, Oversight and Reform and Foreign Affairs.
Heading into the secure room in the Capitol basement where the depositions are taking place, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) declined to comment on the coming witness.
Kent is the fourth witness in the impeachment investigation. Earlier in the month, lawmakers heard from Kurt Volker, the administration's former special envoy to Ukraine; Yovanovitch testified on Friday, defying the administration's effort to block her appearance; and the committees on Monday heard lengthy testimony from Fiona Hill, Trump's former top Russia analyst on the National Security Council. Hill stepped down voluntarily in July before Trump's phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Separately, the Intelligence Committee has also interviewed Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community.
The details surrounding the closed-door depositions have largely been kept under wraps. Democrats have released certain details of the various testimonies - including a string of text messages, delivered by Volker, between top diplomats discussing the Ukraine affair - which they say verify the allegations against the president.
"The arrows continue to point in just one direction, which is that a crime was committed - extortion, bribery, soliciting campaign help," Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said Monday. "It was confessed to by the president. And there's an active cover-up going on right now."
Yet Democrats have refused Republican entreaties to release the full transcripts of the interviews and make the hearings public, drawing sharp criticism from GOP leaders arguing that the transparency would lead to Trump's exoneration.
"The tragedy here - the crime here - is that the American people don't get to see what's going on in these sessions," Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), senior Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, said Monday, ahead of Hill's testimony.