Top diplomat said request for specific probes in Ukraine was ‘contrary’ to US policy

A top diplomat testifying before House impeachment investigators said President Trump’s request for Ukrainian leaders to launch specific investigations conflicted with U.S. policy aimed at combating international corruption. 

Christopher Anderson, a former assistant to former special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, told lawmakers last month that while the State Department had developed specific targets for anti-corruption efforts abroad, “individual investigations were not part of that policy.”

Trump, in a July 25 phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, pressed the Ukrainian president to open investigations into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy giant that once employed the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s chief political rivals heading into the 2020 elections. 

{mosads}The president and his Republican allies in Congress have painted that exchange as a routine effort to fight corruption in a country well-known for it. Yet asked if Trump’s request “ran counter to U.S. policy to root out corruption,” Anderson was clear. 

“I understood policy at the time, it was contrary, yes,” he testified on Oct. 30, according to a transcript of the interview released Monday evening by Democrats conducting the impeachment investigation. 

Rather, Anderson testified that the appropriate process for such a request would be through a mutual legal assistance treaty request.

“Long-standing U.S. government policy, as I understood it, was that we did not interfere in individual cases. We tried to set broad policy strokes of moving forward of anti-corruption,” Anderson testified.

The July 25 phone call has emerged as ground zero in the Democrats’ impeachment investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, after a government whistleblower lodged allegations that Trump had dangled almost $400 million in aid to Kyiv to secure a commitment from Zelensky to launch the probes into both the Bidens and 2016 election interference. 

A rough transcript of that call, released by the White House in September, indicated that Zelensky promised Trump that a yet-to-be-named Ukrainian prosecutor “will look into … the company that you mentioned.” Another witness in the impeachment probe, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council who was on the call, later testified that the transcript was overly vague on that point. “It shouldn’t be ‘the company,’ ” he said. “It should be ‘to Burisma that you mentioned.’ “

Republicans have charged, without evidence, that Biden, as vice president, had pressured Kyiv to oust a top Ukrainian prosecutor in order to protect the company — and by extension, his son.

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son. That Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Trump said on the call, according to the White House transcript. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

The particulars of Anderson’s testimony came as Democrats are airing the transcripts, on a rolling basis, of the closed-door depositions they’ve conducted in their impeachment investigation over the last seven weeks. 

Trump’s Republican allies have argued that there could be no ill-intended quid pro quo in Trump’s request for the investigations, since Ukrainian officials, they maintain, were unaware of the hold on the military aid until the last week of August, when it was reported in the press.

Yet Catherine Croft, who replaced Anderson in that post over the summer, testified that Kyiv knew the aid was being withheld earlier than previously known. 

Croft told investigators last month that officials at the Ukrainian Embassy approached her two separate times to privately inquire about the decision to withhold aid, stating that these contacts occurred sometime after July 18 and before August 28, when Politico reported the hold.

“They found out very early on or much earlier than I expected them to,” she told investigators on Oct. 30.

Croft also said she believed Trump was seeking to counter the narrative of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election by shifting the focus to be about Ukraine supporting his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

“It seemed logical to me that in an attempt to counter the narrative about Russian support for the Trump administration in the 2016 election … that it would be useful to shift that narrative by shifting it to Ukraine as being in support of the Clintons,” she testified, stating that she believed this would help the president “balance out” the collusion narrative.

Both Croft and Anderson also raised concerns about the role played in Ukraine by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.

Anderson testified those concerns were shared by other top diplomats, including Volker and former national security adviser John Bolton. Anderson said officials feared the president’s personal lawyer was spreading a negative narrative about Ukraine and possibly create a “false perception” in Trump’s mind that Kyiv is not an ally, which could risk hurting their relationship.

“Mr. Giuliani tweeted that there were enemies around — enemies of the President around Zelensky. And we took it to be problematic for improving our relationship if he was still spreading that message,” Anderson testified.

Croft also recalled thanking her boss for keeping her “out of that mess,” as it related to Giuliani’s Ukraine policy. 

“A couple times he mentioned sort of a need to get this Giuliani line of effort, sort of, off the table, so we can get on with the business of our actual policy. Those weren’t his exact words, but that would have been the spirit of” his remarks, she testified. 

The release of the Croft and Anderson transcripts came on the same day Democrats also released the transcript of Laura Cooper, a top Department of Defense official who testified about what her dismay over the aid being withheld.

The transcript rollouts also come on the same week that Democrats are expected to hold their first series of open impeachment hearings, starting Wednesday with the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William Taylor, and top State Department official George Kent.

Tags deposition transcripts Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Impeachment Joe Biden John Bolton Kurt Volker Rudy Giuliani
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