Impeachment Inquiry Ramps Up With State Dep’t Officials

National security adviser John Bolton speaks to media at the White House in Washington on July 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A State Department official told impeachment investigators Wednesday the only reason military aid was withheld from Ukraine was because President Donald Trump had issued the order to do so.

The revelation came from Catherine Croft, a foreign service officer for nine years whose work on Ukraine spans back to 2013. It wasn’t until July 2017 that she came into the Trump administration’s orbit.

According to a copy of the opening remarks circulated ahead of her testimony, Croft told impeachment investigators on the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees Wednesday that, while she wasn’t on the July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky, she did participate in a July 18 video conference.

She said a representative from the Office of Management and Budget revealed during the latter conference that White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had placed an “informal” hold on security aid to Ukraine. 

“The only reason given was that the order came at the direction of the president. I had heard about the hold before that date, but do not remember the specific date,” Croft said.

Following Croft’s deposition, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gerry Connolly told reporters that he found Mulvaney’s role curious.

“It’s puzzling that someone from OMB would suddenly play a foreign-policy role in making a decision about suspending aid to an ally country that is fighting active Russian aggression on its territory,” Connolly said.

Around the time that the Trump administration was weighing whether it should overturn a ban giving Ukraine weapons, Croft joined the National Security Council staff at the White House.

“As the director covering Ukraine, I staffed the president’s December 2017 decision to provide Ukraine with Javelin and anti-tank missile systems,” Croft said, according to her opening remarks. “I also staffed his September 2017 meeting with then-President Poroshenko on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly. Throughout both, I heard – directly and indirectly – President Trump describe Ukraine as a corrupt country.”

Croft also told lawmakers that former Louisiana Republican Representative Robert Livingston called her often during her stint on the council. She had not yet become an adviser to former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Livingston allegedly had an unsettling request: Croft’s help ousting then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. 

“He characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros,” Croft said. “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.”

It was when Croft’s tenure overlapped with her predecessor, Christopher Anderson, that she first learned Volker was “in touch” with the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

“However, ambassador Volker’s conversations with Giuliani were separate from my work, and I was generally unaware of when they spoke or what they spoke about,” she said in her opening remarks.

Christopher Anderson, who served as adviser to Kurt Volker before Croft took over in July, also testified behind closed doors Wednesday.

According to the prepared statement circulated ahead of his testimony, Anderson said that a June 18 meeting with officials from the State and Energy departments included “vague discussions” about a push to have Ukraine open investigations for Trump.

Anderson’s testimony seems to place Energy Secretary Rick Perry at the June 18 meeting, marking the second time Perry’s account of events has raised questions. 

A day earlier, when National Security Council official Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman was deposed, he told investigators that during a July 10 White House briefing  he objected to EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s comments that Ukrainian officials should investigate the Bidens or Burisma Holdings.

Fiona Hill, Trump’s then-adviser on Russia, came in moments later and told Sondland his comments were inappropriate.

According to her testimony before impeachment investigators on Oct. 14, Perry was leaving as she entered the room. 

In an Oct. 7 an interview with NBC News, Perry said “not once” did either Biden’s name come up during the July 10 briefing.

A spokesman from the Energy Department declined to comment Wednesday beyond saying that Perry stands by his remarks.

On the stand today, Anderson also divulged information about Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. 

Recalling a meeting with Trump’s then-national security adviser John Bolton, Anderson said they discussed the need to improve U.S.-Ukraine relations and the possibility that more White House officials should be brought into diplomatic discussions. 

Relations had warmed between the U.S. and Ukraine, Anderson said, and inviting Zelensky to the White House was expected to be a helpful negotiating tool for Ukraine-Russia diplomatic negotiations 

But Bolton warned Anderson about Giuliani. 

“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 said, according to his opening remarks.

Anderson said as well that Giuliani was often fixated on Ukraine and on getting the foreign country to begin investigating the Bidens and Burisma Holdings, even as other State Department officials urged caution. 

He also alleged that senior White House officials stopped the State Department from issuing a statement of condemnation in November 2018 after Russia seized three Ukrainian ships. 

The State Department did not immediately respond to request for comment. 

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