State Dept. officials to offer new details about Trump’s shadow diplomacy with Ukraine

Source: Politico | October 30, 2019 | Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney

Catherine Croft plans to testify that lobbyist Robert Livingston pushed to get the ambassador to Ukraine fired.

Two veteran foreign service officers plan to reveal new details to House impeachment investigators on Wednesday about the unconventional efforts by President Donald Trump’s associates to influence U.S. policy toward Ukraine, according to copies of their opening statements obtained by POLITICO.

Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, State Department officials who served as senior advisers on Ukraine, plan to describe to investigators the unusual intrusion into U.S. foreign policy by Trump-aligned consultants, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Robert Livingston, a lobbyist and former GOP congressman.

The officials’ opening statements implicitly criticize Trump’s posture toward Ukraine, with Croft singling out Trump’s “long-held view of Ukraine as a corrupt country,” which she and her colleagues hoped to reverse.

Croft and Anderson served separately under Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, and witnessed an unusual effort by non-government officials to influence U.S. foreign policy toward the besieged country as it was facing intensifying aggression from Russia.

The impeachment inquiry centers on Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine’s leaders to investigate his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, and allegations that Trump added to that pressure by withholding critical military aid to Ukraine. Democrats have zeroed in on what appears to be a shadow diplomacy effort, spearheaded by Giuliani, aimed at sparking such investigations and stiff-arming U.S. officials who stood in their way.

In his opening statement, Anderson plans to say that John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser until recently, told him during a June meeting that “Mr. Giuliani was a key voice with the president on Ukraine which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagement” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Croft wrote in her opening statement that she heard Trump, both directly and indirectly, “describe Ukraine as a corrupt country.”

Anderson plans to describe how Giuliani’s involvement became such an obstacle earlier this year, forcing the State Department to scramble to contain fallout after the abrupt removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine whom Trump recalled after a smear campaign by the president’s allies.

“Before [Zelensky’s] inauguration in May, my colleagues and I saw a tweet by Rudolph Giuliani alleging that President-elect Zelensky was surrounded by enemies of President Trump,” he intends to say, according to his opening statement. “In an effort to counter the negative narrative sparked by Ambassador Yovanovitch’s withdrawal and Giuliani’s statements, we pushed for a high-level delegation to attend Zelensky’s inauguration.”

Anderson also intends to tell lawmakers that “senior officials in the White House” blocked the State Department from issuing a statement condemning Russia after Moscow seized Ukrainian ships in November 2018. Instead, Anderson recalls, “Ambassador Volker drafted a tweet condemning Russia’s actions, which I posted to his account.”

Croft, who also served as a Ukraine adviser on the National Security Council, plans to tell investigators that she received “multiple calls” from Livingston, a lobbyist, who told her that Yovanovitch should be fired. She also intends to say she never met Giuliani but was aware that Volker spoke to him at times.

Trump ousted Yovanovitch in May after Giuliani and others had launched a coordinated effort to undermine her, according to Yovanovitch’s testimony before impeachment investigators earlier this month.

“[Livingston] characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros,” Croft plans to say. “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.”

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