George Kent tells lawmakers he was told to 'lay low' after raising concerns about Giuliani

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Garrett Haake  with NBC News Politics
Image: George Kent
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent leaves Capitol Hill after testifying before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Oct. 15, 2019.   -   Copyright  Andrew Harnik AP

WASHINGTON — State Department official George Kent told lawmakers in a closed-door deposition Tuesday that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney appointed three other Trump administration officials to spearhead the president's efforts in Ukraine.

According to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who was present for the deposition, Kent testified that Mulvaney oversaw a meeting where he sidelined State Department officials and tapped three political appointees — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, European Ambassador Gordon Sondland and special envoy Kurt Volker — to oversee Ukraine policy for the United States.

Kent, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State who worked on Ukraine and five other countries, told congressional investigators that the trio called themselves "the three amigos" and elbowed all the other officials at State out of the way, according to Connolly.

This not the first time Mulvaney was mentioned depositions as part of the impeachment inquiry. President Donald Trump's former Russia adviser Fiona Hill testified that then-national security adviser John Bolton said he wanted nothing to do with Mulvaney and Giuliani's objectives in Ukraine, which Bolton said amounted to a "drug deal."

Just weeks before the May 23 meeting, then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich was told that she was being recalled in April despite being told she did nothing wrong, according to her congressional testimony last week.

According to Connolly, Kent also testified that after the May 23 meeting, he was told to "lay low" by a superior when he raised concerns about President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was working to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

"The way I took it," Connolly told NBC News, was that Kent "had just finished describing how he had told people that this is wrong, that Giuliani is out of control."

Kent also said, according to Connolly, that the Trump allies who pushed for Ukraine to investigate corruption made it clear that "POTUS" wanted cooperation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian government.

Kent, who attended meetings and receptions with Zelenskiy and his advisers, said that Sondland and Volker floated the idea of a meeting with President Trump, according to Connolly. Text messages between Volker and Sondland released earlier this month also show that Zeleneskiy's cooperation was expected in order to meet with Trump.

Volker testified behind closed doors last week that President Donald Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to investigate corruption in Ukraine but that there was "no quid pro quo" for military and security aid, which the administration had put on hold for nearly four months. Sondland is expected to testify under subpoena on Thursday.

During his nearly ten hours of testimony, Kent also told members of Congress and their staff that Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden was a board member, was corrupt, according to a separate person who was present in the room. Kent said he told the Obama administration in 2016 that they should not hold an event with Burisma because of the company's extensive corruption in Ukraine.

Kent was called in to testify because he raised the alarm about the disinformation campaign that Giuliani and his associates pushed regarding Ukraine, according to a emails included in the packet the that the Intelligence Community's Inspector General Michael Atkinson provided to Congress, obtained by NBC News. He sent a series of emails to colleagues alerting them of the "fake news driven smear out of Ukraine."