Val Demings – the only Floridian serving on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee as it opened impeaching proceedings Wednesday against President Trump – focused her questioning how on Trump’s “shadow” policy in Ukraine damaged U.S. national interests.
In addition, she suggested, Trump sought illegal overseas aid against a political opponent and slimed a veteran diplomat while he was at it.
“We have heard several ways of describing this shady, shadow operation – shadow diplomacy, rogue, back-channel,” Demings observed when her chance came to question former interim ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and George Kent, the State Department’s top Ukraine expert.
The two spent hours answering questions from Democrats and Republicans about what they described as efforts by the president, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and associates in and out of the government, to force Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden, a former vice president and now-presidential candidate, and his son Hunter.
Those efforts allegedly included holding up some $400 million in urgently needed military aid to Ukraine, which is fighting a war with a Russian-backed militia in its Donbas region, an important mining and industrial center.
They also entailed attacks on veteran diplomats including former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich, who was fighting corruption in her host country but was viewed by Trump and his people as an impediment to their plans.
According to the whistleblower who launched the impeachment process, Trump described her in his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “bad news.”
Demings, a former chief of police in Orlando, opened by asking Kent whether a president’s authority to withdraw a diplomat who serves at his pleasure “usually come[s] with a smear campaign of that ambassador by the president.”
Kent replied that a president’s dismissal authority was “separate from whatever happens outside the confines of U.S. government processes.”
Did he have any thoughts about why it was important for the president and his people to discredit Yovanovich?
“I guess it probably depends on the motivation of other people, and I am not one of them,” Kent said.
Demings then turned to the president’s efforts to secure an investigation into the Bidens.
“Both of you have explained that you grew seriously concerned when you realized that the interests of this irregular channel diverged from official U.S. policy and interests,” she observed.
“Was Mr. Giuliani promoting U.S. national interests or policy in Ukraine, ambassador?” she asked Taylor.
“I don’t think so, ma’am,” he replied.
“No, he was not.”
“What interests do you believe he was promoting? Mr. Kent?”
“I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt on a potential rival in the next election cycle.”
Taylor agreed with that assessment.
“The State Department’s role is to promote U.S. policies overseas, not to help the current president win re-election. Is that correct, Mr. Kent?”
He replied that U.S. officials are subject to the Hatch Act, which forbids government employees from mixing their official duties with partisan activity.
It’s not forbidden to conduct business outside normal channels, Taylor explained, “but then they need to be part of U.S. foreign policy, approaching those goals.”
Demings remarked that the State Department has refused to disclose Taylor’s and Kent’s official notes of events related to the impeachment inquiry.