A Senate committee investigating Joe Biden’s son has secured a deposition with a high-level State Department official, George Kent, who was a star impeachment witness against President Donald Trump.
Kent, who has served as the deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs since September 2018, is expected to appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), for an interview as soon as Friday, according to people familiar with the panel’s plans.
A spokesperson for Johnson declined to comment, saying “we are not commenting on our ongoing discussions with potential witnesses.” A lawyer for Kent did not return requests for comment.
Kent was recently promoted to a new rank in the Senior Foreign Service, and is one of the few impeachment witnesses who was not purged from government following his impeachment testimony. He told lawmakers in closed and open sessions late last year that Trump’s then-personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani conducted a "campaign of lies" about the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, that led to her early recall from Kyiv.
But he also testified that he had raised concerns in 2015 about the appearance of a conflict of interest stemming from Biden’s son Hunter’s position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma. At the time, he emphasized that he “did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny.” And asked later during his testimony whether there was any truth to Trump’s theory that Biden was trying to protect his son’s interests, Kent replied: “None whatsoever.”
Burisma’s owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, has been investigated multiple times by Ukraine’s top prosecutor and the country’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, but a money laundering probe against him was abruptly dropped in January 2015, raising eyebrows among U.S. officials at the time.
“In early 2015, I raised questions with the deputy prosecutor general about why the investigation of Mr. Zlochevsky had been terminated, based on our belief that prosecutors had accepted bribes to close the case,” Kent said in prepared remarks during his public impeachment testimony.
“Later, I became aware that Hunter Biden was on the board of Burisma,” Kent continued. “Soon after that, in a briefing call with the national security staff in the Office of the Vice President, in February 2015, I raised my concern that Hunter Biden’s status as board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest. Let me be clear, however: I did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny. In fact, I and other U.S. officials consistently advocated reinstituting a scuttled investigation of Zlochevsky, Burisma’s founder, as well as holding the corrupt prosecutors who closed the case to account.”
Kent’s deposition is part of an escalating GOP probe of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and his family. Johnson is also seeking testimony from former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, currently a senior foreign policy adviser on Biden’s campaign; former special envoy for international energy Amos Hochstein; and former State Department officials Geoffrey Pyatt and Elizabeth Zentos.
The committee views testimony from Blinken and Hochstein in particular as critical for its forthcoming report on allegations surrounding Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma, and is eyeing subpoenas for the pair if they don’t agree soon to voluntarily appear before the panel.
On Wednesday, Biden campaign communications director Kate Bedingfield said in a memo circulated to “interested parties” that Johnson’s probe was a “desperate taxpayer-funded smear campaign” based “on a farcical, long-debunked, hardcore rightwing conspiracy theory.”
Trump has long urged his Republican allies on Capitol Hill to target his political enemies, and Democrats have raised concerns, including in a recent letter to the FBI, that Johnson’s probe has become a vehicle for “laundering” a foreign influence campaign to damage Biden.
Johnson renewed his demand for transcribed interviews and documents from the former Obama administration officials days after a Ukrainian lawmaker — Andriy Derkach, who has met with Giuliani to discuss investigating the Biden family — used a news conference to make unsubstantiated corruption allegations against the Bidens and Hochstein.