Trump's bottom line from Ukraine: 'Investigations, Biden and Clinton'

In testimony released Thursday by House Democrats, a high-ranking State Department official said he understood President Trump’s bottom-line demand of Ukraine was for a statement that included three key words: “investigations, Biden and Clinton.”

“Clinton” was a reference to the conspiracy theory promoted by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani about foreign efforts to sway the 2016 election.

The official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, was relaying what he was told by Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Sondland said the president “wanted nothing less than [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky to go to microphone and say ‘investigations, Biden and Clinton.’”

House Democrats made Kent’s testimony public on Thursday. In the transcript, Kent expanded on the messaging that Trump wanted Sondland to convey to Ukrainian officials.

“This was the Gordon Sondland messaging of what the Ukrainians need to say in shorthand, 2016. And in shorthand it was suggested that the Ukrainians needed — Zelensky needed to go to a microphone, and basically there needed to be three words in the message, and that was the shorthand.”

George Kent after testifying before Congress on Oct. 15. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Kent was then asked, “Clinton was shorthand for 2016?”

“2016, yes,” he answered.

Kent testified that he created memos of the conversations he had witnessed relating to a quid pro quo sought by the White House — the restoration of military aid and better U.S. relations in exchange for an investigation, or the public announcement of an investigation, that Trump believed would help his reelection campaign.

“I wrote a note to the file saying that I had concerns that there was an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and the U.S.,” Kent told House members.

He also described the role that Giuliani played in attempting to secure an investigation in Kiev into Biden and Clinton, which entailed a campaign to oust Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, whom Giuliani considered an impediment.

Giuliani “had been carrying on a campaign for several months full of lies,” Kent testified, adding that the president’s lawyer’s “assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period.”

As an example, Kent recounted an assertion that Yovanovitch was connected to liberal philanthropist George Soros, a claim he called “fake news.”

Other lies, according to Kent, stemmed from an untruthful news article published in the Hill and written by John Solomon that was critical of Yovanovitch, which Kent decried as “entirely made up in full cloth." 

While the bulk of Kent’s testimony was damaging to Trump, who faces the prospect of impeachment over his attempts to procure a foreign investigation of his political rivals, Kent was also critical of Joe Biden’s son Hunter, whose business dealings in Ukraine were one of the predicates of the investigation Trump sought.

“I raised my concerns” about Hunter Biden being “on the board of a company owned by somebody that the U.S. government had spent money trying to get tens of millions of dollars back and that could create the perception of a conflict of interest,” Kent testified.

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