Who Kent is
He is a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department overseeing European and Eurasian affairs. Translation: He is a very high-level official who oversees all U.S. policy over Ukraine and has a deep knowledge of the relationship between the United States and Ukraine.
Why he matters
Like William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, Kent appears to have been privy to how President Trump’s point people were trying to get Ukraine to do his bidding and how those efforts were viewed by other administration officials. He was regularly talking to Taylor, and he heard about Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president from the person who set it up, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
What we learned from his testimony
He testified that Trump wanted Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to publicly and explicitly announce he’d be investigating matters involving Democrats, and he wanted Zelensky to use the words “Biden” and “Clinton.” Kent didn’t hear this directly from Trump, but rather from other officials who talked to people who talked to Trump.
But in the absence of people who talked directly to Trump testifying reliably (Ambassador Gordon Sondland has already had to revise key parts of his testimony), Kent makes the starkest claim yet that the White House’s effort to get Ukraine to root out “corruption” was actually an attempt to make them dig up dirt on Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, and a potential 2020 opponent, former vice president Joe Biden.
Kent also does a thorough job of illustrating how “corrupt” Ukrainians recruited Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to attack U.S. officials with a “campaign of lies” about then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, which eventually made its way to the president. In essence, Kent paints a picture of a Trump White House that was willing to use its power and influence to go after Trump’s political rivals and that got used by Ukrainians to settle their own personal vendettas in the process.
Key quote from Kent’s public testimony
“It was unexpected, and most unfortunate, to watch some Americans — including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas — launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine. In my opinion, those attacks undermined U.S. and Ukrainian national interests and damaged our critical bilateral relationship.”
Here Kent is probably talking about Trump’s personal lawyer Giuliani, who he privately testified essentially got used by corrupt Ukrainians to oust a U.S. ambassador these Ukrainians saw as a threat. Kent’s mention of Giuliani’s involvement in all this is significant. The top State Department diplomat on Ukraine is saying: An American who had the ear of the president was undermining U.S. national security.
Key quote from Kent’s private testimony
“POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to the microphone and say, ‘investigation,’ ‘Biden’ and ‘Clinton.’ ”
That’s what Kent said he heard in a text from Taylor, yet another way Trump is tied to the quid pro quo. He didn’t get asked about this Wednesday because Taylor’s revelation that Sondland talked on the phone from Ukraine to Trump, and Trump asked about “investigations,” more directly pointed the finger at Trump.
Something else that’s interesting about Kent
Republicans defending Trump’s efforts to fold in Democrats were hoping Kent could help them. He testified privately and publicly that when he was working in the Obama administration, he tried to warn then-Vice President Joe Biden’s office that his son’s business in Ukraine could make it harder for the United States to advocate against conflict of interests. Kent was talking about the appearance of conflicts of interest, but he thought it was important enough to raise with Biden’s office.
But Kent was asked by Democrats on Wednesday whether Biden’s threat in Ukraine to withhold military aid is comparable to Trump’s threat. As The Washington Post’s Shane Harris and John Hudson report, he said no:
“I do not think they are the same thing,” Kent said. What Biden requested, Kent said, was the removal of “a corrupt prosecutor general . . . who had undermined a system of criminal investigation that we built with American money to build corruption cases.”