David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, is expected to testify publicly before House investigators on Wednesday. His testimony comes as House investigators try to establish whether U.S. military aid to Ukraine was withheld by President Trump, or those working for him, to pressure the country to open investigations into the president’s political rivals.
Who is Hale?
Hale is the third-highest-ranking official at the State Department, serving under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He was confirmed to his post in August 2018 after more than three decades in the Foreign Service. He has worked under both Democratic and Republican administrations and has held U.S. ambassadorships in Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan, among other roles. And he’s the highest-ranking State Department official to testify so far in the impeachment inquiry.
Why his testimony matters
Hale may be able to shed more light on the dismissal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Yovanovitch was forced from her post by Trump in May after an onslaught of online and conservative attacks questioning her loyalty. She testified publicly last week.
In her October closed-door testimony, Yovanovitch said she had asked Hale for help defending her from a wave of online attacks that questioned her credibility and loyalty to Trump. According to Yovanovitch, Hale said he would look into it, but she never heard back from him, and no statement of support was ever issued.
What did we learn from his closed-door testimony?
Hale provided a State Department perspective on the events that led to Yovanovitch’s ousting and why a statement of support was not ultimately issued on her behalf. But he also cast himself as a figure unaware of any alleged machinations involving Ukraine.
Though Hale said he “was advocating strongly” for defense and praise of Yovanovitch’s work as ambassador, he told investigators that the State department ultimately decided not to move forward with a statement of support for Yovanovitch because “it would only fuel negative reaction,” even possibly from Trump.
“I think the judgment was that it would be better for everyone, including the Ambassador, to try to just move past this,” Hale said.
He also said he and other senior state officials didn’t have knowledge of any efforts by the Trump administration to pressure Ukraine.
“The information that was revealed about the conduct — what people were allegedly pursuing with Ukrainian officials, it did surprise me,” he said. “I didn’t know any of that was happening.”
A key quote from his testimony
In discussing why a statement supporting Yovanovitch was not supported, Hale surmised that Pompeo may have ultimately made the call.
Q: Now, if you were a strong proponent of the statement and one was ultimately not issued, who made the decision not to issue the statement?Hale: I don’t remember actually being told that. I must have been, but given my position in the State Department, it could only have been someone more senior to me. The Secretary most likely would have been the person.— Pages 26, 27 of Hale's closed-door testimony
What others have said about Hale
Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, testified in a separate hearing that he raised concerns about the treatment of Yovanovitch to Hale but was told there would be no public statement of support.
Philip Reeker says top leadership of the State Department rejected his entreaties to publicly support ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine
What to expect from Hale’s public testimony
Lawmakers may press Hale on discussions at the State Department about what to do with the attacks on Yovanovitch. Democrats may seek more information from Hale about Yovanovitch’s ouster, while Republicans also may focus on what Hale didn’t know.
After Hale’s private deposition, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) claimed on Twitter that Hale had “made a compelling case that there was absolutely no linkage between suspension of military aid and political investigations.”
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