The testimony followed a blockbuster day in which Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert assigned to the National Security Council, gave lawmakers a firsthand account of Trump’s alleged attempt at a quid pro quo during a July 25 call with Zelensky. Partisan tensions were also building around procedural rules for impeachment drafted by Democrats, which were scheduled for a markup Wednesday afternoon ahead of an expected House vote on Thursday.
Anderson, a career Foreign Service officer, detailed efforts when U.S. officials tried to demonstrate support for Ukraine only to be batted down by the White House, including after Russian forces attacked and seized Ukrainian military vessels in the Sea of Azov in 2018. He spoke with lawmakers Wednesday afternoon.
“While my colleagues at the State Department quickly prepared a statement condemning Russia for its escalation, senior officials in the White House blocked it from being issued,” Anderson testified.
Croft, who worked on Ukraine issues at the White House and the State Department, said that “throughout” her time in the Trump administration she heard the president “describe Ukraine as a corrupt country,” both “directly and indirectly.” An official working on the impeachment inquiry who requested anonymity to discuss closed-door proceedings said Croft was appearing under subpoena.
“In light of an attempt by the White House and State Department to direct Catherine Croft not to appear for her scheduled deposition, and efforts to also limit any testimony that does occur, the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to compel her testimony this morning,” the official said, noting that Croft was answering questions from lawmakers and aides from both parties.
The prepared testimony does not add significantly to the specific claims by other U.S. officials alleging that Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals by withholding about $400 million in military aid and diplomatic support to Ukraine.
Croft and Anderson did not enjoy as much visibility into senior-level decision-making as some of their peers, such as former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman, whom House Democrats have struggled to bring in to testify. But they do offer new insight into how a shadow foreign policy executed by people outside of government undermined the work of U.S. officials.
Specifically, Croft mentioned receiving inexplicable phone calls from Washington lobbyist Robert Livingston, “who told me that Ambassador Yovanovitch should be fired,” referring to Marie Yovanovitch, then the top U.S. envoy in Kyiv.
“He characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros,” she stated in her opening remarks.
Yovanovitch was recalled from her position earlier this year after Giuliani and his associates waged a campaign of unsubstantiated allegations about her being opposed to Trump and supportive of Joe Biden, the former vice president now seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Yovanovitch denied those allegations in her sworn testimony earlier this month.
“It was not clear to me at the time — or now — at whose direction or at whose expense Mr. Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” Croft said.
She added that she notified her boss, Fiona Hill, and another State Department official, George Kent, of Livingston’s activities, but that she is “not aware of any action that was taken in response.”
Livingston, a former Republican congressman from Louisiana, was chosen as the successor to Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House in 1999, but he declined the position after revelations of an extramarital affair. After leaving Congress, he formed the Livingston Group, one of Washington’s most influential lobbying firms. His firm has represented clients in the Middle East and around the world, including political figures in Ukraine such as former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, according to Justice Department documents.
The firm was in touch with both Croft and Anderson in 2018, according to lobbying records, and is currently working on behalf of two Ukrainian entities: Association of Enterprises UKRMETALURGPROM, a steel-related trade group, and Innovative Technology & Business Consulting, a group related to Tymoshenko.
On Dec. 4 of last year, representatives of the Livingston Group accompanied Tymoshenko to a meeting with Anderson, the records showed.
The testimony came during a pivotal moment in the impeachment inquiry, as Democrats prepared to move the effort into the open with public hearings.
The House is expected to vote this week on a Democratic resolution laying out rules for those hearings in the Intelligence Committee and formally authorizing House Republicans to request testimony and documents, subject to votes by the Democratic-majority panel.
The move responds in part to Republican attempts to undermine the impeachment inquiry by painting it as a secretive effort to oust Trump from office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that the procedures drafted by Democrats “fall way short” of the “highest standards of fairness and due process” for Trump.
“This time around, instead of setting a high bar, House Democrats seem determined to set a new low,” he said.
In the past month, investigators have heard testimony or received briefings from about a dozen officials, and they have subpoenaed or requested documents from about 18 others. The inquiry formally began Sept. 24.
Two additional witnesses are scheduled to testify before the end of the week: Timothy Morrison, special assistant to the president and senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, on Thursday, and Robert Blair, senior adviser to acting Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, on Friday.
Croft testified that she has spent nine years as a Foreign Service Officer and started working on issues related to Ukraine when she was posted to the U.S. Mission at NATO in 2013. The following year, she was assigned to NATO headquarters in Brussels, then returned to Washington as a Ukraine Desk Officer at the State Department.
Supporting anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine was a theme of her work, starting in late 2013 when “citizens of Ukraine took to the streets to demand a European future and an end to corruption,” she said in her opening statement.
Croft described a few episodes where she worked in closer proximity to Trump, including his decision to provide Javelin anti-tank missile systems to Ukraine in 2017 and his meeting about corruption and Ukraine’s business climate with then-President Petro Poroshenko during the U.N. General Assembly meeting in Sept. 2017.
In his opening statement, Anderson stated that he has worked as a Foreign Service Officer since 2005 and spent the last five years on issues related to Ukraine. As an external unit chief at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, he said, he worked closely with Yovanovitch from 2015 and 2017. Anderson said Volker asked him to become special adviser for Ukraine negotiations in Aug. 2017.
Anderson said that his work has sometimes posed risks for him and his family, including “harassment and intimidation by hostile intelligence services, death threats, and other significant challenges.”
“I have accepted these burdens because I believe we are advancing a cause greater than ourselves and are working to promote the general welfare,” his statement read.
Tom Hamburger and Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.