Who is George Kent?

Career Foreign Service officer George Kent testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. (AP)
Career Foreign Service officer George Kent testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. (AP)

This article was updated Nov. 14.

George Kent’s extensive background as a career diplomat, his specialist in Ukrainian and Russian issues, and his expertise in anti-corruption work made him a closely watched witness in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

Kent is one of the most high-ranking career officials who had knowledge about elements of the alleged White House effort to get Ukrainian officials to provide information damaging to former Vice President Joe Biden.

House Democrats called Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, to give public testimony Nov. 13, one of two witnesses called during the first day of public hearings. 

His testimony buttressed the Democratic perspective that individuals aligned with Trump ran an alternative foreign policy in Ukraine that went around career diplomats. He also threw cold water on a conspiracy theory advocated by some Trump allies that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

It was "amply clear that Russian interference was at the heart" of the 2016 campaign meddling, Kent said.

Kent also said that Biden’s efforts to fight corruption in Ukraine were legitimate and not a cover to protect the company his son worked for.

Here’s a snapshot of his background as well as highlights from the testimony he provided in public and behind closed doors. 

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Who is George Kent?

Kent is a career foreign-service officer who has served under presidents of both parties. 

In his current post, Kent oversees State Department policy towards Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

From 2015 to 2018, Kent served as deputy chief of mission in Kiev, Ukraine. Previously, he served as the senior anti-corruption coordinator in the State Department’s European Bureau. From 2012 to 2014, he directed the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

His earlier foreign service postings have included Warsaw; Kiev; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; and Bangkok.

Highlights from his public testimony

Kent, wearing a much-commented-upon bow tie, generally bolstered the concerns expressed by Democrats.

Asked about the notion backed by some Trump allies that Ukraine — rather than Russia — interfered in the 2016 election, Kent gave a firm no.

"To my knowledge, there is no factual basis, no," he said of the Ukrainian interference theory, adding, "I think it’s amply clear that Russian interference was at the heart of the interference in the 2016 election cycle."

He also rejected the argument articulated by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that there was no difference between Joe Biden strong-arming Ukraine into firing prosecutor Viktor Shokin and Trump’s attempt to press Ukraine into providing dirt on Biden, a potential 2020 opponent, and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

"I do not think they are the same things," Kent said. "What former Vice President Biden requested of the president of Ukraine Poroshenko is the removal of a corrupt prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, who had undermined a system of criminal investigation that we built with American money to build corruption cases." (We rated Paul’s comparison False.)

Kent also criticized a campaign of Trump allies to oust U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

He said it was "unexpected, and most unfortunate … to watch some Americans, including those who aligned themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas, launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine."

Yovanovitch, he added, "was dedicated, as is every U.S. government official in Ukraine, to help Ukrainians overcome the legacy of corruption."

And while Kent said that he was concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest with the younger Biden’s hiring by Burisma, he made clear that the vice president, in his view, did nothing improper.

"I did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny," Kent said. "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."

Highlights from his closed-door testimony

Kent testified to sharing information with officials uneasy with Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, including Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine who testified the same day as Kent, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert at the National Security Council.

Here are some of the most widely noted passages in the transcript of Kent’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Oct. 15, 2019.

Page 268: Kent testified about a conversation he’d been told about that involved Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a Trump donor. The conversation allegedly involved what Trump wanted to hear from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky regarding the Biden family and their activities in Ukraine.

Kent: "POTUS in sort of shorthand ... wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to (the) microphone and say ‘investigations,’ ‘Biden,’ and ‘Clinton.’"

Question from House staffer: "And in return for what?"

Kent: "That was not clear to me. I wasn't part of this exchange. But Bill Taylor then followed up with a videoconference, our normal Monday call in which he elaborated on his conversations. …"

Page 131: Kent also testified that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and a key figure in the Ukraine efforts, had carried out a campaign to oust then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who they allegedly saw as an impediment to their activities.

Kent: Giuliani "had been carrying on a campaign for several months, full of lies and incorrect information about Ambassador Yovanovitch. … His assertions and allegations against former Ambasador Yovanovitch were without basis — untrue, period."

Page 258: Kent testified to his impressions about which officials were involved in a separate diplomatic effort with Ukraine. 

Kent: "It was clear to me that Ambassador Sondland had a direct connection with Chief of Staff (Mick) MuIvaney, and that's actually how the May 23 readout was put on the president's schedule. It was not, to the best of my knowledge, done through the national security staff and Ambassador (John) Bolton (the national security adviser). It was … Ambassador Sondland directly to Chief of Staff  Mulvaney."

Page 47: Kent testified about an effort by some of Trump’s allies to secure a visa for former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin to come to the United States. Shokin is the prosecutor whose firing was urged by Biden on behalf of the U.S. government, a position that was in tune with that of other Western leaders. 

Question: "What was the State Department's view about the propriety of a visa for Mr. Shokin?"

Kent: "Mr. Shokin, as I mentioned, was well and very unfavorably known to us. And we felt, under no circumstances, should a visa be issued to someone who knowingly subverted and wasted U.S. taxpayer money. And as somebody who had a fiduciary responsibility for anti-corruption programs, I felt personally strongly. …"

Question: "What did you learn (about) why Mr. Giuliani was pushing to have a visa granted?"

Kent: "To the best of my recollection, the story that he conveyed to my colleagues in Consular Affairs was that Shokin wanted to come to the United States to share information suggesting that there was corruption at the U.S. Embassy."

Question: "And did you understand what he was referring to?"

Kent: "Knowing Mr. Shokin, I had full faith that it was (a) bunch of hooey, and he was looking to basically engage in a con game out of revenge, because he'd lost his job."

Page 102: A few elements of Kent’s testimony could be helpful in supporting Republican talking points. For instance, he expressed a negative impression of Burisma, the energy company that hired Hunter Biden for its board.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio: "Mr. Secretary, you said you didn't know for sure if Shokin was investigating Burisma, but you knew Burisma was a troubled, corrupt company, right?"

Kent: "As I said, Burisma had a reputation for being, first of all, one of the largest private producers of natural gas in Ukraine, but also had a reputation for not being the sort of corporate, cleanest member of the business community."

Jordan: "And you were so concerned about that that you advised (the U.S. Agency for International Development) not to do any type of coordinated activity (with them)."

Kent: "Correct."

Page 226: Another piece of Kent’s testimony that could help Republicans is his expressing concern that Hunter Biden’s position with Burisma could pose an appearance of a conflict of interest, (We have addressed this issue here.)

Kent: "And when I was on a call with somebody on the vice president's staff — and I cannot recaIl who it was — just briefing on what was happening (on) Ukraine, I raised my concerns that I had heard that Hunter Biden was 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 (from), and that could create the perception of a conflict of interest."

Question: "And what did the person on the other end of the line tell you?"

Kent: "The message that I recall hearing back was that the vice president's son, Beau, was dying of cancer and that there was no further bandwidth to deal with family-related issues at that time."

Question: "Was that pretty much the end of it?"

Kent: "That was the end of that conversation."