2 State Department witnesses offer insight into extent of Ukraine discussions

They are the latest in a line of State Department officials subpoenaed to answer questions about the Ukraine policy under President Donald Trump.

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — A career foreign service official who was an adviser to former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations Kurt Volker will testify that Rudy Giuliani’s attempt to urge the Ukrainian government to open investigations was discussed at a Ukraine strategy meeting at the Department of Energy in June, according to his openings statement obtained by NBC News.

Christopher Anderson was special adviser to Volker until mid-July, at which time he was replaced by Catherine Croft. Both Croft and Anderson will appear before Congressional investigators Wednesday. They are the latest in a line of State Department officials subpoenaed to answer questions about the Ukraine policy under President Donald Trump that is at the center of an impeachment investigation.

Anderson said that at the June 18 meeting with State and Energy Department officials, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, there were “vague discussions” about investigations, according to his opening statement. Anderson is expected to say that he spoke with acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, and they agreed on “the importance of not calling for specific investigations.”

Anderson will say that just before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May he saw the tweet by Giuliani saying that President-elect Zelenskiy was “surrounded by enemies of President Trump.” To counter Giuliani’s statement, Anderson will testify that he pushed for a high-level delegation to attend Zelenskiy’s inauguration, which included Perry; Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland; Volker; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council; and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc.

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Croft is expected to testify that she was part of the July 18 meeting with the Office of Management and Budget and heard an official say that the hold on military aid came “at the direction of the president,” according to her opening statement obtained by NBC News.

Taylor has also testified that the aid was held up at the direction of the president.

Neither Croft nor Anderson were on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Croft is also expected to testify that the week of July 8, when she overlapped with Anderson, is when she learned that Volker was in touch with Giuliani about Ukraine policy. She is expected to say that his work with Giuliani was separate from her work on Ukraine and with Volker.

Croft, who worked at National Security Council at the White House in 2017 and the first half of 2018, said that she had heard the president refer to Ukraine as a corrupt country. Croft is expected to say she used to get calls from lobbyist Robert Livingston, the former congressman who resigned in 1998 for an affair, saying that Ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch should be fired because she was an “Obama holdover." She said she told both Fiona Hill and George Kent of the calls.

Both State Department officials were told by Under Secretary of State Brian Bulatao on October 28 not to appear before the committees, guidance that directed by the Office of White House Counsel. Both witnesses are appearing under subpoena, according to their attorney Mark MacDougall.

In a statement provided by MacDougall, he says that neither Croft nor Anderson are the whistleblower, but he says that they will protect that person's identity in their depositions. The whistleblower's complaint helped led to the impeachment inquiry, and Trump has said the identity of the whistleblower should be made public.

"To the extent we reasonably conclude that any questions directed to Ms. Croft (and Mr. Anderson) this morning are intended to assist anyone in establishing the identity of the Whistleblower, we will make the necessary objections and give the witness appropriate instructions,” MacDougall said in a statement.

Democratic lawmakers say that Republicans are questioning witnesses about the identity of the whistleblower in an attempt to have it inserted into the transcripts that are likely to be released to the public.

CORRECTION (Oct. 30, 2019, 9:23 a.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the first name of a former congressman who sought the removal of then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. He is Robert Livingston, not Jack Livingston.