Saturday, November 16, 2019

6 Key Moments From DAY 2 of the Public Impeachment Hearings

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The Obama administration instructed her on how to respond to lawmakers’ questions about the lucrative employment of Vice President Joe Biden’s son by an energy company in Ukraine, the ousted ambassador to the former Soviet republic testified Friday.
Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled and reassigned six months ago, also said she felt threatened by President Donald Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president in July, and she had a real-time exchange with Trump during the second day of House Democrats’ public impeachment hearings.
Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer first assigned to Ukraine about two months before Trump’s election, testified for five hours before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Here are six of the big moments from Day Two.
1. Burisma, the Bidens, and the Fired Prosecutor
President Barack Obama nominated Yovanovitch to be U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May 2016; she served there from Aug. 29, 2016, until being recalled by the Trump administration on May 20.
For her Senate confirmation hearing on her posting to Ukraine, she testified Friday, an Obama State Department briefing book prepared her to answer questions about the vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, and his employment as a highly paid board member for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Although Yovanovitch, 61, said Hunter Biden’s role with Burisma represented a potential conflict of interest, she also said she had no objection to his father, as vice president, making U.S. aid to Ukraine conditional on the firing of a top state prosecutor investigating the company. She said she didn’t believe the firing was related to Burisma.
As it turned out, the Hunter Biden question didn’t come up in her 2016 confirmation hearing. But, she testified Friday, the Obama administration advised her to punt if senators did.
“It was something along the lines of ‘I would refer you to the vice president’s office,’” Yovanovitch said regarding the Obama State Department’s instructions to her.
Early during the House impeachment hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., read directly from the transcript of closed-door testimony during the impeachment inquiry in which Yovanovitch said: “The way this question was phrased in this model Q&A [from the Obama administration] was ‘What can you tell us about Hunter Biden being named to the board of Burisma?”
Trump faces House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry largely because he asked the Ukrainian government to reopen an aborted investigation of Burisma and the Bidens while putting a temporary hold on nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
As vice president, Joe Biden was deeply involved in U.S. policy on Ukraine at a time when his son was earning at least $50,000 a month for sitting on the Burisma board, Trump’s defenders note.
Clearly, Stefanik said, Trump wasn’t the only one concerned.
“For the millions of Americans watching, President Obama’s own State Department was so concerned about potential conflicts of interest from Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma that they raised it themselves while prepping this wonderful ambassador nominee before her confirmation,” Stefanik said, referring to Yovanovitch.
“And yet, our Democratic colleagues and the chairman of this committee cry foul when we dare ask that same question that the Obama State Department was so concerned about,” she said, referring to Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Stefanik also asked the former ambassador: “In terms of defensive lethal aid, which you were an advocate for: That was not provided by President Obama. It was provided by President Trump.”
Yovanovitch replied, “That’s correct.”
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, later asked whether the Obama administration prepared her to answer questions about any other companies in Ukraine.
“Out of thousands of companies in the Ukraine … the only one that you recall the Obama-Biden State Department preparing you to answer questions about is the one [where] the vice president’s son was on the board? Is that fair?” Ratcliffe asked.
“Yes,” the former ambassador said.
George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, testified Wednesday that he raised concerns about a perceived conflict of interest because of the vice president’s son’s employment by Burisma. Yovanovitch said she agreed.
“I think it could raise the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Yovanovitch said of the younger Biden’s role at Burisma while his father was vice president.
Ratcliffe noted that Ukraine’s prosecutor general at the time, Viktor Shokin, had opened an investigation into Burisma before Yovanovitch became U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Ratcliffe referred to the former vice president’s recounting, in a January 2018 speech, that he had threatened the Ukraine government with losing $1 billion in U.S. aid unless Shokin was fired.
“Do you think that raises a potential concern or conflict of interest that the vice president of the United States was ordering the firing of a prosecutor in charge of [investigating] a company that has been identified as one that is substantially corrupt?” Ratcliffe asked.
Yovanovitch answered, “I actually don’t. I don’t think that the view that Mr. Shokin was not a good prosecutor general fighting corruption, I don’t think that had anything to do with the Burisma case.”
2. Invoking Benghazi --->
Lots More HERE.

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