Official to Testify Pompeo Blocked Show of Support for Ousted Ambassador – The Wall Street Journal

Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, tried to rally support for the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in the form of an internal letter. Photo: kostas tsironis/EPA/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON—A senior State Department official was set to tell House impeachment investigators Saturday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials stymied a show of solidarity for the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine after President Trump had her removed, according to a person familiar with his planned closed-door testimony.

Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, was also present for a White House interagency meeting during which a Department of Defense official raised concerns about a decision by the White House to hold military aid to Ukraine, the person familiar with the testimony said.

The House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Mr. Reeker’s testimony after the State Department directed him not to appear for his scheduled Saturday deposition, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry. The official said the State Department was also attempting to limit any testimony that did occur, and that Mr. Reeker was complying with the subpoena and answering questions.

Mr. Reeker was named to the job in March, around the time Mr. Trump ordered the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others had accused Ms. Yovanovitch of undermining the president abroad and of obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Ms. Yovanovich “was a primary concern from his first week on the job,” the person familiar said, relaying Mr. Reeker’s position on the issue.

The events surrounding the decision to hold up aid to Ukraine are a central focus of the House impeachment inquiry. Mr. Trump has denied wrongdoing and has called the probe a witch hunt.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, said Saturday afternoon that the panels were learning more from Mr. Reeker than they had anticipated, extending the length of the deposition. He declined to elaborate on the substance of Mr. Reeker’s testimony.

“He’s being helpful in some respects, he is corroborating previous witnesses and their testimony,” he said. “It’s a much richer reservoir of information that we originally expected.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), a top ally of the president’s on Capitol Hill, said that Mr. Reeker is a minor player in the overall Ukraine saga. He also declined to comment on the substance of Mr. Reeker’s testimony.

“Ukraine was one of dozens of countries that he oversees, so to the extent he was copied on an email here or there, that’s pretty much his involvement,” Mr. Meadows said.

On Tuesday, Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said in his prepared testimony Mr. Trump made nearly $400 million in aid contingent on the Ukrainian president investigating Mr. Biden and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Democrats who heard the testimony called it damning, while some Republicans argued that there was nothing new in it.

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Mr. Taylor also said in his testimony that he grew concerned about dual channels through which the Trump administration was conducting foreign policy toward Kyiv—one through the State Department and an unofficial one involving Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Reeker was named to his current role when there were rumblings of Mr. Giuliani’s interference in Ukraine-related affairs, including efforts to have Ms. Yovanovitch removed from her post, but the ambassador was recalled almost as soon as he started in the job, and he was virtually powerless to stop it, the person familiar with his testimony said.

Mr. Reeker’s deputy, George Kent, expressed concerns to him and later forwarded them to the State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a close ally to Mr. Pompeo, and David Hale, the No. 3 official at the department, according to documents released to Congress by the State Department’s inspector general.

Mr. Reeker, a 25-year friend of Ms. Yovanovitch’s, tried to rally support for her in the form of an internal letter, but was urged not to by Mr. Pompeo and other top State Department officials, who noted that Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal was a priority for the president, the person familiar with his testimony said.

Michael McKinley, a former senior aide to Mr. Pompeo, testified earlier this month that he left his post over frustration with the secretary of state about the treatment of Ms. Yovanovitch, according to people familiar with the testimony.

Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal from Kyiv in the spring has become a point of interest in the impeachment inquiry.

President Trump’s efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, have set off an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday lays out a timeline of interactions between the president’s inner circle and Ukrainian officials. Photo Composite: Laura Kammermann/The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Reeker’s position requires constant travel, so much of the day-to-day Ukraine-related discussions were deferred to Mr. Kent, the person familiar with his testimony said, and policy matters were dominated by Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special envoy for Ukraine negotiations; Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union; Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Mr. Giuliani.

However, the person said, Mr. Reeker became concerned when, during a July 31 policy coordination committee meeting at the White House, Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, raised concern over a hold on Ukraine aid by the White House and emphasized that the Pentagon was running out of time to release the funds before the end of the fiscal year.

Mr. Trump, in a July 25 call, asked his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, to “look into” Mr. Biden and his son and said he would direct Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to contact Mr. Zelensky to help him in a possible investigation, according to a rough transcript released by the White House.

Before asking Ukraine to examine actions by Mr. Biden’s son, Mr. Trump reminded Mr. Zelensky that the U.S. sends security aid to Ukraine, according to the transcript, which was released in late September. 

Write to Vivian Salama at vivian.salama@wsj.com

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