Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified that he did not work on Ukraine while he served under Pompeo and did not learn about President Donald Trump’s July call with the president of Ukraine until September media reports.
While McKinley said he had read media reports about the interactions Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani had with Ukraine, he added that was the extent of his knowledge on the matter.
“I don’t think his name ever crossed my lips. And no one spoke to me about Rudy Giuliani,” he said.
Given those facts, it seems unlikely the Intelligence Committee would call McKinley as a witness for the public hearings related to building a case around Trump’s alleged pressure campaign on Ukraine.
House Democrats on Monday began releasing transcripts of testimony from their impeachment probe of Trump after holding depositions behind closed doors, starting with McKinley’s 156-page transcript and the testimony of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
Full transcripts were also posted online.
McKinley’s testimony focused on interactions with State Department officials after the transcript of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was publicly released.
Trump “impugning” Yovanovitch on the call “raised alarm bells for me,” McKinley told the investigating committees. “I, frankly, became very concerned that we had to do something for her. That’s when I took it on.”
McKinley described in detail a variety of conversations he had — some in person, some on the phone and some over email — with top State Department officials, including Pompeo. He suggested to the officials that the department issue a statement of support for Yovanovitch, who was still a State Department employee, to vouch for her professionalism.
“I received a polite hearing from officials I spoke to but no substantive response to the concern I was raising,” he said.
The clearest response McKinley described was in regard to an email he sent Sept. 28 to David Hale, undersecretary for political affairs; Carol Perez, director general of the foreign service; Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokeswoman; Lisa Kenna, executive secretary in the Office of the Secretary of State; and Phil Reeker, acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs.
Hale was the only official of the five who did not respond to the email; the other four reacted positively to the idea of issuing a statement of support for Yovanovitch. McKinley said Ortagus later called him to say that Pompeo had decided not to issue a statement because he felt it would draw undue attention and that it was better to let the matter die down.
“I dropped it,” he said.
But McKinley testified after that conversation with Ortagus, he called Yovanovitch and spoke to her briefly about whether she would want the department to issue a statement supporting her.
“And she said: ‘Yes, I would welcome it.’ And it was pretty much that,” he said. “But also I asked whether others in the building had reached out to her in the preceding days or weeks, and the answer was no.”
McKinley said he did not relay Yovanovitch’s view back to Ortagus or others because he felt the decision had already been made.
McKinley said the treatment of Yovanovitch came up in conversations with about eight to 12 foreign service officials.
“It had had a very significant effect on morale. And the silence from the Department was viewed as puzzling and baffling,” he said.
That silence contributed to McKinley’s decision to resign. He had planned to retire at the end of the year but told Pompeo on Sept. 30 that he wanted to resign in November.
Further conversations in the week that followed about supporting State Department officials, including those who were being called to testify in the impeachment inquiry, led him to step down early, on Oct. 11.
McKinley also cited media reports showing State Department officials working on Ukraine being dragged into matters related to domestic politics as a reason he resigned.
“To see the emerging information on the engagement of our missions to procure negative political information for domestic purposes, combined with the failure I saw in the building to provide support for our professional cadre in a particularly trying time, I think the combination was a pretty good reason to decide enough,” he said.
Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff asked McKinley if his resignation was partly about concern the State Department was being used to dig up dirt on a political opponent, and McKinley said that was a fair characterization.
“In 37 years in the Foreign Service and different parts of the globe and working on many controversial issues, working 10 years back in Washington, I had never seen that,” he said.
McKinley also testified about a conversation he had Oct. 3 with State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, who had been tasked with collecting data Congress had requested for the impeachment investigation.
Kent, speaking with McKinley after leading a meeting with 10 to 15 people on the document production, expressed frustration that the task hadn’t been passed down in a timely manner and raised concerns about “inaccuracies” in a State Department response to Congress.
McKinley also testified that Kent felt bullied by a State Department lawyer, “that he thought that the lawyer was trying to shut him up.” Kent sent a memo on his concerns to McKinley, who forwarded it on to top State Department officials.
“I didn’t get any answer from anybody,” McKinley said.
Among the concerns McKinley raised in the conversation with Kent and the forwarding of his memo was that those who’d been asked to testify were not receiving assistance to pay for legal representation.
McKinley’s testimony also illuminated why some career officials chose to testify despite the administration taking a position that it would not cooperate with the probe.
“For those of us who aren’t lawyers, a subpoena is like ‘Nightmare on Elm Street,’” he said. “It’s, you know, ‘What have I done wrong? Why am I being subpoenaed?’ So I don’t make the distinction between friendly or unfriendly subpoenas.”