Diplomat said to have questioned optics of Hunter Biden job

Political News
George Kent

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, as he is scheduled to testify before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent told impeachment investigators this week that he had raised concerns in 2015 about Hunter Biden, the son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, working with a Ukrainian gas company.

Kent told lawmakers investigating President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine that he’d questioned the optics of Hunter Biden serving on the gas company’s board, according to a person familiar with the testimony who requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door session. At the time, American officials were trying to persuade Ukrainian officials to avoid conflicts of interest. Kent said he was told Biden wasn’t able to deal with the issue at the time because his other son, Beau, had cancer, according to the person.

The Washington Post first reported that Kent told the lawmakers about his concerns.

Kent responded to the reports in a statement Friday from his lawyers, Andrew Wright and Barry Hartman. They cautioned that individual comments may not reflect the whole of the diplomat’s 10-hour testimony, and that “those engaged in the broader political debate on either side will likely find both utility and inconvenience in his testimony.”

They added, “He was not there to testify on behalf of any side.”

Kent’s testimony came as White House and State Department officials told lawmakers this week in private depositions that they had concerns about Trump delegating his Ukrainian policy to his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and pushing out the former Ukrainian ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch. Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry to investigate Trump’s requests that Ukraine investigate Hunter Biden as Joe Biden ran in the Democratic primary to oust Trump in 2020.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, but Trump and some of his Republican allies have tried to keep the focus on his political rival’s son.

Hunter Biden this week acknowledged that his family name created business opportunities, but rejected assertions from Trump and other Republicans that he did anything wrong by engaging in foreign work in Ukraine and China.

“Did I make a mistake? Maybe in the grand scheme of things,” Hunter Biden said in an ABC News interview. “But did I make a mistake based on some ethical lapse? Absolutely not.”

On Friday, Trump embellished Kent’s testimony after the Washington Post report. Trump said he has “never had the privilege” of meeting Kent but said the diplomat had “excoriated the Obama administration and Joe Biden and Joe Biden’s son, saying that he has tremendous problems — tremendous problems with Joe Biden’s son and the Ukraine.”

Trump called the impeachment investigation “a terrible witch hunt” that is “so bad for our country.”

In the daylong session Tuesday, Kent said he “found himself outside a parallel process” and had warned others about Giuliani as far back as March. He felt the shadow diplomacy was undermining decades of foreign policy and the rule of law in Ukraine and that was “wrong,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

Connolly said Kent described the results of a May 23 meeting at the White House, organized by Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, where three administration officials — U.S. ambassador Gordon Sondland, special envoy Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — declared themselves the people now responsible for Ukraine policy.

“They called themselves the three amigos,” Connolly said Kent testified, and they said as much to Zelenskiy in Ukraine when they visited.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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