A top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday described the 2019 contacts between Pompeo and President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani — which ultimately led to the ouster of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — as “deeply disturbing.”
Lisa Kenna, Pompeo’s executive secretary — a gatekeeper of sorts to his office — told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she was unaware of the substance of Giuliani’s outreach at the time, but now knows it was an effort to discredit Yovanovitch. Giuliani made calls and delivered documents to Pompeo that came from Ukrainian figures viewed as corrupt by the State Department.
“At the time, I did not know what the documents were about. It’s deeply disturbing,” said Kenna, who is being vetted by the committee for the ambassadorship to Peru.
Kenna’s name was invoked repeatedly during the House’s impeachment proceedings as a conduit for Giuliani’s outreach to the State Department. Her emails were occasionally displayed during the proceedings. Democrats alleged that Giuliani’s efforts to smear Yovanovitch were part of a campaign to discredit an official who stood in the way of Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine’s government to investigate his Democratic rivals on false charges.
Trump repeatedly urged his advisers to defer to Giuliani on Ukraine policy and mentioned him in a call with Ukraine’s president on July 25, 2019.
Kenna told lawmakers that she did not review materials that Giuliani passed along, even though she often looked at papers sent to Pompeo. ” I was aware that he delivered a package,” Kenna said. “I was not aware of the contents nor did I review that package.”
But Kenna said in hindsight, she is bothered by what she now knows Giuliani was doing — and that the ouster of Yovanovitch was unfortunate.
“It was a very painful and difficult time,” Kenna said. “I absolutely respect Ambassador Yovanovitch. She’s one of our strongest career ambassadors … the consummate career professional.”
“It was very difficult to see what she went through at that time,” Kenna said.
Kenna said that despite the uproar over Ukraine, she always endeavored to “run a professional operation that is based on integrity and respect for processes.”
“I am not a policy advisor to the secretary of state, and I was not included in discussions regarding the recall of Ambassador Yovanovitch or our general policy,” she said.
Kenna also said, in response to questions from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) that although she often reviewed Pompeo’s decision documents and letters he would be signing, she also often passed along materials marked “personal” or “eyes only” for the secretary without reviewing them.
Under questioning by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Kenna also committed to appearing for an Aug. 7 interview with the House Foreign Affairs Committee and other lawmakers about the abrupt firing of State Department inspector general Steve Linick by Trump.