A State Department official who is testifying in the House’s impeachment inquiry Wednesday shed light on the White House’s sluggish response to a November 2018 Russian attack on Ukrainian ships.
According to the opening remarks of Christopher Anderson, a Ukraine expert who was aware of concerns within the intelligence community about President Trump’s shadow smear campaign, the State Department had drafted a statement condemning the Nov. 25 incident. Release of that statement, however, was blocked by “senior officials in the White House,” Anderson testified.
Anderson instead drafted a tweet that was posted to the account of Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.
The attack was an escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Russia fired upon Ukrainian ships traveling through a strait connecting Ukraine’s ports to the Black Sea and seized three of the vessels. Russia did not deny the incident took place, but claimed that the Ukrainian ships had violated its borders.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley condemned the incident soon after it happened.
President Trump ultimately canceled a meeting scheduled the following weekend with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing Russia’s capture of the ships. The administration also, a month later, announced $10 million in military support for Ukraine. Still, experts and the press described the White House’s initial response as “muted.” Eventually, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Russians involved in the attack as well.
The White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s inquiry about Anderson’s claim. Anderson also told House investigators, according to his prepared remarks, about his and others’ concerns about the narrative being pushed by Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani about the country, including Giuliani’s calls for specific investigations into alleged Ukraine corruption.
Here is the portion of Anderson’s testimony about the November 2018 statement, via NPR:
On November 25, 2018, Russia escalated the conflict further when its forces openly attacked and seized Ukrainian military vessels heading to a Ukrainian port in the Sea of Azov. While my colleagues at the State Department quickly prepared a statement condemning Russia for its escalation, senior officials in the White House blocked it from being issued. Ambassador Volker drafted a tweet condemning Russia’s actions, which I posted to his account.