Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee repeated a talking point throughout this week’s debate over articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump: he never cared about corruption in Ukraine before the Bidens.
They were able to do so because Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) declined to bring a key witness to public hearings: Catherine Croft, the State Department’s special adviser for Ukraine negotiations, who had only testified behind closed doors.
There were other witnesses who didn’t make the cut, such as White House Office of Management and Budget Mark Sandy, who only testified once public hearings were already under way, and whose transcript was not released until they were done. Sandy offered exculpatory testimony that the only reason officials were given for the hold on aid to Ukraine was that the president was concerned about other countries, especially in Europe, not paying their share.
But Croft’s testimony was possibly even more helpful to the president, for several reasons.
First, Croft testified that Trump had held up aid to Ukraine before, in late 2017, before the U.S. began providing weapons.
Second, she noted that Trump had been so irritated about corruption in Ukraine that he literally lectured former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in front of his own delegation, telling him his country was corrupt and it should pay its own way:
Croft: The President was skeptical of providing weapons to Ukraine.
Croft: When this was discussed, including in front of the Ukrainian delegation, in fnont of President Poroshenko, he described his concerns being that Ukraine was corrupt, that it was capable of being a very rich country, and that the United States shouldn’t pay for it, but instead, we should be providing aid through loans.
Croft added that the president’s concerns were that “Ukraine is corrupt, and that Europe should be stepping up to do more to provide security assistance to Ukraine.” Those are the same concerns Trump would express 18 months later.
In addition, Croft testified that there had been confusion about the legality of the OMB hold. Democrats tried to portray the OMB’s hold as a violation of the Impoundment Control Act. But as an OMB memorandum to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) explained this week, the administration saw the hold as a “programmatic delay” in furtherance of congressional intent, and not a “deferral” against it, which would be subject to deadlines. Croft’s testimony that there was “a discussion among the people … the legislative folks together with the legal folks” supports the administration’s claim that there was never any intent to violate the law by withholding the funding.
There are a few details in Croft’s testimony that could have been helpful to Democrats — which explains, perhaps, why she did not appear on the witness list requested by Republicans, either. Croft had testified, for example, that two officials at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington reached out to her in July to ask about aid being held. That might have countered other testimony that the Ukrainian government was unaware about the hold until a Politico article was published Aug. 28. (Senior Ukrainian officials have since reiterated that they did not know until then.)
But Schiff never brought Croft to any of the public hearings because her testimony about Trump’s earlier hold on aid, and her testimony about Trump’s long-standing concern about Ukrainian corruption, would have undermined Democrats’ key argument that Trump only began to care about the issue once it implicated a potential political rival.
That is why Democrats claimed over and over again, falsely, that Trump never cared about corruption in Ukraine before: Catherine Croft never left the basement, so to speak. Her testimony may as well never have happened.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.