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WASHINGTON — State Department official George Kent told lawmakers in a closed-door deposition Tuesday that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney appointed three other Trump administration officials to spearhead the president’s efforts in Ukraine.

According to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who was present for the deposition, Kent testified that Mulvaney oversaw a meeting where he sidelined State Department officials and tapped three political appointees — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, European Ambassador Gordon Sondland and special envoy Kurt Volker — to oversee Ukraine policy for the United States.

Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state who worked on Ukraine and five other countries, told congressional investigators that the trio called themselves “the three amigos” and elbowed all the other officials at State out of the way, according to Connolly.

This not the first time Mulvaney was mentioned in depositions as part of the impeachment inquiry. President Donald Trump’s former Russia adviser Fiona Hill testified that then-national security adviser John Bolton said he wanted nothing to do with Mulvaney and Giuliani’s objectives in Ukraine, which Bolton said amounted to a “drug deal.”

Just weeks before the May 23 meeting, Marie Yovanovich was told that she was being recalled as the ambassador to Ukraine despite being told that she had done nothing wrong, according to her congressional testimony last week.

According to Connolly, Kent also testified that after the May 23 meeting, he was told to “lay low” by a superior when he raised concerns about Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was working to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

“The way I took it,” Connolly told NBC News, was that Kent “had just finished describing how he had told people that this is wrong, that Giuliani is out of control.”

Kent also said, according to Connolly, that the Trump allies who pushed for Ukraine to investigate corruption made it clear that “POTUS” wanted cooperation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian government.

Kent, who attended meetings and receptions with Zelenskiy and his advisers, said that Sondland and Volker floated the idea of a meeting with Trump, according to Connolly. Text messages between Volker and Sondland released this month also show that Zeleneskiy’s cooperation was expected in order to meet with Trump.

Volker testified behind closed doors last week that Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to investigate corruption in Ukraine but that there was “no quid pro quo” for military and security aid, which the administration had put on hold for nearly four months. Sondland is expected to testify under subpoena on Thursday.

During his nearly 10 hours of testimony, Kent also told members of Congress and their staff that Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden was a board member, was corrupt, according to a separate person who was present in the room. Kent said he told the Obama administration in 2016 that they should not hold an event with Burisma because of the company’s extensive corruption in Ukraine.

Kent was called in to testify because he raised the alarm about the disinformation campaign that Giuliani and his associates pushed regarding Ukraine, according to a emails included in the packet that the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General Michael Atkinson provided to Congress, obtained by NBC News. He sent a series of emails to colleagues alerting them of the “fake news driven smear out of Ukraine.”



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Remainer civil war: Disaster for second referendum campaign as chair resigns

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ROLAND RUDD has left People’s Vote after disagreements over strategy.

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Court puts hold on Rodney Reed’s scheduled execution

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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Friday afternoon stopped the scheduled execution of death row inmate and convicted murderer Rodney Reed.

The nonprofit Innocence Project, which has been representing Reed in his effort to stay alive, tweeted the court granted a stay of execution that was “indefinite.” A spokeswoman for the court said the stay ruling would be posted on its website shortly.

The move came after the state parole board voted unanimously Friday to recommend Gov. Greg Abbott delay the execution by 120 day. He was scheduled to be put to death next Wednesday.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, however, also asked that Abbott not commute Reed’s sentence to a lesser penalty. It’s unclear what the governor may decide, and his office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Rodney Reed at a Bastrop County District Court hearing in 2017.Ralph Barrera / Austin American-Statesman via AP file

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The call to halt Reed’s execution by lethal injection has been building in recent weeks, gaining support from a bipartisan group of about 45 state lawmakers, outspoken celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West and Oprah Winfrey, and an online petition.

Reed, now 51, was found guilty by an all-white jury in the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old grocery store worker in central Texas. His lawyers have pointed to new witnesses who have come forward and forensic evidence that has been reevaluated to insist he at least deserves a new trial. That includes at least 11 people who have recently cast doubt on Reed’s conviction and, in some cases, implicated Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell.

The parole board’s recommendation comes as Reed’s legal team has multiple appeals and motions filed and pending along various legal tracks. His lawyers have asked Abbott, a Republican, to stop the execution. Abbott has not commented publicly on the issue.

The Supreme Court might also take up the case, reinvigorating Reed’s supporters, some of whom camped out overnight Thursday to hold vigils outside of the high court awaiting a decision.

“When the whole world watches, it’s going to be hard for someone to make a mistake,” Reed’s brother, Rodrick Reed, said during a rally Thursday night near the Supreme Court. “That gives us a lot of hope and a lot of confidence that the right thing will eventually come out of this.”

Last year, the high court had refused to review an earlier Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that rejected further DNA testing in the case — paving the way for Reed’s execution.

During Reed’s trial in 1998, prosecutors said he randomly encountered Stites on the road as she drove to work at a grocery store in Bastrop, east of Austin. After she stopped for him, they said, Reed raped and strangled Stites with her own belt, leaving her body in a wooded area. Stites was weeks away from getting married to Fennell, a police officer.

Semen was found inside Stites, and police matched the DNA to that of Reed, who was arrested a year later. Reed’s sperm had previously been collected as part of an unrelated sexual assault investigation.

Reed initially denied to investigators that he knew Stites, but later said they had been having a consensual sexual relationship, one that they tried to keep concealed because he is black and Stites was white.

An attorney for Fennell has denied his client’s involvement in Stites’ death.

Dennis Romero contributed.



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Highlights from Yovanovitch's impeachment testimony

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Watch highlights from day two of the public hearing of President Trump’s impeachment inquiry, featuring former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch

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