Published by The Lawfare Institute
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Editor’s note: This is one of many summaries of depositions released by House impeachment investigators. The others are available here.
Former Senior Adviser to the Secretary of State Michael McKinley testified before Congress in the ongoing impeachment inquiry on Oct. 16. Below is a summary of his testimony, as compiled from the transcript of his deposition.
The testimony of former Senior Adviser to the Secretary of State Michael McKinley, a career foreign service officer, focused on his concern over the lack of State Department support for Marie Yovanovitch after the Trump-Zelensky call transcript was released. McKinley said he resigned from the State Department because of two concerns: the failure of the department to offer support to officials caught up in the impeachment inquiry and what appeared to be the utilization of foreign ambassadors to advance domestic political objectives.
McKinley described the role Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had played in rebuilding the State Department following Secretary Rex Tillerson’s “hollowing out” of the department. Under Pompeo, he testified, recruitment and promotion returned to normal rates and the department began to play a significant role in foreign policy again.
McKinley said seeing the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call and Trump’s disparaging of Yovanovitch “raised alarm bells.” He thought there was a “simple solution,” which was to put out a short apolitical statement attesting to Yovanovitch’s professionalism and strong record. McKinley was very concerned about the impact on Foreign Service morale and the integrity of its work overseas, and said he observed a “significant effect” on department staff morale. People were expecting some kind of statement of support. McKinley said that even an internal email from the secretary would have been meaningful, but that was not done.
McKinley raised the issue with Pompeo about three times, and each time Pompeo would acknowledge it but not give a meaningful response. At this point, McKinley was unaware that Pompeo had been on the Trump-Zelensky call.
Additionally, McKinley sent an email to five senior officials he knew in the department proposing a statement of support for Yovanovitch, in particular to send a message to the Foreign Service that the department would stand by its members. Four out of five responded in support of this idea. He was then told that Pompeo’s decision was not to issue a statement, and that he thought it was better not to draw attention to Yovanovitch and “let this die down.”
McKinley also reached out to Yovanovitch and was surprised that he was the first senior person at the department to have done so. She told him that she would welcome more public support from the department. He also spoke with the Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent, who also said he would welcome more public support for Yovanovitch.
McKinley met with Kent on Oct. 3, and Kent mentioned that he went to a meeting to discuss the response to Congress’s information requests and was troubled by the tone of the meeting and later sent a memorandum summarizing the experience, an extremely rare occurrence. Kent mentioned that one of the department lawyers “was trying to shut him up,” that the department was using “bullying tactics” and that representations the department made to Congress contained inaccuracies. Additionally, one of the things that was discussed that “appalled” McKinley was the lack of financial support for paying for private counsel. McKinley forwarded the memorandum to other senior officials, noting Kent’s allegations, and he mentioned the concern regarding legal fees. He received no response.
The week after the call memo was released, McKinley tendered his resignation. Although he was initially planning on resigning at a later date, his ultimate resignation came within eight days. The minority staff questioner emphasized how quickly this came together and that Pompeo and senior leadership may have been just taking time to formulate their response to his concerns. McKinley specifically stated that he was “deeply disturbed” by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents. McKinley responded that his accelerated departure was a product of the cumulative effect of seeing the news, the general attitude within the department, the lack of any reaction to his concerns, and the lack of response to a prior inspector general report that showed politicization within one of the department’s bureaus. He decided that the decision had been made, and he no longer had a role to play.
McKinley denied the possibility that the senior officials he emailed might have been too busy with the U.N. General Assembly week to get to his emails. McKinley said that “[w]hen the transcript was released and, frankly, the information that just poured out every day from the media, when the VoIker-Sondland emails were released, it became clear to me that State Department officials, if not the State Department itself, were being drawn again into the domestic political arena in some way. And I repeat: I feel that this is not the way we maintain the integrity of the work we do beyond our borders. We're meant to project nonpartisanship overseas.”