The Ukraine Connection

Summary of Christopher Anderson’s Deposition Testimony

By Masha Simonova
Saturday, November 16, 2019, 4:00 PM

Editor’s note: This is one of many summaries of depositions released by House impeachment investigators. The others are available here.

Foreign service officer Christopher Anderson testified before Congress in the ongoing impeachment inquiry on Oct. 30. Below is a summary of his testimony, as compiled from his opening statement and the transcript of his deposition.

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Christopher Anderson, a foreign service officer since 2005, served at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv from 2014 to 2017 and as the special adviser for Ukraine negotiations from August 2017 to July 2019. Anderson’s work had focused on Ukraine for five years. His work in Ukraine began with three weeks of temporary duty to Kyiv in March 2014, just after Russia invaded and occupied Crimea. He returned to Kyiv in September 2014 to serve as the external unit chief in the political section of the embassy, where his primary responsibility was working on the conflict with Russia. Among other things, he sent daily updates back to Washington about what was happening in the conflict and supported the assistant secretary’s efforts to negotiate with the Kremlin. In this role, he testified, U.S. security assistance was discussed “in a general way,” because the assistance was handled by other sections within the embassy. Anderson worked closely with Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from 2015 to 2017. He discussed the provision of Javelins in depth with Yovanovitch from a policy standpoint. Yovanovitch and her predecessor, Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, both favored robust security assistance. 

One of the other policy positions of the U.S. was fighting corruption in Ukraine. Anderson said there were two wars in Ukraine: One was the war against Russia, and the other was the war against corruption. Officials in the embassy saw corruption as “almost an existential threat.” Anderson noted that “even if Ukraine defeated Russia on the battlefield, Russia would win through corruption”—corruption was a Russian tool to “exert control and to maintain political dominance” over Ukraine. 

In August 2017, Ambassador Kurt Volker asked Anderson to serve as special adviser for Ukraine negotiations, which he did from late August 2017 until July 12, 2019. In that capacity, he “helped develop negotiating positions, analyzed Russian and Ukrainian ceasefire proposals, and provided context on the history of the conflict and past negotiations,” and he traveled with Volker to the conflict areas. Asked whether he was involved in the delivery of Javelins to Ukraine in 2017 and early 2018, Anderson said his involvement was minimal. But Volker strongly supported providing Javelins. He was aware at that time that the provision of Javelins was a “protracted process” and that the difficulty came from the White House.

In November 2018, after Russia escalated the Crimean conflict by openly attacking and seizing Ukrainian military vessels heading to a Ukrainian port in the Sea of Azov, State Department officials quickly prepared a statement condemning Russia. Volker was supportive of the statement. However, President Trump “put an embargo on any statements” being issued. Although both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued statements, the White House did not. Ukrainian counterparts and journalists questioned why there was not a stronger statement.

In December 2018, Anderson met with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton to discuss the White House cancellation of a routine Navy freedom-of-navigation operation, as well as reports that there would be a review of all U.S. assistance to Ukraine. As a result of the meeting, Anderson and Volker went to Brussels to meet with EU officials and NATO allies to push for a stronger European response to the Russian escalation. U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was enthusiastic about coordination with Europe.

There was also a CNN news report around early January about the operation that made it seem that the Navy operation was a direct response to Russia, and Bolton said Trump called him at home and complained about it.

Anderson described Volodymyr Zelensky’s election and inauguration as president of Ukraine. When Zelensky was elected, Anderson and Volker were hopeful that he “could reinitiate high-level U.S. engagement.” However, prior to the inauguration, Anderson and his embassy colleagues saw a tweet from Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, alleging that Zelensky was “surrounded by enemies of President Trump,” as well as reports in The Hill that Giuliani was advocating for investigations. They thought that in his tweet Giuliani was referring to Serhiy Leshchenko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, and his involvement in publishing the black ledger that detailed payments to Paul Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party. 

Anderson briefed Volker on Giuliani’s actions and provided background on then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko’s role and activities. Anderson thought “Lutsenko was trying to keep his job by making himself useful to the U.S. Government, or to certain people in the U.S. Government, or in the U.S.,” including Giuliani.

Anderson was paying attention to Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine because he was concerned that “if Giulianis narrative took hold, that the Ukrainian Government was an enemy of the President, then it would be very hard to have high-level engagement, and that would mean ... that it would be harder for us to pressure Russia to come back to the negotiating table.” Volker told Anderson that he did not believe that Giuliani would abandon these efforts. Anderson understood that Volker had talked to Giuliani to try to provide more information, which was when Volker got the sense that the issue would not go away. Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor was also concerned that “Giuliani would make his job difficult,” and he requested a meeting with Pompeo to discuss those concerns. Anderson was worried that if Giuliani continued his efforts in Ukraine, it would influence Trump’s thinking on Ukraine.

Anderson also learned about Yovanovitch’s possibly being withdrawn from her post, and Anderson discussed the possibility with Volker. Anderson asked Volker if he wanted to put out a statement of support, but Volker did not want to do so at that time. The combination of Yovanovitch being withdrawn and Giuliani’s involvement led Anderson and his colleagues to push for a presidential delegation to attend Zelensky’s inauguration because of concern that “U.S. support was flagging.” This delegation included Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Sondland, Volker, National Security Council Director Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and Sen. Ron Johnson. Anderson and Volker believed that it was important for the two presidents to have a personal relationship and to arrange a White House visit because it would have the most significance. 

After the inauguration delegation returned, they wanted to brief Trump. Sondland was able to get a meeting with Trump on May 23—three days after Zelensky’s inauguration. In preparation for this meeting, Anderson and others wanted to convey three policy “deliverables” the White House could ask for that would show Zelensky’s commitment to reform: first, demonstrating that he was independent from vested interests (particularly Igor Kolomoisky, an oligarch) and was pursuing anti-corruption and antitrust reforms; second, strengthening U.S. and Ukrainian energy cooperation; and third, improving the bilateral security relationship, such as through Ukraine increasing its purchases of U.S. military equipment, including Javelins. Anderson did not attend the May 23 meeting but received a readout, and he believed that the participants discussed the three areas. He also stated that “Ambassador Volker told me that the President said something to the effect of the Ukrainians tried to take me down.” Trump signed a letter on May 29 inviting Zelensky for a visit, but it did not include a specific date.

On June 13, Anderson and Volker went to a meeting with Bolton, who agreed with the three areas identified by the delegation and supported increased engagement from senior White House officials. He stated, however, that Giuliani was very influential for Trump on Ukraine, which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagement. Anderson recalled that Bolton “made a joke about every time Ukraine is mentioned, Giuliani pops up and that the President was listening to Giuliani about Ukraine.” Bolton also said Vice President Pence might meet with Zelensky in Canada, but Pence did not go. 

On June 18, Secretary Perry had a meeting to discuss movement in these three areas. The Energy and State Departments broadly agreed to the policy positions. They also agreed that it would be important to schedule a White House visit. During this meeting with Energy, “[t]here were some vague discussions in the meeting about how to address Mr. Giuliani’s continued calls for a corruption investigation.” Anderson then spoke with Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent about the meeting and next steps, and both agreed that it was important not to call for any specific investigations but that the three policy lines were useful. After the meeting, Anderson spoke to Taylor about the need to make sure that individual investigations were not discussed, because pushing for individual investigation was not part of the U.S. policy on anti-corruption in Ukraine.

Volker led a delegation to the Ukraine Reform Conference in Canada on July 1-2. The delegation met with Zelensky, who noted progress in some of the identified areas and pushed for a White House visit. Volker urged a call with Trump and reassured Zelensky that a call would not obviate the need for a White House visit. 

On July 10, Anderson talked to Vindman, who “expressed concern about the need to maintain our policy and keep it separate from investigations and collusion.” By “collusion,” he meant the idea that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered with the U.S. election. Anderson told Volker about this conversation.

Anderson completed his assignment as special adviser on July 12, and his successor was Catherine Croft. In the final days at his post, he pushed for progress in the key reform areas, and the Ukrainians remained focused on scheduling a White House visit. He did not know that a hold would be put on aid on July 18.

Minority staffer Steve Castor questioned Anderson on Burisma and its founder Mykola Zlochevsky, the Bidens, and corruption in Ukraine. Anderson was focused on the conflict with Russia, so he was not very aware of investigations into Burisma. Anderson estimated that then-Vice President Joe Biden visited Ukraine about five or six times when he was there. Anderson understood that Biden was interested in the Russia conflict and in corruption. He only remembered one communication with Kent about the Bidens and Burisma after the June 13 meeting with Bolton, in which Bolton warned that Giuliani was a “key voice” on Ukraine for Trump and “could be an obstacle” to their lines of effort.