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Former Pompeo Adviser Michael McKinley To Testify In Impeach Probe


The impeachment inquiry continues today with testimony from another State Department official. His name is Michael McKinley. He's a former ambassador and was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's top adviser and de facto chief of staff until five days ago, when he suddenly resigned.

I'm joined now by NPR's national security correspondent David Welna. So, David, who is Michael McKinley?

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Well, Michael McKinley is a 65-year-old career diplomat who was born in Venezuela and grew up in Brazil, Mexico, Spain and the U.S. He was educated in England with a doctorate from Oxford University. And he's also written a history of colonial Venezuela.

But for the past 37 years, he's been the quintessential foreign service officer. McKinley is one of very few U.S. diplomats to have served as ambassador to four countries - Peru, Colombia, Afghanistan and, most recently, Brazil. He is highly respected by his colleagues. And a year ago, he was recalled early from his post in Brazil to be Pompeo's chief adviser.

MARTIN: Why did he leave the job? Why did he quit?

WELNA: You know, that's what a lot of people would like to know. Friday was McKinley's last day at the State Department. And he sent an email to his colleagues there saying he was, quote, "leaving the department to pursue other opportunities, wherever they may lead." He called his decision to quit personal, adding, in his words, it's time, after 37 years with the department.

And that same day, Nancy Amons of the local NBC affiliate in Nashville interviewed the secretary of state. And when she tried to get him to say why McKinley quit, Pompeo stonewalled.


NANCY AMONS: Can you speak to Michael McKinley's resignation?

MIKE POMPEO: I don't talk about personnel matters.

AMONS: Did he speak to you personally about it as he resigned?

POMPEO: I don't talk about personnel matters. It wouldn't be appropriate, ma'am, to do that.

MARTIN: So the secretary of state isn't saying why his top aide quit. But, I mean, the timing is interesting, right? This happened the same day congressional investigators heard testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who was pushed out. So was that just a coincidence?

WELNA: Right. Well, she's the one Trump called bad news in his notorious July phone call to Ukraine's president. It sort of fell to McKinley, in recent weeks, to defend how Pompeo handled reeling her back from Kyiv.

I talked with another former ambassador, Dennis Jett, who at one time hired McKinley to be his deputy at the U.S. mission in Mozambique. Jett's recently been in touch with McKinley, and he thinks that even though he is at an age when a lot of diplomats do retire, the timing of his departure in the midst of this upheaval over Ukraine is striking.

DENNIS JETT: People at a senior level - and Mike McKinley was one of our most successful and most senior diplomats - would have a real challenge staying around in an administration and a State Department where people like Rudy Giuliani and his arrested co-conspirators can slime a distinguished career ambassador and get away with it.

WELNA: Yeah, and those co-conspirators are two men born in the Soviet Union who were associates of Giuliani, who were arrested at Dulles Airport a few days ago.

MARTIN: All right. So Mike McKinley going up to Capitol Hill will take these questions from congressional investigators. What are they likely to ask? What do they want to know from him?

WELNA: Well, I think because McKinley was Pompeo's de facto chief of staff, he likely would have been privy to a lot of discussions that these investigators want to hear more about. I think they're also going to question him about what another senior State Department official, George Kent, told them yesterday, which was that Ukraine policy was taken over by three people - Kurt Volker, Gordon Sondland and Rick Perry.

Here's Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly talking to reporters after Kent's testimony.


GERRY CONNOLLY: All of the people charged with policy in Ukraine were replaced, apparently, after a May 23 meeting at the White House, organized by Mick Mulvaney, not John Bolton or Pompeo. And out of that, Sondland, Volker and Rick Perry declared themselves the three people now responsible for Ukraine policy.

WELNA: And Connolly said Kent had referred to these officials as the three amigos. One of them, Kurt Volker, has already testified. And another one, Gordon Sunland, who's the ambassador to the EU, is slated to testify tomorrow after declining to do so last week.

Every one of these sessions helps fill in some of the blanks in this investigation. And at the same time, each one is likely raising, still, more questions.

MARTIN: NPR national security correspondent David Welna for us. Thank you, David.

WELNA: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.