White House Aides Feared That Trump Had Another Ukraine Back Channel

WASHINGTON — When Kashyap Patel was an aide to the House Intelligence Committee within the first years of the Trump administration, he performed a key position in serving to Republicans attempt to undermine the Russia investigation, writing a memo that accused legislation enforcement officers of abusing their energy.

The memo, which consumed Washington for weeks, was broadly dismissed as a biased argument of cherry-picked information. But it galvanized President Trump’s allies and made Mr. Patel a hero amongst them. After Republicans ceded management of Congress this yr, he landed on Mr. Trump’s National Security Council workers.

Colleagues there initially questioned the position of Mr. Patel, who took few notes in conferences and had little experience for his preliminary portfolio, which coated the United Nations. Within months, senior White House officers started to suspect he had gained Mr. Trump’s ear and had successfully created a again channel to the president that would warp American coverage, in response to congressional testimony and interviews.

Colleagues grew alarmed after listening to that Mr. Trump had referred to Mr. Patel as one in every of his prime Ukraine coverage specialists and that the president wished to debate associated paperwork with him, in response to folks briefed on the matter. Mr. Patel sought to debate allegations of surveillance abuses by legislation enforcement officers with Mr. Trump, an administration official stated. Mr. Patel, who is named Kash, is now assigned to work on counterterrorism points, not Ukraine.

Any involvement by Mr. Patel in Ukraine points would sign one other try by Mr. Trump’s political loyalists to go round American policymakers to form coverage towards Kiev. It was separate, two of the folks stated, from the irregular, casual channel led by the president’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, that’s the topic of House Democrats’ impeachment investigation.

Friends of Mr. Patel dismissed the considerations amongst senior nationwide safety officers as conspiracy theories by Mr. Trump’s critics. The White House declined to remark.

House impeachment investigators are scrutinizing Mr. Patel’s actions as nicely, the folks stated. The investigators have requested witnesses about Mr. Patel and try to find out any position he performed within the shadow overseas coverage Mr. Trump was conducting as he pushed the Ukrainian authorities to incriminate his political rivals by saying investigations into them.

The contents of the paperwork weren’t clear, nor was it clear how Mr. Trump obtained them. Typically, aides put together coverage briefings for presidents that a number of companies log out on in a extremely managed course of. But Mr. Trump has adopted a way more freewheeling method, taking in unverified data from sources each inside and outdoors the White House and searching for out and selling assertions that match his narrative.

Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Eurasian and Russian affairs, testified to House investigators last week that she believed Mr. Patel was improperly becoming involved in Ukraine policy and was sending information to Mr. Trump, some of the people said.

Ms. Hill grew alarmed earlier this year when an aide from the White House executive secretary’s office told her that Mr. Trump wanted to talk to Mr. Patel and identified him as the National Security Council’s “Ukraine director,” a position held by one of Ms. Hill’s deputies. The aide said Mr. Trump wanted to meet with Mr. Patel about documents he had received on Ukraine.

Ms. Hill responded by asking who Mr. Patel was. While the aide from the executive secretary’s office did not state explicitly that Mr. Patel sent the Ukraine documents to Mr. Trump, Ms. Hill understood that to be the implication, according to a person familiar with her testimony.

Mr. Patel’s apparent communications with the president prompted Ms. Hill to raise concerns with her superiors, including John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that Mr. Patel was meddling outside his portfolio. As early as May, Ms. Hill had begun discussing with colleagues her concerns about whether Mr. Patel was running a shadow effort on Ukraine at the White House, according to four people briefed on the discussions.

Two other witnesses in the impeachment investigation, Mr. Sondland and George P. Kent, another State Department official, testified that they had not encountered him in their work, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

Mr. Patel joined the National Security Council in February and began getting involved in Ukraine matters in April, as Mr. Giuliani pushed the Ukrainian government to discredit evidence against Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman. It was not clear who hired him.

Mr. Patel was previously best known as a lead author of the politically charged memo released early last year accusing the F.B.I. and Justice Department leaders of abusing their power in the early stages of the Russia investigation.

Mr. Patel worked at the time as an investigator for the House Intelligence Committee under Representative Devin Nunes of California, who ran the panel when Republicans had control of the chamber. Mr. Patel’s efforts to discredit the Russia investigation made him a minor celebrity in conservative circles but a divisive figure on Capitol Hill.

As an intelligence committee aide, Mr. Patel helped investigate the theory that Ukrainians were responsible for spreading information about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Trump has returned to the accusation of Ukrainian meddling repeatedly in public and private conversations.

On the National Security Council, Mr. Patel first worked with officials in a directorate called International Organizations and Alliances that was devoted to advancing American interests at the United Nations and on human rights and other international issues.

Some National Security Council aides questioned whether Mr. Patel’s experience as Mr. Nunes’s investigator was relevant to overseeing American policy toward the United Nations, a person familiar with his hiring said.

Under Mr. Bolton’s watch, Mr. Patel was later given a more senior role in the counterterrorism directorate. That fit more directly with his background as a onetime federal counterterrorism prosecutor, but some officials said Mr. Patel was promoted to a senior director position unusually quickly.

Mr. Patel is closely aligned on the National Security Council staff with another alumnus of Mr. Nunes’s committee, Michael Ellis, now a top White House lawyer. Mr. Ellis worked for Mr. Nunes for years as a lawyer on the House Intelligence Committee and helped champion Mr. Patel’s work on the staff, a person familiar with their roles said.

Mr. Ellis was involved in another bizarre episode early in the Trump administration in which he and another White House lawyer printed highly classified reports to show Mr. Nunes, who used them to accuse Obama administration officials of spying on Mr. Trump and his associates. The claims quickly unraveled, and Mr. Nunes eventually recused himself from his committee’s own Russia investigation as a result.

Mr. Patel’s role as an investigator for Mr. Nunes is highlighted in a book by Lee Smith, a conservative journalist, set to be published next week. The book asserts without evidence that the so-called deep state of career government bureaucrats and members of the news media embarked on a grand scheme to thwart Mr. Trump from being president.

Source link Nytimes.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *