President Trump’s pick for the next Ukraine ambassador was put on the spot Wednesday during his Senate confirmation hearing on whether he’d stand up to interference in U.S. elections, an issue at the core of Trump’s impeachment proceedings.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it would be “reasonable” to report any attempts by the Trump administration or others to solicit foreign interference into the 2020 election.
“I think if that were to occur that that would be a very reasonable request on your part,” Dayton told the senators. “I would, of course, consult with my State Department colleagues, but that sounds reasonable to me.”
Dayton was pressed on whether he would report any information to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, too.
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“I would have to know what the circumstances are,” Dayton said. “But I see no reason not to do that. It makes sense to me.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., took issue with Dayton’s confirmation hearing being crammed in Wednesday with four other nominees. He stressed the gravity of Dayton’s position, given that Trump’s impeachment was focused on his dealings with Ukraine and the removal of the previous ambassador.
“I’m a little alarmed by your equivocation,” Menendez said of Dayton’s responses.
Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee, also asked Dayton whether he’d refuse to meet with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was conducting investigations in Ukraine involving Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
“Senator I’m not going to commit to that because I believe that as an ambassador I would have the obligation to meet with any U.S. citizen and hear them out if they come,” Dayton said. “Let me assure you, I’ve spent 50 years in the service to this country. And the guiding principles of my life have been the triad of duty, honor and country.”
The House impeached Trump in late 2019 stemming from his dealings with Ukraine. The case centered on Trump asking the newly elected president of Ukraine to look into dealings connected to Joe Biden’s family — specifically, the decision to back off an investigation tied to a company where his son Hunter worked — with a White House meeting and millions in security assistance hanging in the balance.
Biden is now Trump’s Democratic challenger. The articles of impeachment alleged Trump abused the power of his office for personal gain in the 2020 election and then obstructed Congress by blocking witnesses and documents.
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Trump maintained he did nothing wrong and the Senate acquitted the president earlier this year on both counts.
The last ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified during the House impeachment hearings that Trump recalled her from her post in May following a smear campaign lead by Guiliani telling people she was not supportive of the president.
Menendez asked Dayton whether Trump’s decision to withhold security assistance to Ukraine was wrong. Dayton declined to cast judgment on Trump.
“I’m not sure what the exact circumstances were on that,” Dayton said. “I was in Ukraine at the time. And I was not aware that this had affected any of our efforts that we dealt with on Ukraine at the time. The president does what the president does and I am there at the discretion of the president.”
Dayton’s nomination will need to be voted out of the committee before heading to the full Senate for confirmation.
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Dayton served in the U.S. Army for more than 40 years before his retirement in 2010 as a lieutenant general. For a decade, Dayton served as director of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. In November 2018, then-Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis appointed Dayton to be senior U.S. defense adviser to Ukraine.
During his testimony, Dayton stressed the need for Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine and for the U.S. and its allies “to continue to impose political and economic costs on Russia for its actions.”