White House Aides Feared That Trump Had Another Ukraine Back Channel
Colleagues grew alarmed after hearing that Mr. Trump had referred to Kashyap Patel, a National Security Council aide who figured prominently in Republicans’ efforts to undermine the Russia investigation, as one of his top Ukraine policy specialists and that the president wanted to discuss related documents with him, according to people briefed on the matter. Mr. Patel, who is known as Kash, is assigned to work on counterterrorism issues, not Ukraine policy.
The contents of the documents were not clear, nor was it clear how Mr. Trump got them. Typically, aides prepare policy briefings for presidents that several agencies sign off on in a highly controlled process. But Mr. Trump has adopted a much more freewheeling approach, taking in unverified information from sources both inside and outside the White House and seeking out and promoting assertions that fit his narrative.
Any involvement by Mr. Patel in Ukraine issues would mark another attempt by Mr. Trump’s political loyalists to go around American policymakers to shape policy toward Kiev. It was separate, two of the people said, from the irregular, informal channel led by the president’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, that is the subject of House Democrats’ impeachment investigation.
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 getting 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 of 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.
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.
He’s the guy who wrote The Memo ™