Ousted envoy defies Trump to testify
She says president sought recall based on ‘false claims’
Marie Yovanovitch says president sought recall based on ‘false claims’.
WASHINGTON — The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whose abrupt ouster in May has become a focus of House impeachment investigators said Friday that her departure came as a direct result of pressure President Donald Trump placed on the State Department to remove her, according to her prepared remarks before Congress.
The account by Marie Yovanovitch depicts a career Foreign Service officer caught in a storm of unsubstantiated allegations pushed by the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and a cast of former Ukrainian officials who viewed her as a threat to their financial and political interests.
She told lawmakers that she was forced to leave Kyiv on “the next plane” and subsequently removed from her post, with the State Department’s No. 2 official telling her that, although she had done nothing wrong, the president had lost confidence in her and the agency had been under pressure to remove her since the summer of 2018.
In explaining her departure, she acknowledged months of criticisms from Giuliani, who had accused her of privately badmouthing the president and seeking to protect the interests of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Yovanovitch denied those allegations and said she was “incredulous” that her superiors decided to remove her based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
She also took direct aim at Giuliani’s associates whom she said could have been financially threatened by her anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Soviet-born associates of Giuliani’s, were arrested Wednesday at Dulles International Airport on charges of campaign finance violations.
Trump told reporters Friday that Yovanovitch may be a nice person but that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “didn’t speak favorably” about her during a July 25 phone call between the two leaders. In a rough transcript of the call released by the White House last month, it was Trump who broached the subject of Yovanovitch, telling his counterpart that she was “bad news.” Zelenskiy responded, “I agree with you 100%.”
While addressing reporters, Trump equivocated when asked if Giuliani was still his attorney. “I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to Rudy . ... He has been my attorney,” the president said.
Giuliani, in a phone call with The Washington Post, stood by his allegations, saying Ukrainians told him that Yovanovitch was “running around the streets saying not to listen to Trump.” He declined to say who told him that.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The remarkable statements by a diplomat with more than 30 years in the Foreign Service came amid rising dissatisfaction inside the State Department at what is seen as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s failure to defend his subordinates who have become targets in the Ukraine controversy.
Michael McKinley, a career diplomat and senior adviser to Pompeo, resigned from his post this week as resentment in the building has grown.
Yovanovitch’s testimony could also increase calls for the president’s impeachment as she detailed her belief that under Trump’s leadership, U.S. foreign policy has been compromised by self-interested actors who have demoralized and depleted America’s diplomatic corps.
“Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within,” she said, warning that U.S. adversaries such as Russia stand to benefit “when bad actors in countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system.”
Yovanovitch is one of several current and former diplomats whom the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have identified as witnesses in their probe of whether Trump leveraged U.S. military aid and official diplomatic interaction to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s political rivals.
Additional witnesses are expected next week, including Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Europe at the National Security Council; George Kent, a senior State Department official for Ukraine-related issues; and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
According to House Democratic leaders, the State Department attempted to block Yovanovitch’s testimony Thursday night, directing her not to attend the voluntary interview, in keeping with a White House letter this week stating that the administration would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
The House intelligence committee responded with a subpoena Friday morning, panel leaders said, noting that “the illegitimate order from the Trump administration not to cooperate has no force.”
The exchange suggests that House Democrats may have to issue summonses to interview government officials, particularly if doing so could jeopardize witnesses’ employment.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, arrives Friday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.