Former ambassador to Ukraine says President Trump pushed to oust her
WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told lawmakers Friday that President Donald Trump pressured the State Department to oust her from her position.
Yovanovitch said in an opening statement obtained by The Associated Press that she was "abruptly" recalled in May and told the president had lost confidence in her. She said she was told by an official that there was a "concerted campaign against me" and that Trump had pressured officials to remove her for almost a year.
"Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the president, I was nevertheless incredulous that the U.S. government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives," Yovanovitch wrote in the statement.
Yovanovitch appeared on Capitol Hill Friday for a deposition in the Democrats' impeachment inquiry, accepting lawmakers' invitation to testify despite Trump's declaration that no one in his administration wouldn't cooperate with the probe. The Democrats are investigating Trump's dealings with the Ukrainian president.
Yovanovitch is now a State Department fellow at Georgetown University. Trump said earlier this week that he would block all officials from testifying, saying the probe was unfair and "illegitimate." It was unclear if Yovanovitch's appearance signaled a shift in that strategy or if she was breaking with White House orders.
Democrats are investigating Trump's pleas to Ukrainian officials to launch investigations of political rival Joe Biden and his family and to probe Ukraine's involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Yovanovitch was recalled from Kyiv as Rudy Giuliani — who is Trump's personal attorney and has no official role in the U.S. government — pushed Ukrainian officials to investigate baseless corruption allegations against the Bidens.
Yovanovitch was removed from her post after insisting that Giuliani's requests to Ukrainian officials for investigations be relayed through official channels, according to a former diplomat who has spoken with her.
In a July 25 phone call, Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch was "bad news," according to a partial transcript released by the White House. Neither Giuliani nor Trump has publicly specified their objections to Yovanovitch.
Businessmen with ties to Giuliani lobbied a U.S. congressman in 2018 for help ousting Yovanovitch, according to an indictment made public Thursday following the men's arrest. It alleges that the men leveraged a flurry of GOP political donations to force Yovanovitch's removal, an effort prosecutors say was aided by laundered foreign money.
The former diplomat who spoke with Yovanovitch said the ambassador refused to do "all this offline, personal, informal stuff" and made clear that the U.S. government had formal ways to request foreign governments' help with investigations. The former diplomat insisted on anonymity to disclose the private conversation.
The State Department traditionally relies on mutual legal assistance treaties, under which U.S. and foreign officials agree to exchange evidence and information in criminal investigations.
Yovanovitch was speaking to the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees behind closed doors Friday. The committees are scheduled to talk to several other U.S. diplomats next week, as well.
On Monday, Fiona Hill, a former White House adviser who focused on Russia, is expected to testify. Three current State Department officials also are tentatively scheduled next week — Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department counselor.