Former US ambassador to Ukraine says she was warned she was being targeted
WASHINGTON — Laying out the anatomy of a chilling smear campaign, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told House investigators in a transcript released Monday that Ukrainian officials had warned her in advance that Rudy Giuliani and other allies of President Donald Trump were planning to "do things, including to me" and were "looking to hurt" her.
The former envoy, who was pushed out of her job in May on Trump's orders, testified that a senior Ukrainian official told her that "I really needed to watch my back."
While the major thrust of Yovanovitch's testimony had come out on the day she testified behind closed doors last month in the impeachment inquiry, Monday's 317-page transcript provided new details about the bewildering sequence of events that led to the career diplomat's ouster. Her account started with the warnings from Ukrainian officials and then led legislators through various attempts to badmouth her both in Ukraine and the U.S.
The emotion behind her nine hours of testimony was evident. At one point, when Yovanovitch returned from a short break, one of her questioners told her, "We understand this is a difficult and emotional topic."
Yovanovitch also offered significant new threads of information — including the potential that Trump was directly involved in a phone call with Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, and the Ukrainians dating back to January 2018 — while pushing back on Republican questions suggesting that she harbored opposition to Trump.
She had been recalled from Kyiv before the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that's at the center of the impeachment inquiry but was "surprised and dismayed" by what she understood from the transcript of the call.
Yovanovitch told investigators that she was shocked to learn Trump had called her "bad news" in the phone call, adding that she felt threatened and perplexed by his remark that she was "going to go through some things." The diplomat added that she worried that her job and pension could be at risk but that "so far," she wasn't concerned about her personal safety although "a number of my friends are very concerned."
Yovanovitch was recalled from Kyiv as Giuliani pressed Ukrainian officials to investigate baseless corruption allegations against Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was involved with Burisma, a gas company there.
Giuliani's role in Ukraine was central to Yovanovitch's testimony. She said she was aware of an interest by Giuliani and his associates in investigating Biden and Burisma "with a view to finding things that could be possibly damaging to a Presidential run," as well as investigating the 2016 election and theories of Ukraine interference instead of Russian interference.
Asked directly if Giuliani was promoting investigations on Burisma and Biden, Yovanovitch said, "It wasn't entirely clear to me what was going on."
More directly, she drew a link between Giuliani and two businessmen -- Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have been indicted in the U.S. on charges stemming from campaign donations they made to U.S. politicians with foreign money -- as part of the campaign to oust her. She understood they were looking to expand their business interests in Ukraine "and that they needed a better ambassador to sort of facilitate their business' efforts here."
Yovanovitch she said was told by Ukrainian officials last November or December that Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, was in touch with Ukraine's former top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, "and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me."