POLITICS

Ousted Ukraine Ambassador Tells Congress Trump Removed Her Over 'False Claims'

U.S. diplomat Marie Yovanovitch told impeachment investigators she was attacked "by people with clearly questionable motives.”

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, appeared before House impeachment investigators on Friday, telling them that she believed President Donald Trump pushed for her removal on the basis of “false claims,” according to her prepared remarks obtained by The Washington Post.

The veteran foreign service officer, who reportedly delivered those remarks in a closed-door deposition, said she was “disappointed” and “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 was abruptly removed from her Ukraine post on May 6 after what appeared to be a monthslong campaign by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others close to the president who complained she was undermining the administration’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

She told investigators on Friday that John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, had informed her of “a concerted campaign” against her and said Trump had been pushing for her removal since the summer of 2018.

Sullivan “also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause,” she said.

Yovanovitch also said she’d had “only minimal contacts” with Giuliani. 

“I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” Yovanovitch said. “But individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

Yovanovitch’s ouster has become a flashpoint in the House’s impeachment investigation into whether Trump abused his power to “advance his personal interests,” as a recent whistleblower complaint said. Congressional investigators are now looking into the administration’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine for damaging information about Biden, based on unsubstantiated allegations that he used his power as vice president during the Obama administration to kill an investigation into a gas company on whose board his son served. (In fact, Biden and others pushed the Ukrainian government to remove a top prosecutor for not pursuing corruption cases aggressively enough.)

Yovanovitch was the subject of an attempted smear campaign earlier this year by Trump allies who sent a packet of documents with misinformation about her to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Conservative media outlets and the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., have also accused her of being part of an alleged Ukrainian attempt to support Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign ― a claim she vehemently denied on Friday.

During their July 25 phone call, President Trump ominously told Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things” in the aftermath of her removal from the ambassador’s post.

In a joint statement on Friday, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said their panels learned Thursday evening that the White House had directed the State Department to tell Yovanovitch not to appear before House investigators.

“This is the latest example of the Administration’s efforts to conceal the facts from the American people and obstruct our lawful and constitutionally-authorized impeachment inquiry,” said the three chairmen of committees conducting the impeachment inquiry.

The Intelligence Committee subsequently issued a subpoena, they said, with which Yovanovitch complied. “Any efforts by Trump Administration officials to prevent witness cooperation with the Committees will be deemed obstruction of a co-equal branch of government and an adverse inference may be drawn against the President on the underlying allegations of corruption and coverup,” the chairmen said.

Yovanovitch on Friday warned that her ouster and other recent events could signal larger problems at the State Department and for American diplomacy generally.

“Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within,” she said.

“We need to rebuild diplomacy as the first resort to advance America’s interests and the front line of America’s defense,” Yovanovitch continued. “I fear that not doing so will harm our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably.”

Read her prepared remarks below:

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