Former U.S. envoy 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.”
She said she was told Lutsenko “was looking to hurt me in the U.S.”
At one point in April, Yovanovitch said she received a call from Carol Perez, a top foreign service official, at around 1 a.m. Ukraine time, abruptly telling her she needed to immediately fly back to Washington. Yovanovitch said when she asked why, Perez told her, “I don’t know, but this is about your security. You need to come home immediately. You need to come home on the next plane.”
Yovanovitch said she didn’t think Perez meant it was to protect her physical security. Instead, Yovanovitch said, Perez told her it was for “my well-being, people were concerned.”
The diplomat said she sought advice from Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, after an article appeared in The Hill newspaper about Giuliani’s complaints against her and Sondland told her, “‘You need to go big or go home,” advising her to “tweet out there that you support the president.”
Yovanovitch said she felt she could not follow that advice.
The former envoy stressed to investigators that she was not disloyal to the president.
“I have heard the allegation in the media that I supposedly told our embassy team to ignore the President’s orders since he was going to be impeached,” she said. “That allegation is false.”
She answered “no” when asked point blank if she’d ever “badmouthed” Trump in Ukraine, and said she felt U.S. policy in Ukraine “actually got stronger” because of Trump’s decision to provide lethal assistance to the country, military aid that later was held up by the White House as it pushed for investigations into Trump’s political foes.
Under friendly questioning from Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, Yovanovitch said she considered herself good at her job and had been there more than three years and that her bosses at the State Department wanted to extend her tour.
“It seems to me they threw you to the wolves. Is that what happened?” Maloney asked.
Yovanovitch replied: “Well, clearly, they didn’t want me in Ukraine anymore.”
Long hours into her testimony, Yovanovitch was asked why she was such “a thorn in their side” that Giuliani and others wanted her fired.
“Honestly,” she said, “it’s a mystery to me.”
Yovanovitch, still employed by the State Department, is doing a fellowship at Georgetown University.
Yovanovitch told the investigators that the campaign against her, which included an article that was retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., undermined her ability to serve as a “credible” ambassador and she wanted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue a statement defending her. But no statement was issued.
The impeachment panels also released testimony Monday from Michael McKinley , a former senior adviser to Pompeo.
McKinley, a 37-year veteran career diplomat, testified that he decided to resign from his post as a senior adviser to Pompeo after his repeated efforts to get the State Department to issue a statement of support for Yovanovitch after the transcript of the Trump-Zelenskiy phone call was released. “To see the impugning of somebody I know to be a serious, committed colleague in the manner that it was done raised alarm bells for me,” he said.
McKinley said he was already concerned about politicization at the State Department and that the refusal to publicly back Yovanovitch convinced him it was time to leave. “To see the emerging information on the engagement of our missions to procure negative political information for domestic purposes, combined with the failure I saw in the building to provide support for our professional cadre in a particularly trying time, I think the combination was a pretty good reason to decide enough, that I had no longer a useful role to play,” he said. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says the panels are releasing the transcripts so “the American public will begin to see for themselves.”
Republicans have called for the release of the transcripts as Democrats have held the initial interviews in private, though Republican lawmakers have been present for those closed-door meetings.
AP writers Nancy Benac, Matthew Daly, Alan Fram, Ben Fox and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.