Ambassador to Ukraine says recall based on ‘false claims’

National News

October 11, 2019 - 5:03 PM

Marie Yovanovitch, center, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, arrives on Capitol Hill on Friday morning to testify in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told lawmakers Friday that President Donald Trump was behind the decision to recall her early from Kyiv in May based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

Her comments, which came at a closed-door deposition on Capitol Hill, could have profound implications for the ongoing House impeachment inquiry that centers around the president’s attempts to get Ukraine’s newly elected government to investigate his possible 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Yovanitch, who is believed to still be a State Department employee, spoke to lawmakers in defiance of the administration’s declaration that it would not be cooperating with the impeachment probe.

According to her opening statement, which was obtained by several news organizations, she lamented that the State Department has been “hollowed out” under Trump, and speculated about why the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and others involved in Trump’s shadow campaign with Ukrainian officials, had pushed for her removal.

“I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she planned to say, according to the opening statement. “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.”

Giuliani and other Trump allies argued that Yovanovitch, a 33-year career diplomat, had become an impediment to their efforts to search for damaging material on Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

It was two months after her removal that Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favor” during a July 25 telephone conversation, sparking the whistleblower complaint filed weeks later that ultimately led to the impeachment inquiry.

California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, attacked Yovanovitch on Friday on Fox News for “badmouthing the Trump administration,” and called her a “partisan ambassador” who was “coordinating” with Democrats.

In her opening statement, Yovanovitch denied that she had ever tried to curtail Ukraine’s corruption investigations and called the notion that she was disloyal to Trump “fictitious.”


EARLIER THIS week, the White House directed Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, not to testify to the same committees. Sondland’s lawyer said Friday that the former Oregon hotelier, who was appointed ambassador after donating $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, will testify on Thursday.

Fiona Hill, who served as senior director for Europe and Russian affairs at the National Security Council until she stepped down in August, is scheduled to testify on Monday and is expected to offer further insight into Trump’s efforts to use foreign policy to boost his political campaign.

Yovanovitch’s name featured prominently in the indictment in New York of two businessmen who helped Giuliani set up meetings in Ukraine.

The indictment, made public Thursday after the two men were arrested while allegedly attempting to flee the country, charged Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman with campaign finance law violations for allegedly funneling foreign money to numerous candidates and committees, including a super PAC supporting the president and a congressman who later encouraged Trump to recall Yovanovitch.

Parnas was born in Ukraine, while Fruman was born in Belarus. The two were held on $1 million bond after their arrests at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, and remain in federal custody.

The three House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry have subpoenaed Parnas and Fruman, and again warned that noncompliance with document requests and deposition orders would be viewed as evidence of obstruction.