Marie Yovanovitch says Trump ousted her over ‘unfounded and false claims’

Source: Politico | October 11, 2019 | Kyle Cheney, Andrew Desiderio and Nahal Toosi

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told House impeachment investigators on Friday that she was abruptly forced out of her role in May at the direction of President Donald Trump.

In her opening statement obtained by POLITICO, Yovanovitch said Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told her that there was “a concerted campaign against me” — one based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

“He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause,” Yovanovitch said of her conversation with Sullivan. Trump announced earlier Friday his intention to nominate Sullivan to be his new ambassador to Russia.

Yovanovitch was testifying behind closed doors Friday as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry, after the State Department had previously sought to block other officials from appearing before lawmakers. Sullivan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yovanovitch testified that she was told “abruptly” in late April to return to Washington “on the next plane.” Her removal came amid a campaign by Trump supporters to accuse her of disloyalty, a charge she said was “fictitious.” Trump himself attacked Yovanovitch during a phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, which is at the center of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Her appearance is a breakthrough for House Democrats seeking firsthand details about Trump’s efforts — both directly and through his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — to pressure Ukraine’s leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 rival.

Yovanovitch said she had “minimal contacts” with Giuliani, adding: “I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me.” She speculated that Giuliani’s associates “believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

She also said U.S. interests are “harmed” when “private interests circumvent professional diplomats for their own gain, not the public good.” It appeared to be a reference to Giuliani’s efforts to leverage government officials to dig up dirt on Biden.

The circumstances surrounding Yovanovitch’s ouster earlier this year as envoy to Ukraine were murky, though Trump criticized her as “bad news” during his controversial July phone call with Zelensky, according to a summary of the conversation released by the White House. He also cryptically said she was “going to go through some things.”

The State Department’s inspector general last Wednesday briefed congressional aides about an apparent attempt to smear the veteran civil servant. Two foreign-born associates of Giuliani — both indicted Thursday on campaign finance charges — have also been accused of seeking her removal at the behest of an unnamed Ukrainian government official.

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