Former Ukraine envoy says she felt threatened by Trump in call
The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine said she was warned by officials in the country that President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was maneuvering against her and that they were concerned about getting dragged into U.S. politics.
Marie Yovanovitch, the former envoy, said Ukrainian officials alerted her to contacts between Giuliani and former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, and “that Mr. Lutsenko was looking to hurt me in the U.S.,” according to the transcript of her private deposition released Monday by House committees leading the impeachment investigation.
She said that in February, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov warned her to “watch my back.” Avakov also expressed concerns to her that it would be “dangerous” for Ukraine to get involved in U.S. politics because it would damage bipartisan support the country had in Congress.
Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her post in May, said she subsequently felt threatened by the way Trump spoke about her on a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to the transcript.
In that call, documented by a White House memo later made public, Trump called his top diplomat in the country “bad news” and said “she’s going to go through some things.”
Yovanovitch told the committees: “I was shocked and I was apprehensive about what that meant.”
The transcripts from Yovanovitch and Michael McKinley, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, were released after the Democratic-led House voted last week to set the ground rules for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry. The Committees on Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs are expected to release additional records of depositions held behind closed doors last month.
Some details of the witness testimonies were already known from opening statements released by their attorneys and public comments from lawmakers. Republicans have complained that the American public has only had access to an incomplete picture of the investigation so far, which doesn’t include the cross-examination from GOP committee members and staff behind closed doors.
Making the transcripts public is intended to address this criticism before some witnesses are called back for open hearings. Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said Monday the committees will release transcripts from former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker and current European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland on Tuesday.
According to the transcript from McKinley’s deposition, he told the committees he resigned last month over concerns about how Yovanovitch was treated, as well as “the emerging information on the engagement of our missions to procure negative political information for domestic purposes.”
McKinley said in his 37 years in the State Department, he had never seen such efforts to dig up dirt on a political opponent. The former Pompeo aide also proposed publishing a statement of support for Yovanovitch after the release of the White House memo regarding Trump’s call with Zelenskiy.
“It shouldn’t be difficult to put out a short statement that’s not political, stating clearly that we respect the professionalism, the tenure of Ambassador Yovanovitch in the Ukraine,” McKinley said, adding that others in the State Department supported the idea.
McKinley said he told Pompeo “this situation isn’t acceptable” when he spoke with the secretary of state about his resignation, but Pompeo did not respond. Nor did he put out the public statement McKinley proposed.
Yovanovitch in her deposition referenced two Giuliani associates – Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas – who have since been charged with campaign finance violations. She said Avakov, the Ukrainian interior minister, warned her that Fruman and Parnas helped set up meetings between Giuliani and Lutsenko, outside normal diplomatic channels.
Yovanovitch testified that Avakov said that Fruman and Parnas “were interested in having a different ambassador at post,” which she attributed to their desire to “have business dealings in Ukraine.”
She said she “didn’t understand that because nobody at the embassy had ever met those two individuals.”
Yovanovitch told the committees that she discussed the apparent campaign against her with Sondland, a Trump donor who became the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. She said Sondland advised her to publicly praise the president.
“He may not have used the words support President Trump,’ but he said: You know the president. Well, maybe you don’t know him personally, but you know, you know, the sorts of things that he likes. You know, go out there battling aggressively and, you know, praise him or support him,’” Yovanovitch said, according to the transcript.
The career diplomat’s testimony also described the aid for Ukraine that the U.S. Congress appropriated but the Trump administration didn’t initially deliver. She did say that the assistance program for Ukraine was increased, “due to the generosity of the Congress,” including the lethal weapons that the Trump administration decided to provide.
Yovanovitch said while she was telling Ukrainian officials that there was bipartisan support for the military aid, “there were other emissaries, you know, perhaps sharing things or focusing on other things that would have maybe confused people.”
The transcript from Yovanovitch’s deposition showed that she told the House committees that the back-channel policy executed by Giuliani “complicated things.”