WASHINGTON – Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May, testified to impeachment investigators Friday that a top State Department official told her that President Donald Trump had pushed for her removal for months even though the department believed she had “done nothing wrong.”
In a closed-door deposition that could further fuel calls for Trump’s impeachment, Yovanovitch delivered a scathing indictment of how his administration conducts foreign policy. She warned that private influence and personal gain have usurped diplomats’ judgment, threatening to undermine the nation’s interests and drive talented professionals out of public service. And she said that diplomats no longer have confidence that their government “will have our backs and protect us if we come under attack from foreign interests.”
According to a copy of her opening statement obtained by the New York Times, Yovanovitch said she was “incredulous” that she was removed as ambassador “based, as far as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
Yovanovitch, a 33-year veteran of the foreign service and three-time ambassador, spoke to investigators on Capitol Hill even though the State Department had directed her not to late Thursday and in defiance of the White House’s declaration that administration officials would not cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry. Democrats leading the inquiry said that order amounted to obstruction of their inquiry and quietly issued a subpoena Thursday morning with the understanding that Yovanovitch would then cooperate.
Her searing account, delivered at the risk of losing her job, could lend new momentum to the impeachment inquiry that imperils Trump. The inquiry centers on the president’s attempts to use his power and the foreign policy apparatus to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, an endeavor in which Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, was a central player. The shadowy effort by Giuliani grew to drive U.S. policy toward Ukraine, at times appearing to sideline the State Department in the process.
Yovanovitch said in her deposition that the undermining of loyal diplomats at the State Department would embolden “bad actors” who would “see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system” and serve the interests of adversaries of the United States, including Russia.
“Today we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within,” she said. She called on the department’s leaders, as well as Congress, to defend it, saying, “I fear that not doing so will harm our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably.”
And she spoke of her “deep disappointment and dismay” about the events that led to her removal, describing a sense of betrayal of the “sacred trust” she and other diplomats once had in their government.
Yovanovitch dismissed as “fictitious” the allegations that she had been disloyal to Trump, which were circulated by allies of Giuliani.
“I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she said, adding that people associated with him “may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”
Yovanovitch’s opening statement revealed no new details about Trump’s effort to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden. It also offered no details about Lev Parnas or Igor Fruman, two businessmen who helped Giuliani mount a campaign for her removal. Both were arrested late Wednesday on charges of campaign finance violations.
The indictment charged that they were working for one or more unnamed Ukrainian officials who wanted her out of Kiev.
But she provided new details about her abrupt ouster just as Ukraine had elected a new president, when continuity in U.S. policy was critical, she argued.
Less than two months after the State Department asked her to extend her tour as ambassador until 2020, she said, she was abruptly told in late April to return to Washington “on the next plane.”
She said that John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, told her later that she had “done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.” Other foreign diplomats said they know of no parallel to her case.
Sullivan told her that Trump had “lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador,” she said. “He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018.”
That account contradicts what the State Department told reporters at the time, that Yovanovitch was merely completing her assignment “as planned.”
Even as she was being questioned behind closed doors Friday, Trump nominated Sullivan to be the next ambassador to Russia. The timing appeared to be coincidental.