Former Ukraine Ambassador Says She Was Told To 'Watch Her Back'
Updated 1:38 p.m. EST
Congressional investigators released the first transcripts of closed-door testimonies from individuals at the center of the Ukraine affair, which has landed President Trump in an impeachment inquiry.
The transcripts are of the hours-long depositions of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Yovanovitch, who has decades of diplomatic experience, was recalled as ambassador, and Trump referred to her as "the woman" and "bad news" in his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Yovanovitch said, per the transcript of her deposition, the first she heard that Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, was targeting her was from Ukrainian officials. She also noted that Ukrainian officials told her she should "watch her back," because now-arrested Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman wanted a different ambassador in the post.
"I guess for — because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine or additional business dealings," Yovanovitch told House Intelligence Committee members, which include Republicans. "I didn't understand that, because nobody at the embassy had ever met those two individuals. And, you know, one of the biggest jobs of an American ambassador of the U.S. Embassy is to promote U.S. business. So, of course, if legitimate business comes to us, you know, that's what we do — we promote U.S. business."
The release of the transcripts is one of the first steps in the new public phase of the impeachment inquiry. A record of Trump's call with Zelenskiy shows him asking for "a favor" of investigations into conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. That came right after Zelenskiy inquired about purchasing more American weapons.
Trump also said Zelenskiy should work with his Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr on the investigations.
Opening statements had previously been released, but these transcripts, which are hundreds of pages long, include full questions and answers with some sensitive items redacted.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California promised to release more transcripts Tuesday — from former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland. Sondland was a major Trump donor, and witnesses have contradicted parts of Sondland's testimony.
Yovanovitch detailed a campaign to oust her from her post, and when she spoke to Sondland about the campaign against her, he told her that she should tweet her praise for Trump.
"You need to, you know, tweet out there that you support the president and that all these are lies and everything else," Yovanovitch said, paraphrasing what Sondland told her. "And, you know, so, you know, I mean, obviously, that was advice. It was advice that I did not see how I could implement in my role as an ambassador and as a foreign service officer."
McKinley, a career foreign service officer, said that the way Yovanovitch was treated "raised alarm bells" and that it "had a very serious effect on morale."
"I'm just going to state it clearly," McKinley told Congress. "As a foreign service officer, 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 also noted concerns about "bullying tactics" at the State Department after complaints were lodged about getting information to Congress in a timely manner. And he noted that he was "absolutely appalled" that the State Department was not going to provide legal financial support for people who had to go and testify before Congress.
Four administration officials defied congressional subpoenas and chose not to testify in closed-door depositions Monday despite being scheduled to do so. Schiff said those four will help build a case for an article of impeachment that includes obstruction of Congress' constitutionally mandated duties.
Schiff called all four "firsthand witnesses" to serious allegations of misconduct.
"We may infer that their testimony would be further incriminating for the president," Schiff argued, adding that the administration's strategy of not cooperating amounts to "delay, deny, obstruct."
Schiff also noted that transcripts from Yovanovitch and McKinley detailed the "back-channel" efforts by Giuliani, which he said included "a vicious smear campaign" to remove Yovanovitch.
He declined to comment on whom the committee planned to ask to appear in public hearings.
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.