Ex-US ambassador: Trump axed me over ‘false claims’

Ex-US ambassador: Trump axed me over ‘false claims’

The former US ambassador to Ukraine yesterday told a House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump that he ousted her based on “unfounded and false claims” after she had come under attack from his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly recalled as the US envoy to Ukraine in May, appeared for a closed-door meeting with House members and staff, according to Democratic lawmakers leading the inquiry, after she had been told by the State Department at the behest of the White House not to show up.

Lawmakers then issued a subpoena for her appearance and she complied.

Yovanovitch, according to a copy of her opening statement posted online by US media, said she was told by a senior State Department official about “a concerted campaign against me” and that Trump had pushed for her removal since the middle of 2018 even though the department believed “I had done nothing wrong.”

She expressed alarm over damage to American diplomacy under Trump and warned about “private interests” circumventing “professional diplomats for their own gain, not the public good.”

Yovanovitch’s interview on Capitol Hill was continuing late yesterday afternoon after seven hours, with no word on when it might end.

The impeachment inquiry focuses on a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, and Biden’s businessman son Hunter Biden.

Giuliani has accused Yovanovitch of blocking efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The former New York mayor has said he provided information to both Trump and the State Department about Yovanovitch, who he suggested was biased against Trump.

Yesterday, Giuliani said: “I was doing it in my role as a defence lawyer” for Trump.

In her statement, Yovanovitch said she did not know Giuliani’s motives but that his associates “may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

‘Democrats praise her bravery’’

Democrats have called her removal politically motivated.

“She’s a brave woman,” Democratic Representative Michael Quigley said of Yovanovitch during a break in the testimony.

According to a White House summary, Trump in his call to Zelenskiy said of Yovanovitch: “the woman was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news.” Zelenskiy agreed she was a “bad ambassador” and agreed to investigate the Bidens.

The conversation occurred after Trump withheld U$391 million in security assistance to Ukraine as it faces Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

“Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the president, I was nevertheless incredulous that the US government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives,” Yovanovitch said in her statement.

Yovanovitch entered the Capitol complex for the deposition wearing dark glasses. She walked past a crowd of journalists without responding to questions.

A career diplomat, her stint as envoy in Kiev was cut short when she was recalled to Washington as Trump allies levelled unsubstantiated charges of disloyalty.

She has worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations. A senior Republican congressional aide described her as someone widely viewed as “professional.”

Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring a vulnerable ally to dig up dirt on a rival for his own political benefit. Biden, the former US vice president, is a leading Democratic contender for the right to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Trump has denied wrongdoing.

The investigation could lead to the approval of articles of impeachment – or formal charges against the president – in the House. A trial on whether to remove him from office would then be held in the Senate, where Trump’s fellow Republicans who control the chamber have shown little appetite for ousting him.

The chairmen of the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry warned the administration against stonewalling. Any efforts to prevent witness cooperation will be deemed obstruction of Congress “and an adverse inference may be drawn against the President on the underlying allegations of corruption and cover-up,” they said in a statement.

‘She warned against Russia’s intentions’

Yovanovitch warned about Russia’s “malign intentions” toward Ukraine and said the US allowing Russian actions toward its neighbour would “set a precedent that the US will regret for decades to come.”

“Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees,” she said.

Yovanovitch said the notion she had been disloyal to Trump was “fictitious” and dismissed the idea that former Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration had asked her to harm Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Yovanovitch was the third key witness to appear in the impeachment inquiry. Committee leaders have scheduled depositions with more, including Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council, as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl.

In a letter to House colleagues yesterday, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the committees leading the investigation expected to announce additional testimony from witnesses in the coming days and were prepared to issue more subpoenas.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, will comply with a subpoena and testify on Thursday, his lawyers said, despite the White House policy against cooperation.