Ex-ambassador to Ukraine believes 'concerted campaign' within U.S. government led to her removal

The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who Donald Trump has called "bad news" arrived on Capitol Hill to testify on Friday in the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into the president, and alleged there had been "a concerted campaign" to remove her from her post.

White House tried to prevent appearance of Marie Yovanovitch who was recalled from Kyiv in May

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, arrives on Capitol Hill on Friday. It was unclear how much she would reveal before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who Donald Trump has called "bad news" testified in the impeachment inquiry into the president that there had been "a concerted campaign" to remove her from her post.

Marie (Masha) Yovanovitch, who was recalled from Kyiv in May, arrived on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday to give a deposition to House investigators probing Trump, in a scandal that has cast a pall over his presidency.

She did not respond to questions by reporters, but the Washington Post obtained a copy of her prepared statement to the three House committees.

Yovanovitch expressed her "deep disappointment and dismay" with the way events have unfolded in United States-Ukraine relations.

"Our efforts were intended … in thwarting corrupt interests in Ukraine who fought back by selling baseless conspiracy theories to anyone who would listen," said Yovanovitch. "Sadly, someone was listening, and our nation is the worse off for that."

According to media reports, Trump took the action to remove her after complaints by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others that Yovanovitch had obstructed Giuliani's efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden.

Yovanovitch said she was "incredulous" at her removal, and it occurred "as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives."

She said she was told by a high-ranking State Department official that there had been a concerted campaign against her, and the situation was not like others he'd seen where ambassadors had been recalled for cause.

It was not clear from her statement who was supposedly involved in the alleged campaign.

Democrats have characterized her recall as politically motivated.

Puzzled by Giuliani statements

The Ukraine inquiry was launched after a whistleblower complaint from a person within the U.S. intelligence community about a July 25 phone call, in which Trump pressed President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate domestic political rival Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Joe Biden is a leading Democratic contender for the right to face Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.

There has been no evidence either Biden was engaged in illegal activities.

Yovanovitch said in her statement that she's dealt with Joe Biden "several times" over her career but has never met Hunter Biden nor had any conversations with him.

She said Joe Biden never raised the issue of his son's position on the board of Ukraine energy board Burisma.

Then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, left, poses with Rudy Giuliani during their meeting in Kyiv on Nov. 22, 2017. Giuliani's interactions with Ukraine officials, despite not being part of the U.S. State Department or national security team, have raised suspicions among Democrats. (Mikhail Palinchak/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service Pool via AP)

Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring a vulnerable foreign ally in need of foreign aid money to dig up dirt on a domestic opponent for his own political benefit. Trump has described the call as "perfect," denying wrongdoing.

Yovanovitch became the target in March of allegations — vehemently denied by the State Department — that she gave a Ukrainian prosecutor a list of people not to prosecute.

Trump allies called for her removal, accusing her of criticizing the president to foreign officials, something current and former colleagues found inconceivable.

Giuliani alleged she blocked efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

Yovanovitch said she recalls only three "minimal contacts" with Giuliani, "none related to the events at issue."

"I do not know Mr. Giuliani's motives for attacking me," she wrote.

She called suggestions she advised Ukraine officials to refrain from prosecuting certain individuals as "completely false."

White House tried to prevent appearance

On the phone call with Zelenksy, Trump referred to Yovanovitch as "bad news."

"She's going to go through some things," Trump added.

Yovanovitch previously served as U.S. ambassador to Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. According to a cached biography on the State Department, earlier in her career she worked at the U.S. embassies in Ottawa, London, Moscow and Mogadishu.

She was born in Montreal to Russian parents, her family moving to the U.S. a few years later. She has dual U.S.-U.K. citizenship.

The testimony from Yovanovitch is the first of several depositions of key figures planned by the Democrat-led House committees spearheading the probe; the White House has said it will not co-operate.

The chairs of the intelligence, foreign relations and oversight committees said in a statement that the White House directed Yovanovitch not to appear Friday, but she complied with a subpoena.

"The illegitimate order from the Trump Administration not to co-operate has no force," the statement from the chairs of the House committees said.

This composite image provided by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office in Virginia shows booking photos of Lev Parnas, left, and Igor Fruman. The associates of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani were arrested on a four-count indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records. (Alexandria Sheriff's Office/Associated Press)

On Thursday, two foreign-born Florida businessmen who had helped Giuliani investigate Biden were arrested in what prosecutors said was a scheme to illegally funnel money to a pro-Trump election committee and other U.S. political candidates.

The pair, Ukraine-born Lev Parnas and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, were arrested at an airport outside Washington carrying one-way tickets to Vienna. Prosecutors said they conspired to contribute foreign money, including at least $1 million from an unidentified Russian businessman, to candidates for federal and state offices to buy influence.

Parnas is alleged to have sought the help of a U.S. congressman — identified by a person familiar with the matter as Republican Pete Sessions — to get Trump to remove Yovanovitch, according to the indictment.

"Individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine," Yovanovitch wrote.

Concerned over State Department direction

The investigation of Trump 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 could then result in the U.S. Senate.

Michael McKinley, a career diplomat who has served as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's policy adviser since May 2018, has resigned, the Washington Post reported. His departure comes with Pompeo deeply enmeshed in the Ukraine controversy.

Yovanovitch said the State Department has been "attacked and hollowed out from within," and she urged Congress to defend career diplomats pursuing U.S. interests.

California Democrat Adam Schiff arrives on Capitol Hill on Friday. Schiff is chair of the House's intelligence committee, which is spearheading the probe. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press)

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, will comply with a subpoena and testify Oct. 18 before the committees, his lawyers said Friday.

But Sondland is not authorized to release the documents the House committees have sought, his lawyers said. Sondland's planned appearance this week was blocked by the Trump administration.

Sondland, a Trump political donor who contributed $1 million US to the Republican president's inauguration committee, exchanged text messages about Washington's relationship with Ukraine with other top diplomats. 

In a text with another U.S. official, Bill Taylor, Sondland denied there was a quid pro quo in the White House's dealings with Ukraine.

With files from CBC News


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