Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told congressional investigators she was advised to leave Ukraine on “the next plane” in April because her security was at risk, and that she felt threatened comments President Trump made about her during his July 25th call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The revelation comes as part of her October 11th testimony to Congress that was released Monday by the chairmen of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees. The Democrats will continue to release the full depositions of witnesses who have testified as part of the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
In her testimony, Yovanovitch shed light on the details surrounding her abrupt departure from her post this spring, noting that the State Department “had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018,” despite an assurance from a department official that she had “done nothing wrong.” The issue? Trump and allies like Rudy Giuliani couldn’t trust her not to interfere in their efforts to extort Ukraine into investigating the 2016 election and the Bidens.
The president relayed his misgivings about Yovanovich to Zelensky on July 25th, describing her as “bad news.” Trump added that “she’s going to go through some things,” although it’s unclear what “things” Trump could have been referring to considering Yovanovitch had already been removed from her position. When asked by Congress about the troubling line, Yovanovitch admitted that she was and still is concerned by what the president may have been implying, adding that she still feels threatened. Here’s the excerpt from the transcript released Monday:
Popular on Rolling Stone
Q: At the bottom of that same page, President Trump says, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.” What did you understand that to mean?
A: I didn’t know what it meant. I was very concerned. I still am.
Q: Did you feel threatened?
Yovanovitch wasn’t just being paranoid. In late April, she learned she was being removed from her post by way of two phone calls. In the second, which came around 1:00 a.m., Director General of the Foreign Service Carol Perez told Yovanovitch she needed to “come home immediately … on the next plane” because her safety was at risk.
This is scary.
From the transcript of Ambassador Yovanovitch's deposition:
Yovanovitch was told her "security" was in danger – because of the White House – and she needed to come home on the next plane. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/8r5gB3mybU
— Tami Burages (@tburages) November 4, 2019
It’s not clear if a particular threat that led to such an urgent removal from the country, but Yovanovitch had been targeted heavily by conservatives, including Donald Trump Jr., who tweeted that she was a “joker.” In May, the Washington Post reported security concerns stemming from these attacks are part of what led to her dismissal.
Prior to being fired, Yovanovitch asked Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, for advice on how to handle these attacks, Sondland told her she needed to kiss Trump’s ring in the form of a laudatory tweet. “He said, ‘You need to go big or go home,'” she testified. “You need to, you know, tweet out there that you support the President, and that all these are lies and everything else.”
Also released Monday was the transcript of testimony provided by Michael McKinley. A veteran diplomat who had served all over the world, McKinley had taken a post in 2018 as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s senior adviser but resigned in October out of frustration over the department’s handling of the Trump-Ukraine crisis.
McKinley’s deposition, while much shorter than Yovanovitch’s, captures how extraordinary Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate the Bidens was and how much it rattled career foreign service officers like McKinley. “In 37 years in the Foreign Service and different parts of the globe and working on many controversial issues, working 10 years back in Washington, I had never seen that,” McKinley said.
McKinley told House lawmakers and investigators he quit because of two main concerns: that the State Department was being used as a tool to “advance domestic political objectives” and that the department failed to stick up for employees drawn into the impeachment inquiry.
McKinley said his concerns spiked when he first read the transcript of President Trump’s fateful July 25th phone call with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. It was on that call, of course, that Trump asked for a “favor”: that the Ukrainians investigate Joe and Hunter Biden as well as a conspiracy theory about Ukraine meddling in the 2016 presidential election. McKinley grew angry when Trump during that same call referred to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a career public servant and experienced diplomat, as “bad news.”
“The disparagement of a career diplomat doing her job was unacceptable to me,” McKinley said.
He then described how over a intense period of several days he pushed Secretary Pompeo and others in the State Department to issue a “strong and immediate statement of support” for Yovanovitch. McKinley’s idea was met with silence by Pompeo and later shot down.
McKinley also told investigators with the House impeachment inquiry he felt that career employees closer to the Trump-Ukraine crisis, those with more direct knowledge of what happened, did not receive the support they should have — including legal and financial support — once the impeachment inquiry began. McKinley brought up the case of George Kent, deputy assistant secretary in the department’s European and Eurasian Bureau, as someone who was forced to get his own lawyers and faced “bullying tactics” by State Department higher-ups in connection with the impeachment probe.
“Since I began my career in 1982, I have served my country and every President loyally,” he said. “Under current circumstances, however, I could no longer look the other way as colleagues are denied the professional support and respect they deserve from us all.”
This post has been updated to reflect Yovanovich’s November testimony to Congress, in which she clarified she was told to leave Ukraine because of threats to her “security,” but not necessarily her “safety.”