WASHINGTON — Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, defied the Trump administration on Friday and spoke behind closed doors with congressional investigators about her ouster and the conspiracy theory driving the campaign to push her out.
According to news reports about her remarks, Yovanovitch, a three-time ambassador who was appointed to the Ukraine post by President Obama, said in her opening statement that she was “incredulous” about the reasons for her removal this spring and that her firing was “based, as far as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
Among the people pushing to get rid of Yovanovitch were Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two of Giuliani’s clients, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, who were arrested this week on charges of making illegal campaign donations and illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. elections. With Trump’s blessing, Giuliani operated in 2018 and 2019 a shadow foreign policy in which he met with Ukrainian officials and urged them to investigate Joe Biden for corruption — all with the aim of helping Trump’s 2020 reelection bid.
The intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint also describes the months-long campaign to push out Yovanovitch. “Several US officials told me that, in fact, her tour was curtailed because of pressure stemming from” baseless allegations made by a desperate Ukrainian official who was trying to curry favor with the Trump administration, the whistleblower wrote. “Mr. Giuliani subsequently stated in an interview with a Ukrainian journalist published on 14 May that Ambassador Yovanovitch was ‘removed…because she was part of the efforts against the President.'”
Giuliani and his cronies viewed Yovanovitch as an obstacle to their efforts because, as Yovanovitch put it in her comments to Congress, she viewed Giuliani’s theories about Biden and corruption to be baseless. Indeed, there is no evidence to back up the theory peddled by Trump, Giuliani, and others that Biden, when he was vice president, he used his influence to get Ukraine’s top prosecutor fired to benefit his son Hunter, who had taken a position with a scandal-plagued energy company. But in the eyes of Trump, Yovanovitch was disloyal and needed to be removed.
Yovanovitch told investigators that the deputy secretary at the State Department told her that she had “done nothing wrong” but that there was a “concerted campaign” against her. In May Trump finally removed her from her post. Yovanovitch still works at the State Department in a different role, and by defying the department’s demand that she not sit for a deposition, she could face punishment for her speaking out.
In her comments, Yovanovitch, who has worked at the State Department for three decades, lamented the dangerous direction that the department has taken under Trump and his handpicked secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. “Today we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within,” she said. If members of Congress didn’t step up to defend the department from the Trump administration’s meddling, “I fear that not doing so will harm our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably.”