Former ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, told congressional investigators that President Donald Trump‘s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was involved in an effort to bypass official channels and have her removed earlier this year, according to impeachment inquiry transcripts released on Monday.
During lengthy deposition testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, the career diplomat sketched out an image of a U.S. embassy beset by the untoward machinations of inept Ukrainian officials, their American apparatchiks and shadowy businessmen–all in league to have her axed.
Yovanovitch was asked directly about those Giuliani-led efforts to have her ousted and whether or not she had been alerted to his behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
She said she had been given a vague warning on one occasion:
I think perhaps in the February time period, I did where one of the senior Ukrainian officials was very concerned, and told me I really needed to watch my back.
The subject of those concerns? Giuliani’s since-indicted friends, clients and overseas hatchetmen: the former Soviet Floridians known as Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
According to that unnamed Ukrainian official paraphrased by Yovanovitch, Parnas and Fruman worked with Giuliani to set up meetings with with Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, “[a]nd that they were interested in having a different ambassador at post…because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine, or additional business dealings.”
Yovanovitch said that she was first truly aware of the threat to her job when a March 24th interview with Lutsenko appeared in The Hill. During that interview, Lutsenko falsely alleged that Yovanovitch provided him with a list of individuals who should not be touched by the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office.
“[A]nd then over the ensuing days there was more in the U.S. media, Mr. Giuliani spoke publicly and Donald Trump Jr. also tweeted that I should be removed,” the former ambassador noted.
The younger Trump tweeted later that day in support of Yovanovitch’s removal–calling her a “joker” and citing a far-right blog that referred to the decades-long mainstay of the U.S. diplomatic corps as an “Obama appointed” ambassador. Yovanovitch pointed out in testimony that has decades of diplomatic experience, and served during both Republican and Democratic administrations.
According to Yovanovitch, Lutsenko wanted her removed, in part, due to her insistence that he–and other Ukrainian officials–go through time-honored and well-established official channels in order to provide U.S. law enforcement with any potentially pertinent information.
Such procedures, Yovanovitch explained, included meeting with the “legat,” or the legal attache at the embassy as well as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents stationed there.
Lutsenko specifically bristled at those suggestions, Yovanovitch said, insisting that he be given direct audiences with the U.S. attorney general, FBI director and others.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) pursued Lutsenko’s apparent squeamishness with procedure for awhile—while also eliciting testimony from Yovanovitch that the onetime prosecutor general was allegedly none-too-fond of following up on promised anti-corruption measures.
Schiff eventually returned to those process concerns. He asked: “Do you think that your insistence or advocacy for following the proper procedures in terms of using legat and legal channels was part of the reason why he wanted you removed?”
Yovanovitch replied: “Maybe. Maybe. I mean he clearly wanted to work around the system where I think there’s less transparency, there are more opportunities to, you know, kind of fiddle the system, shall we say.”
House Intelligence Committee Director of Investigations Daniel Goldman zeroed in on whether Lutsenko had any American help in his efforts to bypass those official procedures.
“And when you say work around the system, did you come to understand that that was a role that Mr. Giuliani could play for him, for Mr. Lutsenko?” the former federal prosecutor asked.
“Well, now it certainly appears that way,” Yovanovitch noted–later saying that her understanding of the situation “became clear after The Hill interview and all the subsequent things that came out in the press.”
Yovanovitch stressed that all of her superiors at the State Department, however, never once bought into the picture being painted of her by Lutsenko or his allies–casting their position as one of “total support” for the career foreign service employee.
But why all the spy-vs-spy-level cloak-and-dagger on her behalf? Yovanovitch was a bit nonplussed and described the Lutsenko-Giuliani-Parnas-Fruman smear campaign as somewhat-connected with tried-and-true embassy functions—albeit unnecessarily.
“I didn’t understand [why they wanted me out], because nobody at the embassy had ever met those two individuals,” Yovanovitch said of Parnas and Fruman. “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.”
[Image via Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images]