Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday amid the John Bolton hysteria that Bolton “strongly implied” on September 23, 2019 that something was wrong about the removal of former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
“President Trump is wrong that John Bolton didn’t say anything about the Trump-Ukraine Scandal at the time the President fired him. He said something to me,” Engel’s statement began, responding to this tweet from the president:
Why didn’t John Bolton complain about this “nonsense” a long time ago, when he was very publicly terminated. He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020
Engel said that after Bolton exited from his post, he had a phone call with Bolton on Sept. 23. During that call, Engel said, Bolton raised a concern “unprompted.”
John Bolton, whistleblower. https://t.co/FYEyXeniWu
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) January 29, 2020
“On that call, Ambassador Bolton suggested to me–unprompted–that the committee look into the recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. He strongly implied that something improper had occurred around her removal as our top diplomat in Kyiv,” he said. “At the time, I said nothing publicly about what was a private conversation, but because this detail was relevant to the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight Committees’ investigation into this matter, I informer my investigative colleagues. It was one of the reasons we wished to hear from Ambassador Bolton, under oath, in a formal setting.”
In closing, Engel said it was telling that, “of all people,” Bolton is “now the target of right-wing ire.”
A report from ABC News last week documented the content of a recording, which dates all the way back to April 30, 2018 at a Trump International Hotel dinner in the District of Columbia. It was then that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the indicted Rudy Giuliani associates Trump repeatedly claims he doesn’t know, planted the seeds that Yovanovitch was badmouthing the president and saying things like, “he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.” How prescient, but there’s no proof Yovanovitch ever said it.
In fact, Parnas has since apologized for participating in the coordinated smear campaign that cost Yovanovitch her job.
“That’s why I want to apologize to her because, you know, at that point I believed it, but I don’t believe it now after reevaluating and seeing everything that transpired, looking at the documentation again,” Parnas said during a Jan. 2020 interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
Here’s what Fruman reportedly recorded Trump saying in April 2018 (Yovanovitch was not recalled until May 2019).
“Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it,” the president reportedly said, completely buying what Parnas was selling.
“The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we gotta get rid of the ambassador. She’s still left over from the Clinton administration,” Parnas is quoted as saying. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.”
Yovanovitch, a 33-year career diplomat who served in administrations going all the way back to the Reagan years, denied the allegations that she badmouthed the president as “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.” Interestingly, Yovanovitch, Trump and Giuliani now all agree that Parnas and Fruman have credibility problems.
Ambassador David Hale, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, testified in Nov. 2019 that in the aftermath of the smear campaign against Yovanovitch, top officials at the State Department discussed the need to have her come out in support of the president and the Constitution.
“Do you recall recommending to anyone within the State Department, including potentially Phil Reeker, that Ambassador Yovanovitch deny the allegations and quote, ‘reaffirm her loyalty, as the Ambassador and foreign service officer, to the President of the United States and the Constitution?’” Daniel Goldman, the lead counsel for House Democrats, asked Hale.
“Yeah. We were working on — throughout this period, I was advocating strongly for a State Department statement, a very robust full-page statement of defense and praise, actually, for the Ambassador’s work. And the concept was that simultaneously, or in coordination anyway, she would put out a statement. And they were debating in her embassy whether she should do it on camera or a written statement,” Hale responded.
The third-ranking official at the State Department told investigators he thought a statement from Yovanovitch would be beneficial because the attacks on her, which emanated predominantly from Giuliani, had become so “personal.”
Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman allegedly wanted Yovanovitch out the picture so she would be replaced by an ambassador who 1) would be friendlier to their business interests in Ukraine and 2) go along with an effort to get Ukraine to announce investigations of the Bidens.
“I didn’t need her out of the way. I forced her out because she’s corrupt,” Giuliani said, providing no evidence to support that. “She should’ve been fired if the State Department weren’t part of the deep state.”
But Yovanovitch actually had a reputation for being “tough on corruption.”
“In her time in Kyiv, Ambassador Yovanovitch was tough on corruption, too tough on corruption for some, and her principled stance made her enemies,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in November. “And Ambassador Yovanovitch did not just ‘piss off’ corrupt Ukrainians, like the corrupt former prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko, but also certain Americans like Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, and two individuals, now indicted, who worked with him, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas.”
When Yovanovitch testified publicly in the impeachment inquiry, she said she felt threatened by Trump.
She said she was “shocked and devastated” that her name came up during the July 25 Trump-Volodymyr Zelensky phone call, and that “President Trump said that I was bad news to another world leader and that I would be going through some things.”
Yovanovitch said she didn’t know what to think when Trump said she was going to “go through some things,” but said she was “very concerned.”
“It didn’t sound good. It sounded like a threat,” she said.
[Image via Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]