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US ex-Ukraine envoy Yovanovitch says Trump, ‘false claims’ behind her removal

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, drops by a regional coordination meeting on the Middle East Strategic Alliance Tuesday, September 24, 2019, at the Lotte New York Palace in New York City. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Marie Yovanovitch has reportedly told lawmakers gathered for a closed-door deposition as part of an impeachment inquiry that President Donald Trump applied pressure on the State Department to remove her from her post based on “unfounded and false claims.”

Yovanovitch, who arrived at Capitol Hill on October 11 to appear before lawmakers looking into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, said in an opening statement obtained by the media that she was “abruptly” recalled in May and told the president had lost confidence in her.

According to a White House summary of a July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, Trump described Yovanovitch as “bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news.” Zelenskiy agreed with Trump that she was a “bad ambassador,” according to the call summary.

“Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the president, I was nevertheless incredulous that the U.S. government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives,” Yovanovitch told Republican and Democratic legislators at her appearance.

She said an official had told her there was a “concerted campaign against me” and that Trump had been pressuring officials to remove her for almost a year.

Prior to her arrival on October 11, it had not been certain whether Yovanovitch would make the appearance before the House of Representatives committees.

Democratic critics accuse Trump of abusing his power to seek foreign help to manufacture dirt on a political enemy, former Vice President and current Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, based in part on a whistle-blower complaint and the summary of his call to Zelenskiy.

On October 8, the State Department ordered U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland not to appear before the House Intelligence, Foreign, and Oversight and Reform committees.

That move raised already simmering tensions between the White House and congressional Democrats conducting the probe, which could lead to the impeachment of the president, something that has happened only twice in U.S. history.

Earlier on October 11, lawyers for Sondland said their client would honor a subpoena and testify on October 17 after failing to show three days earlier after being directed by the State Department not to voluntarily show up for the hearing.

Yovanovitch, a veteran diplomat, was removed from her ambassadorial post two months ahead of schedule, reportedly over a disagreement with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who had become involved in Ukraine dealings.

“Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within,” Yovanovitch reportedly said in her prepared statement. “State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees.”

Ten Democratic senators on October 10 sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding an explanation for Yovanovitch’s removal before the end of her scheduled three-year assignment.

“In particular, her early recall raises questions about whether you put the personal interests of the president above the department’s career personnel or U.S. foreign policy,” they wrote.

Yovanovitch — who had previously served as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Armenia — was scheduled to testify on October 2 but that session was canceled.

Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, appeared before the House committees behind closed doors on October 3.

A whistle-blower complaint detailed Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, with Trump asking him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival.

The unidentified whistle-blower accused Trump of pressuring the Ukrainian president and of soliciting foreign interference in exchange for personal gain.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and called the inquiry “the greatest scam in the history of American politics.”

House Democrats moved ahead with the impeachment probe after the complaint was made public and a rough memo of the July 25 call was released.