Ousted Ukraine ambassador Yovanovitch says she was told to tweet praise of Trump to save her job

The three House committees leading the Trump impeachment inquiry released two transcripts of the behind-closed-doors interviews they have conducted so far.
Image: US-UKRAINE-POLITICS-CONGRESS-INVESTIGATION
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch leaves Capitol on Oct. 11, 2019 after testifying behind closed doors to the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images

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By Adam Edelman, Josh Lederman and Dareh Gregorian

Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told House impeachment investigators last month that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told her she should tweet out support or praise for President Donald Trump if she wanted to save her job, according to a transcript of her testimony made public Monday.

The three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump released two transcripts — including of Yovanovitch's testimony of the behind-closed-doors interviews they have conducted so far as their investigation moves to a more public phase.

According to the transcript, Yovanovitch she asked Sondland for advice on how to handle an onslaught of criticism from conservative media and Donald Trump Jr.

"He said, 'You know, you need to go big or go home. You need to, you know, tweet out there that you support the president, and that all these are lies and everything else,'" she told the committees. "It was advice that I did not see how I could implement in my role as an ambassador, and as a Foreign Service officer."

The release of the transcripts triggered an immediate influx of interest that seemed to overload the House website where the transcripts were posted, with the digital copies briefly unable to be accessed. The committees also released the transcript of the deposition of former Ambassador Michael McKinley, who recently resigned as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s senior adviser.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is leading the impeachment inquiry, told reporters Monday that the committees will release the transcripts of the interviews with Sondland and former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker on Tuesday. The remainder of the transcripts of interviews that have been conducted thus far could all be released before Friday.

In a statement with the chairs of the two other committees leading the inquiry, Schiff said the round of transcripts released Monday "demonstrate clearly how President Trump approved the removal of a highly respected and effective diplomat based on public falsehoods and smears against Ambassador Yovanovitch's character."

Yovanovitch was interviewed by House investigators in October for more than nine hours and has emerged as a key figure in the investigation into Trump’s efforts to persuade Ukraine's new government to commit publicly to investigate corruption and the president's political opponents.

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In Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump referred to Yovanovitch as "bad news."

Yovanovitch departed Ukraine in May, months ahead of her scheduled departure, after coming under attack from right-wing media, which alleged she was hostile to the president. Her departure set off alarm bells among Democrats in Congress but the State Department said at the time her exit was planned.

Yovanovitch testified to House investigators Oct. 11 that Trump had personally pressured the State Department to remove her, even though a top department official assured her that she had "done nothing wrong."

Yovanovitch said during her testimony that after she was abruptly recalled from her post in the spring, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told her that the president had lost confidence in her.

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who said she was informed of her ouster in April, said in her opening statement that she was "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."

She told House investigators that she found out during a 1 a.m. phone call that she was being called back for unspecified "security" reasons.

Yovanovitch recalled that Carol Perez, the director general of the Foreign Service, "said that there was a lot of concern for me, that I needed to be on the next plane home to Washington. And I was like, what? What happened? And she said, I don't know, but this is about your security. You need to come home immediately. You need to come home on the next plane."

According to the intelligence community whistleblower complaint at the heart of Democrats' impeachment inquiry, Yovanovitch's tenure was cut short because she had run afoul of the then-prosecutor general in Ukraine, Yuri Lutsenko, and President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who had been working to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the Biden family.Lutsenko at one point alleged she had given him a "do not prosecute" list. The State Department has said the assertion was an outright fabrication and Lutsenko himself later walked back his comments.

Trump, speaking to reporters Monday on the White House lawn, said the the transcript of the July 25 call with Zelenskiy showed that "the president of Ukraine wasn't a fan of hers either."

"I'm sure she's a very fine woman. I just don't know much about her," Trump added about Yovanovitch.

According to the transcript released Monday, Yovanovitch said she had wanted Pompeo to issue a statement that said she had his "full confidence," but the request was turned down. Yovanovitch, according to the transcript, said that acting Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker told her they were exercising "caution" because any statement "could be undermined" by the president.

She also explained that she was in the dark about many of Giuliani’s actions, but that she believed he was unhappy that she recommended against granting a U.S. visa to the former Ukrainian general prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Shokin — who was ousted over his failure to crack down on corruption — now claims he was really fired for investigating an energy company linked to former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden.

"The embassy had received a visa application for a tourist visa from Mr. Shokin, the previous prosecutor general. And he said that he was coming to visit his children, who live in the United States,” Yovonavich said. Embassy officials believed he "was ineligible for a visa, based on his, you know, known corrupt activities," she said.

She recommended the embassy turn down the visa.

"And the next thing we knew, Mayor Giuliani was calling the White House as well as the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, saying that I was blocking the visa for Mr. Shokin, and that Mr. Shokin was coming to meet him and provide information about corruption at the embassy, including my corruption," she testified.

She also gave her reaction to finding out that Trump told the Ukrainian president in their July call that she was "going to go through some things."

"I was shocked. I was shocked and I was — I was shocked and I was apprehensive about what that meant," she said.