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Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine testifies in impeachment inquiry

Posted at 9:02 AM, Nov 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-15 17:33:02-05

WASHINGTON — Ousted US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch directly pushed back on Friday against the allegations leveled against her by President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani that led to her removal earlier this year -- as well as attacks from the President himself.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill No. 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Yovanovitch also explained in her testimony that she was removed from her post in April after being told that the President had lost confidence in her, but she was not given a reason why. When she learned that she was mentioned in the call between Trump and Zelensky, Yovanovitch said she was "shocked and devastated."

"I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state, in such a manner where President Trump said that I was 'bad news' to another world leader and that I would be going through some things," she said. "It was a terrible moment."

Yovanovitch said in her opening remarks at the House's second impeachment hearing that she was ousted from her post thanks to "a campaign of disinformation against a sitting ambassador, using unofficial back channels." The effort, Yovanovitch said, showed that "foreign and corrupt interests apparently hijacked our Ukraine policy."

Yovanovitch said that Giuliani's accusations against her were all false, including the notion that she had a "do not prosecute" list and that she had badmouthed the President to embassy officials.

"I do not understand Mr. Giuliani's motives for attacking me, nor can I offer an opinion on whether he believed the allegations he spread about me," Yovanovitch said. "Clearly, no one at the State Department did. What I can say is that Mr. Giuliani should have known those claims were suspect, coming as they reportedly did from individuals with questionable motives and with reason to believe that their political and financial ambitions would be stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine."

LIVE UPDATES: Impeachment inquiry hearing with former US Ambassador to Ukraine

Yovanovitch said later, "If our chief representative is kneecapped, it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States."

House impeachment investigators on Friday morning heard publicly from Yovanovitch, whose removal Democrats say marks the start of the shadow diplomacy campaign that sparked their impeachment inquiry into Trump and Ukraine.

Yovanovitch responds to Trump's latest attacks on her
Yovanovitch's testimony does not center on the push for investigations or the freezing of $400 million in US security aid to Ukraine. But Democrats say her ouster, which Trump directed following a smear campaign from Giuliani and his associates, set the stage for the push for Ukraine to investigate Trump's political rivals, according to Democratic aides.

"The question before us is not whether Donald Trump could recall an American ambassador with a stellar reputation for fighting corruption in Ukraine, but why would he want to?" House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said in his opening statement.

"The powers of the presidency are immense, but they are not absolute and cannot be used for a corrupt purpose," added Schiff, a California Democrat. "The American people expect their President to use the authority they grant him in the service of the nation, not to destroy others to advance his personal or political interests."

As Yovanovitch testified, the President took to Twitter to attack her.

"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President's absolute right to appoint ambassadors," Trump tweeted.

But the real-time response also played out in the hearing room, as Schiff then allowed Yovanovitch the chance to respond to Trump.

"Now the President in real time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?" Schiff asked.

"It's very intimidating," Yovanovitch said.

Republicans plan to argue that Trump was well within his rights to recall Yovanovitch from her post, saying the President has the power to appoint and remove ambassadors as he wishes. They also plan to make clear that after she left her position in May, she had no direct knowledge of the central issues at stake in the impeachment inquiry, according to a Republican source involved in the planning.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, slammed the Democrats' impeachment inquiry in his opening statement, saying that on Wednesday the public "got to see this farce for themselves."

"They saw us sit through hours of hearsay testimony about conversations that two diplomats, who'd never spoken to the President, heard second-hand, third-hand, and fourth-hand from other people — in other words, rumors," Nunes said. "The problem of trying to overthrow a president based on this type of evidence is obvious."

Busy day for impeachment inquiry
Following the hearing, the US diplomat who overheard a July phone call in which Trump asked the US Ambassador to the European Union about the Ukraine investigations will testify behind closed doors after the top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor revealed the call in his testimony Wednesday.

Friday's hearing with Yovanovitch marks a second day of public impeachment hearings with a twist: the closed-door testimony of the Taylor aide, David Holmes, could offer Democrats tantalizing new evidence that connects Trump more directly to the push for Ukraine to open investigations that would benefit him politically.

Taylor testified Wednesday that his aide told him about the phone call between Trump and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland after his closed-door deposition last month. On the call, Taylor said, Trump asked Sondland about the investigations, and Sondland "told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward."

Holmes gives Democrats a witness who overheard Trump talking directly to Sondland, which could help Democrats push back against the GOP criticisms that the impeachment case is based on hearsay and second-hand information.

Just as the Yovanovitch hearing was about to gavel in Friday morning, the White House released the rough transcript of Trump's first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call, which occurred just after Zelensky's victory in April, was largely congratulatory, and Trump does not discuss any investigations or efforts to fight corruption with Zelensky. Trump also said he'd like to invite Zelensky to the White House.

Nunes, who charged that the Democrats' impeachment inquiry was a "farce," read the rough transcript at the end of his opening statement.

Watch the testimonies here: