For weeks, Republicans have insisted that the transcripts from closed-door testimony before House impeachment investigators should be released to the public.
Those demands were part and parcel of an effort on the part of the president and his allies to undermine the investigation into the Ukraine scandal by attacking the process, rather than the substance.
Another part of that effort involved declaring the probe “illegitimate” because Nancy Pelosi had not called a full vote. The speaker dispensed with that criticism last week.
Now, the probe is moving ahead to a more public phase, and just as Republicans asked (but probably didn’t really want), the transcripts of last month’s depositions are being released starting with that of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who implicated Rudy Giuliani in the pressure campaign to oust her, and whose opening statement revealed the extent to which Trump’s personal attorney was running a shadow campaign aimed at undermining official channels for diplomacy.
Here are key highlights from her testimony. The full transcript is here.
Q: Also on page 4, at the top, President Trump said, “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news, so I just want to let you know that.” Do you see that? A: Yes.
Q: What was your reaction when you saw that? A: Again, I hate to be repetitive, but I was shocked. I mean, I was very surprised that President Trump would–first of all, that I would feature repeatedly in a Presidential phone call, but secondly, that the President would speak about me or any ambassador in that way to a foreign counterpart.
Q: At the bottom of that same page, President Trump says, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.” What did you understand that to mean? A: I didn’t know what it meant. I was very concerned. I still am.
Q: Did you feel threatened? A: Yes.
In late 2018, Ukrainian officials informed Ambassador Yovanovitch about Rudy Giuliani’s plans to target her. (Page 27-28)
Q: When did you first become aware that Rudy Giuliani had an interest in or was communicating with anyone in Ukraine? A: Probably around November, December timeframe of 2018.
Q: And describe those circumstances when you first learned about it. A: Basically, it was people in the Ukrainian Government who said that Mr. Lutsenko, the former prosecutor general, was in communication with Mayor Giuliani, and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me.
Q: So you first heard about it from Ukrainian officials? A: That’s correct.
Ambassador Yovanovitch stated that Minister Avakov warned her that he was “very concerned” about Mr. Giuliani and “told me I really needed to watch my back.” (Page 41)
Q: Did you ever have any conversations after November, December 2018, with Ukrainian officials about Mr. Giuliani up until the time that you left in May? A: 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.
Q: Describe that conversation. A: Well, I mean, he basically said, and went into some detail, that there were two individuals from Florida, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, who were working with Mayor Giuliani, and that they had set up the meetings for Mr. Giuliani with Mr. Lutsenko. And that they were interested in having a different ambassador at post, I guess for–because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine, or additional business dealings. I didn’t understand that because nobody at the embassy had ever met those two individuals. 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. But yeah, so–
Q: So did you deduce or infer or come to learn that the business interests they had were therefore not legitimate? A: Honestly, I didn’t know. I didn’t know enough about it at the time. I thought it was exceedingly strange
Mr. Giuliani sought to override a visa denial for former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin–whom consular officials determined was ineligible based on his “known corrupt activities”–by claiming to the White House and State Department that Ambassador Yovanovitch was improperly blocking the visa. (Page 264-266)
And so, the consular folks, you know, got the application, recognized the name, and believed that he was ineligible for a visa, based on his, you know, known corrupt activities. And they alerted me to this. And I said, Well, what would you do if he wasn’t–if it wasn’t Mr. Shokin, if it was some other businessman that we didn’t recognize the name? And they said, We would refuse the visa. And so, my understanding is that that’s–that that is what happened, either a formal hard refusal, or what we call a 221G, which is an administrative refusal, asking for more information. The next thing we knew–so I alerted Washington to this, that this had happened. 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.
Ambassador Yovanovitch spoke with senior State Department officials about Mr. Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine, but they did not stop his efforts. (Page 270-271)
Q: While you were Ambassador to Ukraine, did you ever raise any concerns with the State Department about Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine? A: Well, you know, there was a series of conversations, as we learned more and more. And I don’t know if that constitutes raising concerns. I would say it does constitute raising concerns, but it’s not like I sent in a formal cable outlining everything. It felt very–very sensitive and very political.
Q: And who did you express those concerns with? A: The European Bureau. Q: And who in particular? A: George Kent; Phil Reeker, when he came on board.
Q: And what was their response when you raised the concerns that Giuliani was involved in activities that may be at odds with U.S. policy? A: Well, they were concerned too.
Q: And how did they express their concerns to you? A: I mean, I don’t really know how to answer that question. I mean, it was–it was kind of what are you hearing, what do you think is happening? You know, it was that kind of a conversation.
Q: And one last question before I yield to the minority. Did anyone at the State Department try to stop those efforts? A: I don’t think so. I don’t think they felt they could.
When Ambassador Yovanovitch sought advice from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, he recommended that she tweet her praise of President Trump. (Page 267-268, 306)
Q: And what did Mr. Sondland say when you talked to him about this topic? A: He hadn’t been aware of it, that the story had shifted, and 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. And, you know, so, you know, I mean, obviously, that was advice. It was advice that I did not see how I could implement in my role as an Ambassador, and as a Foreign Service Officer. …
Q: Did he actually say, “support President Trump”? Was that his advice, that you publicly say something to that effect? A: Yes. I mean, he may not have used the words “support President Trump,” but he said: You know the President. Well, maybe you don’t know him personally, but you know, you know, the sorts of things that he likes. You know, go out there battling aggressively and, you know, praise him or support him.
Ambassador Yovanovitch was told that State Department officials were hesitant to issue a statement supporting her because “the rug would be pulled out” from under them by President Trump. (Page 63-64, 124-125)
A: I was told there was caution about any kind of a statement, because it could be undermined. Q: I’m sorry, it could what?
A: It could be undermined. Q: The statement could be undermined? A: Uh-huh. Q: By whom? A: The President. …
Q: And can you explain again why you understood that the State Department could not issue a statement of support? A: What I was told was that there was concern that the rug would be pulled out from under the State Department if they put out something publicly. Q: By whom? A: The President
Editor’s note: After three weeks of testimony from officials including the president’s former top adviser on Russia and Ukraine Fiona Hill, Gordon Sondland, Mike Pompeo’s former top aide Michael McKinley, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs George Kent, former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch (who implicated Rudy Giuliani in the pressure campaign to oust her) and, of course, Bill Taylor, whose 15-page prepared statement was positively devastating to the White House, it is abundantly clear that the substance of the whistle-blower complaint is accurate. A statement from Alexander Vindman — a decorated veteran who listened to the Ukraine call — was the icing on the cake.