House impeachment investigators on Monday released the first two transcripts of their closed-door depositions, and they paint a stunning portrait of U.S. diplomats under siege from their own government.
The transcripts — featuring Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and Michael McKinley, a former top adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — show that a cadre of career, non-political officials were deeply concerned by President Donald Trump’s posture toward Ukraine, and his allies’ ultimately successful efforts to take down Yovanovitch.
Both witnesses detailed several efforts to convince Pompeo and other political appointees to release statements supporting Yovanovitch as she came under attack from Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — but those efforts hit a brick wall, leaving diplomats and other senior officials demoralized and frustrated.
Here are some of the most compelling takeaways from the nearly-500 pages of combined transcripts.
Yovanovitch felt threatened by Trump
Yovanovitch was well aware of the campaign to oust her before she was ultimately recalled to Washington in May. But the transcript of her deposition reveals that she felt personally threatened by Trump — specifically, after he told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Yovanovitch would be “going to go through some things.”
“I didn’t know what it meant. I was very concerned. I still am,” Yovanovitch told investigators.
“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,” she added.
Giuliani was working against U.S. policy in Ukraine, Yovanovitch says
Yovanovitch described the extent to which the shadow campaign being pushed by Giuliani and others ran counter to U.S. policy toward the besieged eastern European country.
She said she told Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan that it was a “dangerous precedent” that “private interests and people who don’t like a particular American ambassador could combine to, you know, find somebody who was more suitable for their interests.”
At one point, she said Ukraine’s interior minister told her that two of Giuliani’s indicted associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, wanted her removed from her post because they wanted to “have business dealings in Ukraine.”
Rudy the influencer
If it wasn’t already clear that Giuliani has the ear of the president, Yovanovitch’s testimony should remove all doubt.
When asked if anyone at the State Department tried to push back on Giuliani’s campaign against her and his shadow diplomacy efforts, which were inconsistent with U.S. policy toward Ukraine, Yovanovitch replied: “I don’t think they felt they could.”
Her comments buttress those of other witnesses, who described a similar relationship between Trump and Giuliani. For example, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said he was disappointed when Trump asked him to work with Giuliani on Ukraine-related matters.
The power of tweets
When Yovanovitch sought advice from Sondland, he recommended that she tweet-praise Trump to save herself. Yovanovitch immediately rejected the idea, saying she didn’t feel it was appropriate for a career diplomat to delve into politics.
She also testified that she was removed from Ukraine hastily in order to avoid a presidential tweet, which is often the way Trump fires or announces the departures of officials.
“This was to make sure that I would be treated with as much respect as possible,” Yovanovitch said of the rapid movement.
The whistleblower complaint was a crystallizing moment
Though State Department officials had been worried for months about Giuliani’s campaign to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate Trump’s rivals, the effort didn’t set off serious alarms until a whistleblower complaint tied all of the elements together.
That led McKinley to realize that Yovanovitch’s unceremonious recall from Ukraine was about something much bigger than he realized.
“After the whistleblower account came out and I started reading in much greater depth what was happening in the media, it became evident to me that Masha had been caught up in something that had nothing to do with the way she performed her duties in Kyiv,” McKinley said.
His concerns grew even greater after Trump released the transcript of his July 25 call with Zelensky.
“When the transcript of the call was released I’m just going to state it clearly as a Foreign Service officer, to see the impugning of somebody I know to be a serious, committed colleague in the manner that it was done raised alarm bells for me,” he said.
McKinley suspected Trumpian politics had infected State Department decisions
As news reports began fleshing out the whistleblower complaint and other details of Trump’s interactions with Ukraine began to become public, McKinley said he began to suspect domestic politics had spilled into typically nonpartisan diplomatic work.
That, plus the agency’s refusal to publicly back Yovanovitch after she was removed from her post amid a smear campaign by Trump allies, was a toxic combination, McKinley said, that motivated him to resign from the state Department.
“In this context, frankly, to see the emerging information on the engagement of our missions to procure negative political information for domestic purposes, combined with the failure I saw in the building to provide support for our professional cadre in a particularly trying time, I think the combination was a pretty good reason to decide enough, that I had I had no longer a useful role to play,” McKinley said.
Creating paper trails
Throughout his testimony, McKinley revealed decisions to sometimes create paper trails — to ensure that his and others’ efforts to support Yovanovitch were documented — and other times not to, so as not to annoy superiors.
McKinley indicated he made one such decision against creating a paper trail amid discussions about how to respond to a congressional subpoena.
“I’d spent a week with people not answering me, and so I’ve been a bureaucrat long enough. That’s a message, and I’m not going to be the one initiating again a trail,” he said.
But McKinley also indicated that a colleague, George Kent, had created a memo documenting his experience with the subpoena response that had been circulated among several officials inside the department.
Kent, according to McKinley, indicated that an agency lawyer appeared to be trying to “shut him up” and that there had been “bullying” tactics by officials inside the agency when questions arose about the handling of the subpoena.
While discussing the State Department’s response to Congress’ subpoena for documents in its impeachment inquiry, McKinley indicated that he hadn’t heard back despite several entreaties to top officials about how it was being handled.
“Were you frustrated at the lack of response?” a committee attorney wondered.
“I don’t have emotions like that anymore,” McKinley replied. “It was a reality.”
“You’ve been in a bureaucracy too long,” the attorney replied, with a bit of gallows humor.
The post A smear campaign, an untouchable Giuliani and an infected State Dept: Key deposition details appeared first on Politico.