WASHINGTON — The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry on Monday moved to open their proceedings to the public, releasing the first two transcripts of hours of testimony they have taken behind closed doors.
The transcripts were the leading edge of a series of expected releases this week as the inquiry enters its public phase, and include hundreds of pages of witness testimony from two American diplomats — Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine, and Michael McKinley, a former top adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
New York Times reporters are combing through the transcripts and identifying key excerpts, with analysis, as they go.
The president’s private lawyer tried to meddle in State Department consular affairs to advance his shadow campaign.
Yovanovitch transcript, Page 264: “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.”
Much has been reported about the efforts of the president’s private lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani — both public and behind the scenes — to court Ukrainian officials who would help in his bid to ultimately damage the reputations of Mr. Trump’s political opponents. Ms. Yovanovitch’s account of Mr. Giuliani’s attempts to interfere in the State Department decision provides additional details about just how open he was about his campaign to enlist Ukraine to help Mr. Trump win re-election.
Viktor Shokin, the former top prosecutor in Ukraine who was ousted in March 2016, applied to the State Department in early 2019 for a visa, stating that he wanted to travel to the United States to visit family. Following longstanding policy, an American consular officer denied the visa application because of Mr. Shokin’s corrupt dealings.
When Mr. Giuliani pushed to get Mr. Shokin’s visa application approved, he said the purpose of the trip was for a meeting, creating a new reason for the State Department to deny Mr. Shokin a visa — he lied on his application.
State Department officials knew about Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine but did not feel they could do anything about it.
Yovanovitch transcript, Page 270: “It’s not like I sent in a formal cable outlining everything. It felt very, very — very sensitive and very political.”
Impeachment investigators have been hammering witnesses on what they knew about Mr. Giuliani’s and Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and what they did about it. According to Ms. Yovanovitch, their activities were widely known in Ukraine foreign policy circles, and many believed it was not typical, appropriate government conduct. But it was the politically-sensitive nature of what was going on that worried officials about formally raising concerns.
Yovanovitch learned in late 2018 from Ukrainian officials that Giuliani and a Ukrainian ally were targeting her.
Yovanovitch transcript, Page 27: “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.”
As she recounts it, the story of Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal from her posting in Kiev began as abruptly as it ended. In November or December 2018, Ms. Yovanovitch learned from Ukrainian government officials, not Americans, that the president’s personal lawyer was working with Yuriy Lutsenko, the prosecutor general in Ukraine, in some shadowy way as both men sought to investigate the Bidens and other issues connected to Democrats.
It would become clearer over time that their goal was to remove her, she said. Democratic investigators do not view this chain of events as a side show. They are preparing to present the two men and others as working to oust Ms. Yovanovitch, who was championing anticorruption initiatives in Ukraine, to clear the decks for investigations that would benefit Mr. Trump politically. Whatever their intention, they succeeded months later, when Mr. Trump recalled Ms. Yovanovitch.
McKinley resigned because he felt the president was using the State Department for political gain.
McKinley transcript, Page 112: “In 37 years in the Foreign Service and different parts of the globe and working on many controversial issues, working 10 years back in Washington, I had never seen that.”
Mr. McKinley told investigators that his resignation was prompted by his belief that the State Department was being used to dig up dirt on the president’s political opponent, something he characterized as unprecedented.
Yovanovitch was shocked to see that Trump brought her up in a conversation with the president of Ukraine.
Yovanovitch transcript, Page 193: “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.”
During his conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, Mr. Trump raised Ms. Yovanovitch’s ouster and said she was “bad news.” He also stated, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.”
To many who read the transcript released by the White House, including Ms. Yovanovitch, it sounded like an ominous threat. At the time of her testimony, she still did not know what the president meant by it.
McKinley said he had pushed for the department to issue a statement of support for Yovanovitch.
McKinley transcript, Page 38: “My reaction was, well, there’s a simple solution for this. We think she’s a strong, professional career diplomat who’s still on the rolls, who’s still a full-time department employee. It shouldn’t be difficult to put out a short statement that’s not political, stating clearly that we respect the professionalism, the tenure of Ambassador Yovanovitch in the Ukraine.”
Mr. McKinley said that he pressed Mr. Pompeo three times to come to the defense of Ms. Yovanovitch and received no response, after it was revealed publicly that Mr. Trump had disparaged her during his July 25 call with the president of Ukraine. Mr. McKinley said his third attempt to do so came as he tendered his resignation. “I was pretty direct. I said, you know, this situation isn’t acceptable,” Mr. McKinley told House investigators. —
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