Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine who has accused Donald Trump of leading a “concerted campaign” to have her removed from her post, appeared on Capitol Hill on Friday as the third witness to testify publicly in the impeachment inquiry into the US president.
A career diplomat, Ms Yovanovitch was the US ambassador to Ukraine from August 2016 to May 2019. In a closed-door deposition last month, she told House investigators that she was abruptly told in April of this year to go back to Washington “on the next plane”. Ms Yovanovitch accused Mr Trump of trying to oust her based on “unfounded and false claims”.
Ms Yovanovitch, who is now a fellow at Georgetown University and remains an employee of the state department, said she was “incredulous that the US government chose to remove an ambassador based . . . on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives”.
The former ambassador was recalled to testify in a live, televised hearing before the House intelligence committee on Friday.
In his opening statement, House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, indicated that Friday’s session would focus on the role of Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, in ousting Ms Yovanovitch and steering US policy in Ukraine.
“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? Why did Rudy Giuliani want her gone, and why did Donald Trump?” Mr Schiff asked.
“And why would Donald Trump instruct the new team he put in place, the three amigos — [US ambassador to the EU] Gordon Sondland, [US energy secretary] Rick Perry and [former US special envoy to Ukraine] Kurt Volker — to work with the same man, Rudy Giuliani, who played such a central role in the smear campaign against her?” he added.
The impeachment investigation into Mr Trump was sparked by a whistleblower complaint centred on a July 25 phone call between Mr Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymr Zelensky, in which the US president asked Mr Zelensky to dig up dirt on former US vice-president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. In September, the White House released a memorandum based on the conversation.
As Friday’s hearing began, the White House published a second memo based on an earlier April 21 phone conversation between MrTrump and Mr Zelensky. In the April phone call, Mr Trump congratulated Mr Zelensky on his election, and Mr Zelensky invited the US president to his inauguration. The memo makes no mention of the Bidens.
William Taylor, Ms Yovanovitch’s successor in Kyiv, and George Kent, a senior state department official, appeared in a five-hour session before Congress on Wednesday.
Mr Taylor revealed on Wednesday that an unnamed member of his staff had overheard Mr Trump pressing Mr Sondland for a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens. Mr Taylor said his colleague heard that Mr Trump cared more about securing the probe into the Bidens than about Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia for years.
Mr Sondland is among eight additional witnesses scheduled to appear in public hearings next week. Others set to testify include Alexander Vindman, a US army officer and National Security Council official, and Fiona Hill, Mr Trump’s former top Russia adviser.
Mr Taylor did not identify the staff member who overheard the phone conversation between Mr Sondland and Mr Trump. But US media have reported that the staffer in question is David Holmes, an official working in the US embassy in Kyiv. Mr Holmes was scheduled to give a closed-door deposition to House investigators on Friday afternoon.
The House intelligence committee is expected to announce more public hearings in the coming days.
The impeachment process is expected to eventually move from the intelligence committee to the House judiciary committee, which will draft articles of impeachment to be voted on by the entire House.
While Mr Trump is expected to be impeached in the Democratic-controlled House, Republicans on Capitol Hill say it is unlikely he will be removed from office following a trial on the charges in the Senate. More than 20 Republican senators would have to vote to convict the president in order for him to be removed from office.
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