The State Department’s second in command testified Wednesday that he was unaware of Rudy Giuliani’s larger machinations in Ukraine, but he confirmed previous testimony about the role the President’s personal lawyer had played in the removal of former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan also said President Donald Trump’s requests for investigations into political rivals were not “in accord with our values.” The State Department official took questions from Senate Foreign Relations Committee members during his confirmation hearing to become the next US ambassador to Russia.
Yovanovitch, who served as the top US diplomat in Kiev until May, was recalled from her post following a smear campaign led by Giuliani and others. Yovanovitch testified as part of the House impeachment probe that she did not know Giuliani’s motives for attacking her – and that Sullivan was the person who informed her of her early removal from the post.
“He said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador,” Yovanovitch testified in mid-October. “He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018. He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.”
On Wednesday, Sullivan confirmed these details, telling the Senate lawmakers, “I was told that he (Trump) had lost confidence in her. Period.”
Pressed by ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez for more details, Sullivan acknowledged he had been aware that “there were individuals and forces outside of the State Department” working to smear and remove the highly respected ambassador.
“And did you know Mr. Giuliani was one of those people?” the New Jersey Democrat asked.
Sullivan responded that he “believed he was, yes.”
“I was particularly aware of the campaign against our ambassador in Kiev,” he added later in the hearing.
Sullivan also revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had sought to push back on the smear campaign against Yovanovitch led by Giuliani and his allies.
“This had been a discussion that I’d had with the secretary over a period of time and the secretary had pushed back and sought justification from those who were criticizing Ambassador Yovanovitch,” Sullivan said. “And after several months had elapsed, the secretary finally told me there had come a point that the President had lost confidence in the ambassador and we needed to make a change in our mission to Ukraine.”
Trump has repeatedly maligned the career diplomat, even after her departure from Kiev. According to a rough White House transcript of the President’s July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, 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.”
In that same call, Trump suggested the Ukrainians could “look into” former Vice President Joe Biden – a suggestion that the President has doubled down on. Sullivan, asked by Menendez whether “it’s ever appropriate for the President to use his office to solicit investigations into a domestic political opponent,” said it would not be.
“Soliciting investigations into a domestic political opponent, I don’t think that would be in accord with our values,” Sullivan said.
However, in responding to many of the questions about the details uncovered as part of the House impeachment inquiry, Sullivan testified that he was not aware of or had not personally authorized them. Asked about Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine, he said, “I can’t offer a judgment that what he did was kosher or correct because I’m not sure exactly what he was up to in toto with respect to Ukraine.”