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With White House officials refusing to testify behind closed doors, the Democrats running the impeachment inquiry began releasing transcripts of previous closed-door testimony, which has taken the better part of a month.
First up, they released the depositions of Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine who was besmirched and who raised concerns about Rudy Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy. They also released testimony from Michael McKinley, a former ambassador and top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who quit his job in protest when Pompeo and others would not stand up for Yovanovitch.
Read a full wrap-up of their testimony or check out the highlights below.
1. Yovanovitch said she was warned to ‘watch my back’
The former ambassador told impeachment investigators that a Ukrainian official warned her in 2019 to “watch my back” because of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
“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.”
Giuliani helped push Trump to call for Ukraine to investigate Burisma and Hunter Biden. Parnas and Fruman have been charged with unrelated campaign finance violations.
2. Yovanovitch felt threatened by Trump’s words
When Yovanovitch read the transcript of the call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, she was confused and worried.
Trump had told Zelenksy of Yovanovitch, “she’s going to go through some things.”
During the testimony in October, Yovanovitch was asked what that could mean.
“I don’t know what it meant,” she said. “I was very concerned. I still am.”
“Did you feel threatened?” she was asked.
“Yes,” she responded.
3. The ambassador needed protection from a presidential tweet
Yovanovitch also described being told she’d have to leave her post and that she needed to get out of the country – not for her physical security, but to keep her safe from a Trump tweet.
Describing a conversation she had with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who has since been nominated as US ambassador to Russia, Yovanovitch said he specifically mentioned Twitter.
“This was coming from President Trump, this was, you know, final, and that I – that the reason they pulled me back is that they were worried that if I wasn’t, you know, physically out of Ukraine, that there would be, you know, some sort of public either tweet or something else from the White House. And so this was to make sure that I would be treated with as much respect as possible.”
4. She angered Giuliani with a blocked visa
Yovanovitch described at length the ties between Giuliani and Victor Shokin, the prosecutor Joe Biden and others opposed in Ukraine for not combating corruption. And she said she helped block a visa for Shokin to visit the US, a trip she later learned was in part so that he could meet with Giuliani to reveal dirt on Democrats. She said Shokin lied on his visa application.
5. She asked for support and didn’t get it
The former ambassador said she asked for support when she was attacked by Giuliani and others. But she didn’t get it and one reason is there was a fear that Trump could undercut the State Department.
“What I was told is that there was concern that the rug would be pulled out from underneath the State Department if they put out something publicly. You know, that perhaps there would be a tweet of disagreement or something else.”
6. Sondland told Yovanovitch to protect herself by tweeting a pro-Trump message
When she felt criticized by Trump allies and the State Department failed to defend her, Yovanovitch testified that she called US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland for his advice. His advice was to tweet fealty to Trump.
“(Sondland) 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.”
He later added: “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.”
Yovanovitch didn’t want to tweet about Trump since she’s a career foreign service officer. Sondland is not a career diplomat and Trump donor, so it seemed natural to him.
7. Trump may have called into Giuliani meeting with Ukraine prosecutor
Trump’s personal pressure campaign on Ukraine has been thought to focus on the new President there, Volodymyr Zelensky. But Yovanovitch testified officials in Ukraine thought he was also on the phone for a meeting between Rudy Giuliani and then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko.
This is far from first-hand information. She said that Lutsenko’s deputy told her deputy, who told her.
“So you’re saying was that Mr. Lutsenko had told him that the President had phoned into their meeting?” she was asked.
“Uh-huh,” she replied.
“Is that a yes?” she was asked.
“That’s a yes,” she said.
8. Sean Hannity may know more than Mike Pompeo
If you were to compare the influence of the Fox News host and Trump confidant to the US secretary of state, it’s not at all clear who would win.
Yovanovitch testified that when she was told she was being recalled, she was told that someone (Pompeo?) would call up Hannity to figure out what was going on.
“What I was told by (Senior State Department official) Phil Reeker was that the Secretary or perhaps somebody around him was going to place a call to Mr. Hannity on Fox News to say, you know, what is going on? I mean, do you have proof of these kinds of allegations or not? And if you have proof, you know, telI me, and if not, stop.”
At the time, Yovanovitch was the subject of attacks by Hannity, Giuliani and Donald Trump, Jr., the President’s son.
9. Pompeo adviser quit over politics being forced on diplomats
“The timing of my resignation was the result of two overriding concerns: the failure in my view, of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry; and, second, by what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives,” McKinley said.
He also said he raised the issue of the State Department issuing a statement of support for Yovanovitch before she was recalled, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo never acted on it.
Pompeo told ABC News in October that McKinley never raised in concerns, but perhaps the time frame is different since Pompeo is careful to say he heard no complaints after Yovanovitch left Ukraine.
“From the time that Ambassador Yovanovitch departed Ukraine until the time that he came to tell me that he was departing, I never heard him say a single thing about his concerns with respect to the decision that was made,” Pompeo said.
McKinley said he offered his resignation September 30 and stayed on a short time after that, so this period of time is less than a week after the transcript of the call in which Trump disparaged Yovanovitch was released.
10. McKinley forwarded allegations of bullying
McKinley described his conversations with George Kent, the State Department official overseeing Eurasian policy, and he was told by Kent that the department was not being supportive of people swept into the inquiry. McKinley used the term “bullying tactics” and forwarded a memo Kent wrote.
11. Republicans are taking part in the inquiry
The White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill have attacked the process of the impeachment inquiry for being closed and for not featuring White House lawyers. Democrats have countered that open hearings will come and that Trump will have the opportunity to defend himself. The transcripts clearly show that Republicans are taking part in the testimony. Republican lawmakers and attorneys ask tough questions of the witnesses.
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