Trump had Ukraine envoy ousted over 'false claims,' she tells probe: NY Times

Washington (AFP) –


The former US ambassador to Ukraine reportedly told impeachment investigators Friday that President Donald Trump had sought her removal for months, and that she was eventually pushed out on "false claims" by questionable actors.

In the first congressional appearance by a Trump administration official since it declared war on House Democrats' impeachment probe this week, Marie Yovanovitch issued a scathing critique of the Trump administration's conduct of foreign policy, reported The New York Times which obtained her opening statement.

Yovanovitch slammed "fictitious" reports circulated by Trump allies that she is disloyal to him, and said she never did anything to sabotage his campaign or presidency, the Times quoted her as saying.

She also found it alarming that the senior State Department official who informed her she was being recalled, while insisting Yovanovitch "had done nothing wrong," told her that there had been "a concerted campaign against me," and that the department had been under pressure from Trump since mid-2018 to remove her.

The very appearance on Capitol Hill by Yovanovitch, who remains a federal employee, is a victory for Democrats given the White House's public stance against cooperating with the probe.

Democrats leading it said the White House late Thursday directed the State Department to block Yovanovitch from testifying.

But after the House Intelligence Committee immediately issued a subpoena, Yovanovitch defied the Trump administration and testified.

"Any efforts by Trump Administration officials to prevent witness cooperation with the Committees will be deemed obstruction of a co-equal branch of government," the panel's chief Adam Schiff and two other committee chairmen said in a statement.

Her testimony could be a breakthrough for those seeking first-hand details about efforts by Trump, including through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump political rival Joe Biden.

Those efforts, revealed through a whistleblower complaint and subsequent release of the White House record of a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, have become the focus of the impeachment investigation.

- More testimony -

Yovanovitch's testimony came as US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland revealed he, too, will comply with a House subpoena and testify to Congress next Thursday, defying administration orders not to.

Sondland, a wealthy donor to Trump's 2016 campaign, was included in text message chains discussing the president's effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, amid concern by some diplomats in the messages that the administration was leveraging military aid on that political favor.

The scandal took a dramatic turn Thursday when US prosecutors announced the arrest on campaign finance charges of two Giuliani associates whom Democrats accuse of working with Giuliani to pressure Ukraine for dirt on Biden.

House Democrats are also looking into whether Yovanovitch was removed because she failed to go along with the scheme.

The men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, agreed to raise $20,000 or more for a US congressman to seek his "assistance in causing the US Government to remove or recall the then-US Ambassador to Ukraine," according to the indictment.

The unnamed lawmaker is identified through campaign finance documents as former congressman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican.

Sessions acknowledged seeking Yovanovitch's removal but said it was because she was "disparaging President Trump to others."

Trump has openly admitted to seeking the ambassador's removal, and called her "bad news" in his Zelensky call.

According to the Times, Yovanovitch told lawmakers she has had only "minimal contacts" with Giuliani and "none related to the events at issue."

She found it "incredulous that the US government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives," she said.

Yovanovitch signaled she believed she might have been targeted in part because of her staunch promotion of anti-corruption efforts.

Giuliani's contacts "may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine," she said.

Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly argued, without evidence, that Biden sought to push out a prosecutor in Ukraine in order to protect his son Hunter, who was employed by a Ukrainian energy company.