WASHINGTON — Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrived on Capitol Hill on Friday to testify behind closed doors in a high-stakes deposition that could shed light onto the role the Trump administration played in withholding US military aid to the country as President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani pushed Ukraine to open an investigation into Joe Biden.
Yovanovitch was unexpectedly pulled from her position in the spring, and her ousting was cited in the whistleblower’s complaint as having raised red flags about whether the President was abusing his office by soliciting foreign interference in the election to help find dirt on former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter.
Giuliani had played a role in pushing for Yovanovitch to be withdrawn, gathering documents attacking Yovanovitch that were given to the State Department. He told the Wall Street Journal he had brought to Trump’s attention some of the allegations that had surfaced that she was not loyal to the President abroad, which department officials said were baseless.
Democrats are eager to question Yovanovitch about her time in Ukraine as well as specifically what she was told about military aid being withheld, as well as the circumstances surrounding her ousting.
There was still drama over whether Yovanovitch, who is a State Department employee, would appear for the deposition into Friday morning, before she arrived without responding to shouted questions several minutes after the scheduled 10 am ET deposition.
The committees had scheduled US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland to be interviewed on Tuesday, but the State Department directed him not to attend early that morning. Sondland now says he will appear next week.
Her deposition is a key part of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the President and Ukraine, which has been fueled by a whistleblower complaint alleging the President sought help from Ukraine to investigate his political rival and the White House tried to cover it up. Democrats are also probing how the push for an investigation was tied to Ukrainian efforts to arrange a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Zelensky and the freezing of foreign aid to Ukraine.
On the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, in which Trump urged him to investigate the Bidens, Trump disparaged his former ambassador, saying she 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,” according to a rough transcript released by the White House.
“I agree with you 100%” Zelensky responded.
Yovanovitch, a career member of the foreign service who has served in ambassadorships under three presidents, was sworn in as ambassador to Ukraine in August 2016.
At the time of her removal from the post in May, the State Department said in a statement that Yovanovitch was “concluding her three-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv in 2019 as planned.” But Democrats at the time accused the White House of carrying out a “political hit job” — and the latest revelations about Ukraine have only fueled questions about her removal.
Yovanovitch is the second official interviewed by the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees as part of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry — and the first still serving in the Trump administration.
Former US Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker testified last week, and provided the committee with a key document: text messages between US diplomats, Giuliani and Ukrainian political aides showing how the Ukrainians announcing an investigation was linked to setting up a meeting between the two presidents.
Democrats are eager to bring in other State Department witnesses as part of the probe. In addition to Sondland, who said he would appear on Thursday after he was subpoenaed, Democrats have scheduled depositions next week with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl.
Fiona Hill, the White House’s top Russia adviser who left the administration in August, has been scheduled to appear for a deposition on Monday.
But given the Trump administration’s stance that the impeachment probe is illegitimate, it’s still unclear how many others will appear.
Those who don’t are likely to face a subpoena as Sondland did: the committee on Thursday issued subpoenas to the two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who indicated they would not attend scheduled depositions this week and were indicted by federal prosecutors on campaign finance violations on Thursday.
This story is breaking and will be updated.