Marie Yovanovitch, diplomat at centre of Trump impeachment, retires from state department

Ms Marie Yovanovitch had been expected to leave the Foreign Service after she was ordered back to Washington from Kiev, Ukraine. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The United States ambassador whose abrupt recall from Ukraine helped lead to President Donald Trump's impeachment has retired from the State Department, a person familiar with her plans confirmed on Friday (Jan 31).

Ms Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, had been expected to leave the Foreign Service after she was ordered back to Washington from Kiev, Ukraine, ahead of schedule last spring, accused of being disloyal to Mr Trump.

But documents and testimony later showed that she was the target of a smear campaign for, in part, refusing to grant visas to former Ukrainian officials who were investigating Mr Trump's political rivals.

On a July 25 telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, Mr Trump described Ms Yovanovitch as "bad news" and said, ominously: "She's going to go through some things."

She possibly already had: Text messages between Mr Trump's personal lawyer, Mr Rudy Giuliani and his associates that were released publicly earlier this month indicated that Ms Yovanovitch was under surveillance while still in Kiev - a claim that the State Department and Ukraine security officials are investigating.

State Department officials have suggested that she was pulled from Kiev because of concerns about her security. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has refused to publicly support her or clarify why she was recalled to the US, setting off an internal revolt of diplomats who have rallied to her defence.

Ms Yovanovitch was a star witness for House Democrats in their impeachment inquiry. She described being "shocked, appalled, devastated" upon learning of what the President said about her to Mr Zelensky.

The Senate is all but assured to acquit Mr Trump in a vote scheduled for next Wednesday that will end his impeachment trial.

At its heart was whether Mr Trump could be held liable for appearing to withhold $391 million (S$534 million) in security aid from Ukraine - money that Congress had already approved - until Mr Zelensky announced an investigation into a company that had employed Mr Hunter Biden, the son of former vice-president Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Mr Trump.

Ms Yovanovitch's retirement from the State Department, after 33 years of service, was first reported on Friday by National Public Radio. She could not be immediately reached for comment, and the State Department did not return calls and messages seeking comment that night.

Since returning to Washington last spring, Ms Yovanovitch has been assigned to a fellowship at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, and she is scheduled to receive an award in February from the university's School of Foreign Service for "Excellence in the Conduct of Diplomacy".

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