Impeachment deposition: Former Ukraine envoy Marie Yovanovitch says she felt threatened by Trump in call

Former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch said that in February, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov warned her to "watch my back". PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The former United States ambassador to Ukraine said she was warned by officials in the country that President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Mr Rudy Giuliani, was manoeuvring against her and that they were concerned about getting dragged into US politics.

Ms Marie Yovanovitch, the former envoy, said Ukrainian officials alerted her to contacts between Mr Giuliani and former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, and "that Mr Lutsenko was looking to hurt me in the US", according to the transcript of her private deposition released on Monday (Nov 4) by House committees leading the impeachment investigation.

She said that in February, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov warned her to "watch my back". Mr Avakov also expressed concerns to her that it would be "dangerous" for Ukraine to get involved in US politics because it would damage bipartisan support the country had in Congress.

Ms Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her post in May, said she subsequently felt threatened by the way Mr Trump spoke about her on a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the transcript.

In that call, documented by a White House memo later made public, Mr Trump called his top diplomat in the country "bad news" and said "she's going to go through some things".

Ms Yovanovitch told the committees: "I was shocked and I was apprehensive about what that meant."

Mr Trump dismissed her testimony on Monday as he left the White House for a rally in Kentucky.

"I really don't know her but if you look at the transcripts, the President of Ukraine was not a fan of her either," the President said.

In the White House memo of their call, Mr Zelensky said Mr Trump was the first person to tell him Ms Yovanovitch was "a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100 per cent".

The transcripts from Ms Yovanovitch and Mr Michael McKinley, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, were released after the Democratic-led House voted last week to set the ground rules for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry. The Committees on Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs are expected to release additional records of depositions held behind closed doors last month.

Some details of the witness testimonies were already known from opening statements released by their attorneys and public comments from lawmakers. Republicans have complained that the American public has only had access to an incomplete picture of the investigation so far, which doesn't include the cross-examination from GOP committee members and staff behind closed doors.


Making the transcripts public is intended to address this criticism before some witnesses are called back for open hearings. Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said on Monday that the committees will release transcripts from former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker and current European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland on Tuesday.

According to the transcript from Mr McKinley's deposition, he told the committees he resigned last month over concerns about how Ms Yovanovitch was treated, as well as "the emerging information on the engagement of our missions to procure negative political information for domestic purposes".

Mr McKinley said that in his 37 years in the State Department, he had never seen such efforts to dig up dirt on a political opponent. The former Pompeo aide also proposed publishing a statement of support for Ms Yovanovitch after the release of the White House memo regarding Mr Trump's call with Mr Zelensky.

"It shouldn't be difficult to put out a short statement that's not political, stating clearly that we respect the professionalism, the tenure of Ambassador Yovanovitch in the Ukraine," Mr McKinley said, adding that others in the State Department supported the idea.

Mr McKinley said he told Mr Pompeo "this situation isn't acceptable" when he spoke with the secretary of state about his resignation, but Mr Pompeo did not respond. Nor did he put out the public statement Mr McKinley proposed.


Throughout much of the 317-page transcript of Ms Yovanovich's testimony, Mr Schiff takes a lead role in the Democratic queries, often posing leading questions that elicit one-word answers. Mr Schiff is quick to rule on procedures or objections raised by Republicans, often curtly.

Several follow-up questions from Republicans, including Oversight ranking member Jim Jordan and Representative Mark Meadows, two close Trump allies, seek clarity on the timing and circumstances of specific conversations recalled by Ms Yovanovitch, such as an exchange with Mr George Kent, another State Department official.

Elsewhere in her deposition, Ms Yovanovitch referenced two Giuliani associates - Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas - who have since been charged with campaign finance violations. She said Mr Avakov, the Ukrainian interior minister, warned her that Fruman and Parnas helped set up meetings between Mr Giuliani and Mr Lutsenko, outside normal diplomatic channels.

Ms Yovanovitch testified that Mr Avakov said that Fruman and Parnas "were interested in having a different ambassador at post", which she attributed to their desire to "have business dealings in Ukraine".

She said she "didn't understand that because nobody at the embassy had ever met those two individuals". Ms Yovanovitch told the committees that she discussed the apparent campaign against her with Mr Sondland, a Trump donor who became the US ambassador to the European Union. She said Mr Sondland advised her to publicly praise the President.

"He may not have used the words 'support President Trump', but he said: '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'," Ms Yovanovitch said, according to the transcript.

The career diplomat's testimony also described the aid for Ukraine that the US Congress appropriated but the Trump administration didn't initially deliver. She did say that the assistance programme for Ukraine was increased, "due to the generosity of the Congress", including the lethal weapons that the Trump administration decided to provide.

Ms Yovanovitch said that while she was telling Ukrainian officials that there was bipartisan support for the military aid, "there were other emissaries, you know, perhaps sharing things or focusing on other things that would have maybe confused people".

The transcript from Ms Yovanovitch's deposition showed that she told the House committees that the back-channel policy executed by Mr Giuliani "complicated things". Mr Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, downplayed the importance of these two transcripts, arguing that they don't shed any light on the impeachment allegations.

"All the transcripts released today really just deal with Ambassador Yovanovitch being removed from office," Mr Meadows said. "She even admits that the President can do that at his sole discretion."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.