Ousted ambassador tells impeachment hearing her removal helped ‘shady interests’

Ousted ambassador tells impeachment hearing her removal helped ‘shady interests’

The second day of impeachment hearings in the US has opened with the former American ambassador to Ukraine saying her abrupt removal by Donald Trump’s administration played into the hands of “shady interests the world over” with dangerous intentions towards the United States.

Speaking to the House Intelligence Committee, Marie Yovanovitch claimed there was a concerted “smear” campaign against her by Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others.

Her removal is one of several events at the centre of the impeachment effort.

“These events should concern everyone in this room,” the career diplomat testified in opening remarks. “Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want.”

The daughter of immigrants who fled the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, she described a 33-year career, including three tours as an ambassador to some of the world’s tougher postings, before arriving in Ukraine in 2016.

She was forced out in April 2019.

Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the panel, praised Ms Yovanovitch, saying she was “too tough on corruption for some, and her principled stance made her enemies”.

It became clear, he said, that “President Trump wanted her gone”.

The top Republican on the panel, Devin Nunes of California, bemoaned the hearings as a “day-long TV spectacle”.

Marie Yovanovitch at the hearing in Washington (Susan Walsh/AP)
Marie Yovanovitch at the hearing in Washington (Susan Walsh/AP)

Mr Nunes complained that Democrats are relying on hearsay testimony from witnesses who only know of Mr Trump’s actions second-hand.

He also pressed to hear from the still anonymous government whistleblower who first alerted officials about President Trump’s phone call with Ukraine that is in question.

“These hearings should not be occurring at all,” he said.

Just as the hearing was opening, the White House released its rough transcript of an earlier call Mr Trump had with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that was largely congratulatory.

Mr Nunes read that transcript aloud. In it, Mr Trump mentioned his experience with the Miss Universe pageant in Ukraine and invited Mr Zelenskiy to the White House. He closed with, “See you very soon”.

Marie Yovanovitch is a career diplomat (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Marie Yovanovitch is a career diplomat (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Ms Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, who has served both Republican and Democratic presidents, relayed her striking story of being told to “watch my back” and then being suddenly recalled by Mr Trump in a swiftly developing series of events that sounded alarms about a White House shadow foreign policy.

In particular, Ms Yovanovitch and others have described Mr Giuliani as leading an “irregular channel” outside the diplomatic mainstream of US-Ukraine relations.

Asked during an earlier, closed-door deposition if anyone at the State Department who was alerted to Mr Giuliani’s role tried to stop him, she testified, “I don’t think they felt they could.”

She and other officials now testifying publicly in the historic hearings are providing accounts that Democrats are relying on to make the case that the president’s behaviour was impeachable.

Mr Trump has repeatedly described the proceedings as a “hoax” and a “sham” and said he did nothing wrong.

In a tweet on Friday, Mr Trump attacked the witness as she was testifying.

Mr Trump tweeted that “everywhere” MS Yovanovitch went “turned bad”.

The impeachment inquiry focuses on Mr Trump’s July phone call with Mr Zelenskiy that first came to attention when the whistleblower filed a complaint.

Ms Yovanovitch told the hearing she was told by a colleague that “the colour drained from my face” as she read a rough transcript of a phone call between Mr Trump and the Ukrainian president in which Mr Trump said she was “going to go through some things.”

She told politicians that it felt like a vague threat.

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