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Former Ambassador To Ukraine Talks To Lawmakers


The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry have now heard from another key figure, former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was forced out of that job in May. She testified nine hours on Friday - that after the White House tried to block her from appearing at the deposition. So House Democrat Adam Schiff said she was subpoenaed.


ADAM SCHIFF: We are deeply grateful for her decades of service to the country. I think she has been a model diplomat and deserved better than the shabby treatment she received from this president and from the secretary of state.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen covers the State Department. Michele, thanks so much for joining us here today.


SIMON: One closed hearing, one the president didn't want to see happen. What do we know today about what the ambassador said?

KELEMEN: Well, one thing I have to make clear from the beginning is that she was withdrawn from her post before that controversial phone call between President Trump and the new Ukrainian president. So she wouldn't really have much to offer about the main thrust of the impeachment inquiry, whether Trump was withholding aid as leverage to pressure the Ukrainians to dig up dirt about his rivals. But her story does show the influence of Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that he had in the administration. He was running a sort of side foreign policy on Ukraine that angered a lot of people at the State Department.

SIMON: Yes. Mr. Giuliani, the president's lawyer, seems - seemed to have figured into her firing. Did the ambassador have anything to say about that?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, well, she said it was that the deputy secretary of state, not the secretary, by the way, who told her that the president lost confidence in her, that she did nothing wrong but that there was a concerted campaign against her. And we know that one figure in that is Rudy Giuliani. Yovanovitch said she doesn't know his motives, had little contact with him. But she suggests that some of his contacts in Ukraine - that's how she put it - may have thought that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by the anti-corruption policy that she represented. Now, she's kind of a fairly cautious ambassador. But she did give a widely published anti-corruption speech. It was a big focus of her tenure.

SIMON: And what can you tell us about what Ambassador Yovanovitch is essentially calling a smear campaign?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, well, for instance, there's this widely debunked story about her that she had something to do with the so-called black ledger. This was a record of off-book payments made by a former pro-Russian president in Ukraine to lobbyist Paul Manafort, who was briefly Trump's campaign chairman. And he is now facing - you know, in jail for - in a case...

SIMON: Yeah. He's in jail. Yeah.

KELEMEN: ...About that. Right. Yovanovitch points out that that black ledger came out just before she got to Kyiv. Another debunked story is that she gave a Ukrainian prosecutor a list of people that he should not prosecute. All of this, shall we say, was fake news, dare I say it. And she denies it in her testimony. But these are stories that were spread around in right-wing media and appears to have influenced the president.

SIMON: And any response from Secretary of State Pompeo?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, not a whole lot, and that really angers a lot of longtime diplomats. He's been criticizing Democrats leading the investigation, accusing them of bullying his employees. But he's not stood up for Yovanovitch publicly and hasn't even pushed back against these attacks in right-wing media. In her testimony, Yovanovitch stressed that, you know, this is supposed to be a nonpartisan job. She served 33 years in the state department, was appointed ambassador three times - twice by a Republican president and once by a Democrat.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks so very much for being with us.

KELEMEN: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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