Watch live: Ex-Ukraine diplomat Marie Yovanovitch testifies at public hearing
Yovanovitch had previously given a private deposition in the inquiry, sparked by a whistle-blowers complaint that Trump sought political favors from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump removed her from the post in May — a move other administration officials have criticized in their testimony.
House Democrats believe Yovanovitch was recalled in May after a smear campaign led by Giuliani, who accused her of having a list of Ukrainians she didn’t want prosecuted.
Yovanovitch testified Friday she went to the front lines in the Ukraine-Russia conflict 10 times to see how U.S. military aid was being spent and show the soldiers that the United States supports them. She recalled being within range of artillery shells while there.
“I worked to advance U.S. policy fully embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike to help Ukraine become a stable and independent Democratic state with a market economy integrated into Europe,” Yovanovitch said. “We see the potential in Ukraine. Russia by contrast sees the risk.”
Her goal was to help Ukraine move out of Russian’s orbit and into Europe’s market. She said she expected her crusade against corruption in Ukraine to make enemies there.
“What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and working together they apparently succeeded in removing a U.S. ambassador,” Yovanovitch said. “How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government? Which country’s interests are served when the very corrupt behavior we have been criticizing is allowed to prevail?”
Intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in his opening remarks Friday that Yovanovitch had a “stellar reputation” for fighting corruption — and cited the July phone call between Trump and Zelensky, in which Trump disparaged her.
“She was considered an obstacle to the furtherance of the president’s personal and political agenda,” Schiff said. “For that she was smeared and cast aside.”
The phone call sparked the whistle-blower complaint.
The House investigation seeks to determine if Trump used promised military aid to Kiev as leverage to persuade Zelensky to dig up dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Threatening to withhold Congress-approved aid for personal political benefit is grounds for impeachment, Democrats argue.
In the transcript from her private session, Yovanovitch said Trump‘s assertions weren’t true and that the administration wanted to install a different ambassador to Ukraine.
“I guess they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine, or different business dealings,” she said in her deposition.
On Friday, Yovanovitch repeated a warning she made during her closed-door testimony, saying the U.S. State Department is being “hallowed out from within” at a critical time for global stability.
“This is not the time to undercut our diplomats,” she said.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the panel’s ranking Republican, said Congress has important work to do apart from the impeachment inquiry — such as a pending North American trade deal and a federal spending bill to avoid another government shutdown. He called the probe a “farce” replete with second-, third- and fourth-hand information.
In her deposition, Yovanovitch said Trump‘s dealings with Ukraine set a “dangerous precedent,” and that she felt “threatened” “concerned” and uncomfortable when she learned Trump specifically mentioned her in his phone call with Zelensky.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to end Yovanovitch’s tenure early and ignored requests to defend her in public, upsetting her long-time colleagues, she said. Pompeo‘s adviser Michael McKinley resigned.
Most of the events at the center of the investigation occurred after Yovanovitch left Kiev.
William Taylor, who succeeded Yovanovitch in the Ukraine post, and diplomat George Kent testified at a public hearing Wednesday that they disagreed with her removal. Taylor said Trump tried to use the Ukraine aid as leverage for a Biden investigation — a claim supported by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and corroborated by national security aide Tim Morrison.
Investigators will also hear private testimony Friday from foreign service official David Holmes. He may have been with Sondland in Ukraine when he received a phone call from Trump in which the president asked about the status of “the investigations.” Taylor alluded to the call in his testimony Wednesday.
Trump released a rough transcript of an April 21 call between Trump and Zelensky, which Nunes read into the record at Friday’s hearing. In that call, Trump congratulated Zelensky on his election victory and the Ukrainian leader invited him to attend his inauguration. Trump also invited Zelensky to Washington, D.C.