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Trump accused of ‘concerted campaign’ to oust former Ukraine envoy

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Via Financial Times

Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, has accused Donald Trump of leading a “concerted campaign” to have her removed from her post based on “unfounded and false claims”.

In a prepared statement submitted on Friday to House Democrats leading an impeachment inquiry against the US president, Ms Yovanovitch, who was US ambassador to Ukraine from August 2016 to May 2019, said she was abruptly told in April of this year to go back to Washington “on the next plane”.

Ms Yovanovitch said she met with John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, who told her that the president had lost confidence in her abilities.

“He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018,” Ms Yovanovitch said, according to her prepared remarks, which were first obtained and published by The Washington Post. “He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he recalled ambassadors for cause.”

Ms Yovanovitch added: “I was nevertheless incredulous that the US government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

The former ambassador submitted the written statement ahead of a closed-door deposition before members of Congress. While she was testifying on Friday morning, the White House announced that it would nominate Mr Sullivan to be the next US ambassador to Russia.

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In her prepared remarks, Ms Yovanovitch, who is now a fellow at Georgetown University but remains an employee of the state department, said that throughout her three-decade diplomatic career, she had “always believed” that diplomats “enjoyed a sacred trust with our government”, and that “our government will have our backs and protect us if we come under attack from foreign interests”.

Ms Yovanovitch said the “basic understanding no longer holds true”.

“Today, we see the state department attacked and hollowed out from within,” she added.

Ms Yovanovitch also addressed the president’s personal attorney, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, in her prepared remarks. She said she “had only minimal contacts” with Mr Giuliani, adding she did not know his “motives” for attacking her. However, she added: “Individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

On Thursday, two businessmen who helped Mr Giuliani investigate Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s dealings in Ukraine were charged with violating US campaign finance laws by secretly funnelling foreign money to American candidates for federal and state office and pro-Trump political groups. The indictment alleged that the pair made an illegal donation to an unnamed congressman whose help they sought in ousting Ms Yovanovitch.

It had been unclear whether Ms Yovanovitch would testify on Friday, given the White House said earlier this week that it would not co-operate with the impeachment inquiry.

On Tuesday, Democrats subpoenaed Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, to appear before Congress after the state department abruptly ordered him not to testify.

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On Friday, Mr Sondland’s lawyer confirmed he would testify after all.

“After consultation with committee staff, his testimony is now scheduled for Thursday, October 17,” Mr Sondland’s lawyer said in a statement. “Notwithstanding the state department’s current direction to not testify, ambassador Sondland will honour the committees’ subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying.”

Mr Sondland is not the only member of the Trump administration expected to testify next week. Fiona Hill, Mr Trump’s former top Russia adviser; George Kent, a state department official in the bureau of European and Eurasian affairs; and Ulrich Brechbuhl, state department counsel, are all due to go before congressional committees in the coming days.

Adam Schiff, Elijah Cummings and Eliot Engel, the congressmen who chair three of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry, said on Friday that the state department, at the direction of the White House, had ordered Ms Yovanovitch not to appear on Friday. The House intelligence committee had issued a subpoena to compel her testimony.

“Any efforts by Trump administration officials to prevent witness co-operation with the committees will be deemed obstruction of a coequal branch of government and an adverse interference may be drawn against the president on the underlying allegations of corruption and cover-up,” the chairmen said.

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