Yovanovitch Deposition

Ambassadors who represent their nations must have support from leadership or they cannot be effective at their jobs. Maria Yovanovitch left her post as US ambassador to Ukriane in May and describes her concern in congressional testimony. She described concerns about a shadow campaign to influence policies in Ukraine, undertaken by the US president’s personal attorney without going through normal State Department channels. Yovanovitch points out that she learned about many of his activities from media reports. After she had left the ambassador post, the presidents of Ukraine and the US spoke by phone. Donald Trump mentioned, “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news, so I just want to let you know that," and Volodymyr Zelensky expressed agreement. That reflected advice Yovanovitch had received from Gordon Sondland to praise the US president in order to keep her post. The former ambassador, in a speech, had once noted, “Government resources should never be used to target political opponents.” In her opening statement before the deposition, she noted, “Corrupt leaders are inherently less trustworthy, while honest and accountable Ukrainian leadership makes a US-Ukraine partnership more reliable and more valuable to us…. Corruption is a security issue as well because corrupt officials are vulnerable to Moscow.” – YaleGlobal

Yovanovitch Deposition

US House of Representatives releases transcripts related to impeachment inquiry of President Trump, including deposition of the former US ambassador to Ukraine
Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Maria YovanovitchRead the deposition provided by CBS News.

Excerpts from the Deposition of Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch by the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence joint with the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives, October 11, 2019

Q: Finally, you are reminded that it is unlawful to deliberately provide false information to Members of Congress or staff. It is imperative that you not only answer our questions truthfully, but that you give fu11 and complete answerS to all questions asked of you. Omissions may also be considered false statements.

Background

Yovanovitch:  My parents fled Communist and Nazi regimes. And having seen, firsthand, the war and poverty and displacement common to totalitarian regimes, they valued the freedom and democracy the U.S. offers, and that the United States represents. And they raised me to cherish those values as we11. Their sacrifice allowed me to attend Princeton University, where I focused my studies on the former Soviet Union. And given my upbringing and my background, it has been the honor of a lifetime to help to foster those principles as a career Foreign Service 0fficer. From August 2015 until May 2019, I served as the US Ambassador to Ukraine…. supporting Ukraine’s integration into Europe and combating Russia’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine have anchored our policy since the Ukrainian people protested on the Maidan in 2014 and demanded to be a part of Europe and Iive according to the rule of law. That was US policy when I became ambassador in August 2016, and it was reaffirmed as that policy as the policy of the current administration in early 2017….

Corrupt leaders are inherently less trustworthy, while honest and accountable Ukrainian leadership makes a US-Ukraine partnership more reliable and more valuable to us…. Corruption is a security issue as well because corrupt officials are vulnerable to Moscow….

Combatting Lies

As Mr. Lutsenko, the former Ukraine prosecutor general, has recently acknowledged, the notion that I created or disseminated or verbally told him a do-not-prosecute list is completely false. And that is a story that Mr. Lutsenko himself has since retracted. Equally fictitious is the notion that I am disloyal to President Trump. I have heard the allegation in the media that I supposedly told our embassy team to ignore the President’s orders since he was going to be impeached. That allegation is false. I have never said such a thing to my embassy colleagues or anyone eIse. Next, the Obama administration did not ask me to help the Clinton campaign, or harm the Trump campaign….

I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me. But individuals who have been named in the press who have contact with Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal and financial ambitions were stymied by our anti -corruption policy in Ukraine….

Less Influence for the US State Department

I met with the Deputy secretary of state, who informed me of the curtailment of my term. He said that the President had lost confidence in me, and no longer wished me to serve as an ambassador. 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. He also said that I had done nothing wrong….

Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership with Congress needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees. We need to rebuild diplomacy as the first resort to advance America’s interest, and the front line of America’s defense. I fear that not doing so will harm our Nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably. That harm will come not just through the inevitable and continuing resignation and loss of many of this Nation’s most loyal and talented public servants. It also will come when those diplomats who soldier on and do their best to represent our Nation, face partners abroad who question whether the ambassador really speaks for the President, and can be counted upon as a reliable partner. The harm will come when private interests circumvent professional diplomats for their own gain, not for the public good. The harm will come when bad actors and countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system. In such circumstances, the only interests that are going to be served are those of strategic adversaries like Russia, that spread chaos and attack the institutions and norms that the US helped create and which we have benefited from for the last 75 years.

Working Around the State Department

[ Became aware of Rudy Giuliani’s interest in Ukraine in Nov-Dec 2018.]… And so what we kept on encouraging [Prosecutor General Lutsenko] to do was to meet with the the legal attache, the FBI at the embassy. That is precisely why we have the FBI in countries overseas, to work with host country counterparts and get information, whatever that information might be, develop cases, et cetera. He didn’t want to share that information. And now, I think I understand that that information was falsehoods about me…. he clearly wanted to work around the system where I think there’s less transparency, there are more opportunities to, you know, kind of fiddle the system, shall we say.

Wary of Giuliani

…. one of the senior Ukrainian officials was very concerned, and told me I really needed to watch my back… he basically said, and went into some detail, that there were two individuals from Florida, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, who were working with Mayor Giuliani, and that they had set up the meetings for Mr. Giuliani with Mr. Lutsenko. And that they were interested in having a different ambassador at post, I guess for because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine, or additional business dealings.

…. And, you know, one of the biggest jobs of an American ambassador of the U.S. Embassy is to promote US business. So, of course, if legitimate business comes to us, you know, that’s what we do, we promote US business…. these two individuals wanted a different ambassador in place, that they had energy interests that they were interested in, according to this open letter, that they had energy interests, selling LNG to Ukraine ….

[Ukraine’s Minister Avakov] didn’t actually want to meet with Mayor Giuliani because of his concerns about what they were doing … and that to start kind of getting into … US domestic politics, was a dangerous place for Ukraine to be….

[quote from an earlier speech] Government resources should never be used to target political opponents.

…. if you have the President’s son saying, you know, We need to pull these clowns, or however he referred to me, it makes it hard to be a credible ambassador in a country…  What I wanted was the secretary of state to issue a statement that said that, you know, I have his full confidence or something like that, to indicate that in fact, am the ambassador in Ukraine, and that I speak for the President, for the Secretary of State, for our country…. [She was then informed] No statement was going to be issued, not by the Secretary, not by anybody else….

I think there was probably a lot of politically motivated prosecution going on in Ukraine….

What I was told by [Assistant Acting Secretary] Phil Reeker was that the Secretary or perhaps somebody around him was going to place a call to Mr. Hannity on FOX News to say, you know, what is going on? I mean, do you have proof of these kinds of allegations or not? And if you have proof, you know, telI me, and if not, stop.

Requests for Investigations

….I thought it was really unfair that [ head of personnel Carol Perez]  was pulling me out of post without any explanation, I mean , really none, and so summarily. 

Q: She didn’t give you an explanation for why it had to be so soon?

Yovanovitch: She said it was for my security, that this was for my well-being, people were concerned…. So the Deputy Secretary said that, you know, he was sorry this was all happening, that the President had lost confidence, and I would need to depart my post… And I told him I thought that this was a dangerous precedent, that as far as I could tell, since I didn’t have any other explanation, that private interests and people who don’t like a particular American ambassador could combine to, you know, find somebody who was more suitable for their interests. That, you know, it should be the State Department, ambassador, the President, who makes decisions about which ambassador. And, obviously, the President did make a decision, but I think influenced by some who are not trustworthy.

Q: And in your experience, do US Presidents typically ask foreign governments to conduct particular investigations like the ones that are requested here, or are they just general requests, such as fighting corruption, for example?

Yovanovitch: I think generally generally, there’s preparation for phone calls and there are talking points that are prepared for the principal. And obvious1y, i t’s up to the principal whether they choose to, you know, keep it general, keep it more specific, whatever the case might be. But it’s usually vetted and it’s usually requests that would be in our national security interests, right?

Q: President Trump said, “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news, so I just want to let you know that.” What was your reaction to that?

Yovanovitch: … I was shocked. I mean, I was very surprised that President Trump would - first of all, that I would feature repeatedly in a Presidential phone call, but secondly, that the President would speak about me or any ambassador in that way to a foreign counterpart. …

Q:  President Trump says [according to summary released by White House of telephone call between Zelensky and Trump], “WeIl,  she’s going to go through some things. ” What did you understand that to mean?

Yovanovitch: I didn’t know what it meant. I was very concerned. I still am.

Q: Did you feel threatened?

Yovanovitch: Yes. 

Q: Did you feel that you might be retaliated against?

Yovanovitch: You know, there’s a universe of what it could mean. I don’t know.

Q: Well, what did you interpret it to be?

Yovanovitch: Maybe. I was wondering you know, soon after this transcript came out there was the news that the [Inspector General] brought to this committee, all sorts of documentation, I guess, about me that had been transferred to the FBI. You know , I was wondering, is there an active investigation against me in the FBI?

Rejection for Visa

The embassy had received a visa application for a tourist visa from Mr. Shokin, the previous prosecutor general. And he said that he was coming to visit his children, who live in the United States. And so, the consular folks, you know, got the application, recognized the name, and believed that he was ineligible for a visa, based on his, you know, known corrupt activities. And they alerted me to this. And I said, Well, what would you do if he wasn’t if it wasn’t Mr. Shokin, if it was some other businessman that we didn’t recognize the name? And they said, We would refuse the visa. And my understanding is that that’s what happened, either a formal hard refusal, or what we call a 22LG, which is an administrative refusal, asking for more information. The next thing we knew so I alerted Washington to this, that this had happened. And the next thing we knew, Mayor Giuliani was calling the White House as well as the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, saying that I was blocking the visa f or Mr. Shokin, and that Mr. Shokin was coming to meet him and provide information about corruption at the embassy, including my corruption…. He told us that he was going to visit a child or children, but then the next thing that we know is he was really going to see Mayor GiuIiani….

Tip for Getting Along With President Trump

[EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland] said, you know, you need to go big or go home. You need to, you know, tweet out there that you support the President, and that all these are lies and everything else… I just didn’t see that there would be any advantage to publicly taking on a fight with those who were criticizing me in the United States….

Ukrainian’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, piled on, trashing Trump on Twitter in July as, quote, “a clown” and asserting that Trump is, “an even bigger danger to the U.S. than terrorism.”

Ukraine Election

I thought we could work with any of the top three candidates. I think I said that before, and I continue to believe that. I thought that Poroshenko’s time was up, because the Ukrainian people were so angry with him, and that we needed to make the best efforts we could to work with Zelensky so that it would be a strong bilateral relationship…. I think Presi ent Zelensky was viewed as the outsider, but also as the reformer….

Unusual Requests for Diplomats

Q: Thank you. Just one question. You mentioned, Ambassador, that Ambassador Sondland at one point had advised you to, quote, “go big or go home,” and “go big” meant putting out a tweet or public statement saying that, I think you mentioned, that you supported President Trump and rejected all of these false accusations…. Did he actually say, “support President Trump”? Was that his advice, that you publicly say something to that effect?

Yovanovitch: Yes. I mean, he may not have used the words “support President Trump,” but he said: You know the President. WeIl, 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.

Q: Is that a normal request from a political appointee to a career ambassador, in your experience?

Yovanovitch: He said that in response to my request for advice on, How do I deal with this? I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t know what to do. And that was his response. So, I mean, I have to admit that the advice took me aback, but I did ask him.

US House of Representatives

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