WASHINGTON (CN) – Speaking during a deposition in Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine told House investigators Friday that she was forced out of her position in May after President Donald Trump pressured State Department officials to remove her.
Marie Yovanovitch was informed of the decision during a conversation with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, according to her prepared opening statement to members of three House committees.
“He said that the president had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador,” Yovanovitch said. “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 and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.”
She testified that “as best as I can tell,” she was removed from her post on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
During a July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump had said Yovanovitch was “bad news.”
That phone call, in which Trump also pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, is the basis for Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Trump specifically wanted an investigation into work Hunter Biden did while sitting on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two businessmen with ties to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, were arrested Thursday, partly in connection with Yovanovitch’s firing — their indictment alleges the men had helped lobby an unnamed congressman for her removal with political contributions. Parnas and Fruman were arrested for campaign finance violations.
Yovanovitch, who has 30 years of experience with foreign relations work, testified Friday that she had always enjoyed representing the nation, because she believed she was making a difference in Americans’ lives.
“We repeatedly uproot our lives, and we frequently put ourselves in harm’s way to serve this nation. And we do that willingly, because we believe in America and its special role in the world. We also believe that, in return, our government will have our backs and protect us if we come under attack from foreign interests,” she said. “That basic understanding no longer holds true.”
She said the State Department has been “attacked and hollowed out from within” and action needs to be taken to defend it.
“We need to rebuild diplomacy as the first resort to advance America’s interests and the front line of America’s defense. I fear that not doing so will harm our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably,” Yovanovitch said.
Yovanovitch is the first official from the Trump administration to speak in a deposition before the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry.
The Democrats leading the investigation – Congressmen Adam Schiff of California, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Eliot Engel of New York – said in a statement Friday that they had subpoenaed Yovanovitch because the White House had directed her not to testify Thursday night.
“Any efforts by Trump administration officials to prevent witness cooperation with the committees will be deemed obstruction of a co-equal branch of government and an adverse inference may be drawn against the president on the underlying allegations of corruption and coverup,” the committee chairmen said.
On Tuesday, Trump blocked Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from testifying as part of the congressional impeachment inquiry. In an Oct. 1 letter, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signaled no officials from the State Department would testify in the investigation.