WASHINGTON (CN) — In the pressure campaign to oust Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, President Donald Trump appears to have told two of Rudy Giuliani's now-indicted associates in a recorded conversation to "take her out," according to an explosive report by ABC News.
"Get rid of her!" a voice believed to be President Trump’s was quoted by the network as saying. "Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it."
The report did not include the audio file heard and described by the network, but the conversation appeared to be among Trump and Giuliani's associates Lev Parnas and co-defendant Igor Fruman at an April 2018 dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
When reached for comment early in the day, Parnas’ attorney Joseph Bondy said he learned about the video from the network's coverage and that it corroborated his client's previous statements.
After ABC's story ran, Bondy said: "I urged [Parnas to] recomb his iCloud accounts, and shortly thereafter he informed me he had found it."
"He sent it to me, and I immediately conveyed it to Intel," Bondy added, referring to the House Intelligence Committee.
Aside from its alarming contents, the reported tape further undermines Trump's claims that he does not know Parnas, a key figure in the impeachment inquiry cooperating with House Democrats.
Trump's denials of knowing Parnas never held much credibility. The two previously had been photographed together and depicted in the same video. Evidence released by House Democrats showed Trump personally signed off on Parnas and Fruman's criminal defense counsel exactly one week before their arrests.
This latest development, however, offers unsavory extrinsic evidence that Trump roped the men into a plot of intimidation against a U.S. ambassador, on the heels of the release of encrypted messages from Parnas appearing to show a plot to covertly surveil Yovanovitch.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
Yovanovitch is a central figure in the impeachment case against Trump, which is based on an effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son.
The Trump administration’s push for her removal was first illuminated in closed-door depositions with lawmakers, made public in October of last year.
Excerpts from that deposition outline Yovanovitch’s initial concern with Giuliani — who was then purported to have met with Ukrainian officials, including Yuriy Lutsenko, the country’s former prosecutor general. Lutsenko reportedly spread lies about the former ambassador following that conversation and Yovanovitch’s push for reform in his office.
Yovanovitch testified Ukrainian Minister of the Interior Arsen Avakov first notified her of Giuliani’s attempts at foreign diplomacy, saying the former New York City mayor who now works as Trump’s personal attorney was working with Parnas and Fruman to facilitate meetings with Lutsenko. She found the meetings “exceedingly strange,” testifying that Avakov told her to “watch her back.”
Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., reacted to the tape Friday, saying Trump’s comments smearing Yovanovitch – he had told Ukraine's president that she was going to “go through some things” - warranted an explanation. Kaine said if the recording is in the possession of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, he would urge Democratic Senate leadership to subpoena the court for the tape.
“I want to know why she was smeared, I want to know why she was fired and I want to know why she was threatened. And I’m entitled to that, and the American public is too,” Kaine said.
During a press conference Friday, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-.S.C., told reporters he thought it was “pretty clear that he had lost confidence in her,” referring to relationship between the president and Yovanovitch.
Graham also said “I don’t trust a thing Lev Parnas says,” passing over a question from Courthouse News about Graham’s plans to discuss the recording with Trump.
“I’m a politician, you’re not going to get me to believe the president is lying because he’s at a dinner with a guy,” Graham said.
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