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Impeachment Depositions Cast Light on a State Department Driven by Devotion to Trump

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On Monday, House Democrats made public the first two transcripts from their closed-door impeachment inquiry hearings, shedding light on the rank partisanship besieging the State Department—driven by the desire not to cross President Donald Trump.

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, described an environment where she faced bogus criticisms from Trump allies, leading to her abrupt removal in May. Those in the president’s circle, including Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, encouraged Trump to remove Yovanovitch for refusing to pressure leaders in Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his family. Trump is now the subject of an impeachment probe, after telling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that he would withhold congressionally-authorized aid until Zelenskiy agreed to dig up dirt on Biden, who is a frontrunner in the 2020 presidential election.

As conspiracies swirled that Yovanovitch was trash talking Trump, Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor who became the ambassador to the European Union, allegedly told her to “tweet out there that you support the President” in order to retain her post. “It was advice that I did not see how I could implement in my role as an Ambassador, and as a Foreign Service Officer.”

But while Yovanovitch—who has served in four Republican and two Democratic administrations—attempted to maintain a sense of partisan neutrality, the State Department declined to show her support for fear of how Trump might respond.

Michael McKinley, a former aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, testified that he urged the secretary to come to Yovanovitch’s defense as the president and his allies continued to publicly denigrate her.

Yet Pompeo refused, according to McKinley.

Yovanovitch says that, in February, a Ukrainian official told her that she should be wary of Giuliani and that she needed to “watch [her] back.” In May, the ambassador received a phone call from Carol Perez, the director general of the Foreign Service, telling her that she “needed to be on the next plane home to Washington.” It was “about [her] security,” she said.

On their phone call two months later, Trump would go on to tell Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch is “going to go through some things.” She told investigators that she felt threatened by the remark, and that she is still “very concerned.”

But beneath her partisan removal, both Yovanovitch and McKinley expressed some sense of incredulity that Giuliani and related Trump associates sought Ukraine’s help in probing Biden and his family in the first place.

When asked if the move was “inconsistent with U.S. interests,” Yovanovitch replied that the short answer was “probably yes,” but that the entire thing was “unprecedented.”

“Let me just say that I think that American elections should be for Americans to decide,” she said.

McKinley gave a more full-throated response, chalking his resignation up to the overt partisanship that now cripples the federal government’s operations. That was epitomized, he said, by the efforts to leverage foreign missions for political opposition research, as well as the State Department’s unwillingness to help one of their own. “I think the combination was a pretty good reason to decide enough, that I had—I had no longer a useful role to play.”

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