Facing a concerted campaign from Rudy Giuliani and his allies to oust her, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich struggled in vain to get cover from U.S. diplomats, including her boss: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. At one point, according to a transcript of her Oct. 11 deposition in front of congressional impeachment investigators, she was told that sending a flattering tweet about President Donald Trump could save her job.
Before she was recalled from her post in Kyiv in May, Yovanovich was targeted by Giuliani and his associates because she was viewed as an obstacle to their efforts to get the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to open an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings and any role from Ukraine in the 2016 U.S. election. President Trump believed she was “bad news,” according to the memo of his July 25 call with Zelensky, and Giuliani and others in Trump’s orbit had been criticizing her on various platforms.
John Solomon, a much-maligned conservative columnist for The Hill who published a March interview with Yuriy Vitaliyovych, the now former prosecutor general in Ukraine, said Yovanovitch had given him a “do not prosecute” list—an accusation both she and State denied. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., sent out a tweet in March calling her a “joker.”
Alarmed and threatened by these events, Yovanovich contacted top State Department officials—in particular, Under Secretary of State David Hale—in hopes of securing their public support to ward off Giuliani and those working alongside him.
Yovanovich testified that she told Hale she wanted Pompeo to “issue a statement that said, you know, I have his full confidence or something like that, to indicate that I, in fact, am the ambassador in Ukraine, and that I speak for the President, for the Secretary of State, for our country.” She said Hale replied that he would speak with Pompeo, but no statement of support for Yovanovich ever came. The former ambassador testified that later, she heard from Philip Reeker—another top State official—that there was concern that President Trump might undermine a public statement of support for Yovanovich.
Yovanovitch said that Phil Reeker, a senior State Department official, told her after she was recalled from Kyiv that Trump had wanted her out since mid-summer 2018, at least.
“I was shocked,” she said.
Later in her testimony, she said one of Lutsenko’s deputies told the U.S. embassy that Lutsenko and Giuliani first met in June 2018.
Reeker didn’t explain why Trump wanted her out, but she assumed it was because of information Lutsenko shared with Giuliani. Reeker told her that Pompeo had tried to protect her, but that he “was no longer able to do that.” Yovanovich said she asked to meet with Ulrich Brechbuhl, a top State Department lawyer, but he didn’t agree to a meeting.
Yovanovitch said that criticisms of her from conservative media figures eventually became so pronounced that a senior State Department official reached out to Fox News host Sean Hannity about his coverage of her.
“What I was told by 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?’” she told lawmakers. “‘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.’ And I understand that that call was made. I don't know whether it was the Secretary or somebody else in his inner circle. And for a time, you know, things kind of simmered down.”
During this ordeal, Yovanovich did receive guidance from one of the president’s key point men on Ukraine, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. His proposal was that she tweet her support of Trump.
“He said, you know, you need to go big or go home… Tweet out there that you support the President, and that all these are lies and everything else.”
Yovanovich replied that such an approach, as a diplomat, would be inappropriate.
Elsewhere in her 10-hour testimony, Yovanovich revealed other elements of Giuliani’s campaign against her involving the work of two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. She told investigators that she believed the three of them, along with Lutsenko, “were interested in having a different ambassador at post, I guess because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine, or additional business dealings.”
Lutsenko in particular appeared to be a major source of grief for the former ambassador, pushing her to set up meetings for him with prominent U.S. officials. “He would say, I have important information for them,” said Yovanovich. “We don’t have principals meet and, you know, the foreign principal springs new information that may or may not be valid to an American cabinet member, we just don’t do that.”
Yovanovich said that she believed the “information” Lutsenko was attempting to share was “falsehoods about me.” She also added her impression of the prosecutor was that pro-reform Ukrainians and U.S. diplomats interested in those reforms were “not in his interest.”
She also said it appeared that Lutsenko wanted Trump to endorse Ukraine’s then-president, Petro Poroshenko, in his tough re-election campaign in 2019. At the time Lutsenko was helping Giuliani and Poroshenko’s poll numbers were grim.
“And so I think there was always a hope that President Trump would endorse President Poroshenko,” she said. “And so this is something that President Poroshenko wanted. And I think Lutsenko, Mr. Lutsenko, was hoping that maybe, as a result of providing information on that is of interest to Mr. Giuliani that maybe there could be an endorsement.”
Yovanovich’s assessment, if correct, indicates a fairly high comfort level among Poroshenko’s allies with election meddling.