Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrived on Capitol Hill on Friday to speak with House investigators as part of an ongoing impeachment inquiry of President Trump, despite the White House’s stated objections and refusal to cooperate with the Democrat-led proceedings.
She did not flinch as she cut past a throng of reporters on her way to a secure room. Yovanovitch was confirmed as ambassador to Ukraine in August 2016 but recalled in May, after conservative activists — including Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani — accused her of being biased against the president. State Department officials have said the accusations against the career diplomat are baseless.
She is one of several current and former diplomats whom the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have identified as witnesses in their probe into whether Trump leveraged U.S. military aid and official diplomatic interaction to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s political rivals.
The panels have issued subpoenas to the White House, Giuliani, two of his business associates and several Cabinet-level officials — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell T. Vought — requesting materials related to the administration’s interactions with Ukraine.
But to date, the panels have recorded only one deposition — with former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who quit his post hours after he was requested to appear for a deposition. At his session earlier this month, Volker turned over a series of text messages he exchanged with Giuliani, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and senior U.S. diplomats including Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Sondland, whose planned deposition the State Department blocked earlier this week, has since been subpoenaed as well. His lawyers, Robert Luskin and Kwame Manley, said Friday that Sondland intends to comply with the subpoena and appear before the committees next Thursday, although he would not turn over the documents lawmakers have requested.
“By federal law and regulation, the State Department has sole authority to produce such documents, and Ambassador Sondland hopes the materials will be shared with the Committees in advance of his Thursday testimony,” his lawyers said in a statement.
Volker’s text messages pertain to the weeks before and after a July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, in which the American president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to look into the purported involvement of Ukrainians in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the role that former vice president Joseph Biden’s son Hunter Biden played on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.
Democrats have seized on how Trump asked Zelensky to “do us a favor ” when the Ukrainian president brought up the subject of military aid that had been withheld, according to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House. Democrats allege that is evidence of a quid pro quo and an abuse of office.
Yovanovitch’s term as ambassador to Ukraine ended before that period. But she is expected to be asked about what machinations she observed by others in the Trump administration regarding Ukraine, as well as efforts by Giuliani and others to dig up dirt on the Bidens. She is also expected to be asked about the circumstances that led to her own ouster.
Yovanovitch’s early departure stunned career diplomats who had been planning high-level internal meetings for her that were scrapped because she would no longer be serving in the position.
The resignation this week of Michael McKinley, a career diplomat and senior adviser to Pompeo, came amid rising dissatisfaction inside the State Department at what is seen as Pompeo’s failure to defend his subordinates who became targets in the Ukraine controversy.
According to an indictment that federal prosecutors unsealed Thursday, a Soviet-born associate of Giuliani’s met in the spring of 2018 with a U.S. congressman, who public campaign records indicate was Texas Republican Pete Sessions, to seek “assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.” The indictment says that Giuliani’s associate, Lev Parnas, pushed for Yovanovitch’s ouster “at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”
Sessions, who lost his reelection bid in November 2018, said Thursday that he did not know if he was the congressman mentioned in the indictment and denied any wrongdoing.
Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidential election in April and took office on May 20, the same day Yovanovitch was recalled.