President Donald Trump ordered the removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from her post in Ukraine following complaints by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Yovanovitch, who was recalled months earlier than expected in May 2019, was accused by Giuliani without evidence of trying to undermine the President and blocking efforts to investigate Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden. According to the Wall Street Journal, a person familiar with the matter said that State Department officials were told that her removal was “a priority” for Trump.
Yovanovitch is scheduled to give a deposition to the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees next Friday.
At the time of her removal, the State Department said that she was “concluding her three-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv in 2019 as planned” and that her departure aligned with the presidential transition in Ukraine. Yovanovitch, a career member of the foreign service who has served in ambassadorships under three presidents, was sworn in as ambassador to Ukraine in August 2016.
Asked on Thursday morning why Yovanovitch was recalled, Trump said, “I don’t know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her, but I heard very, very bad things about her for a very long period of time — not good.”
The US President had also disparaged the former ambassador to Ukraine in his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that,” Trump said, according to a White House transcript.
Zelensky, who was elected in April 2019, echoed the US President’s sentiment, saying, “I agree with you 100%.”
“She’s going to go through some things,” Trump added.
Giuliani told the Wall Street Journal that he had reminded the President “of complaints percolating among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations.” Giuliani told the paper that when he mentioned Yovanovitch to Trump in the spring, the President “remembered he had a problem with her earlier and thought she had been dismissed” and was then asked to provide a list of his allegations about the career diplomat again. Giuliani confirmed to CNN on Thursday that he spoke with Trump about Yovanovitch earlier in the year and that someone in the administration called to talk more about his claims.
“I felt the President needed to know this to make a personnel decision,” he told CNN.
Giuliani also claimed to CNN that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called him and asked if he had “anything on paper” regarding the claims about Yovanovitch. A source with knowledge of the situation disputed this claim, saying it was “not accurate.”
Many of the baseless theories Giuliani had about the former ambassador were included in a packet of documents handed over to Congress by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Wednesday.
Giuliani told CNN on Wednesday evening that some of the documents had originated with him. He said that in late March he had “routed” what he called an “outline” of allegations against Biden, as well as Yovanovitch, to Pompeo’s office and that he had sent details of his interviews from earlier in the year with the incumbent and former top prosecutors in Ukraine, who helped provide him with the information in his outline.
“They told me they were going to investigate it,” Giuliani told CNN.
The packet turned over by the inspector general also included internal State Department emails discussing Yovanovitch. Career officials seemed to undertake a concerted effort to shield the then-ambassador to Ukraine from the baseless theories.
Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker and George Kent, a State Department official who oversees Ukraine policy and was previously the deputy chief of mission in Kyiv, sought to provide counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale with facts to counter the conspiratorial narratives being pushed about the career diplomat.
On March 31, Reeker forwarded a list of “fake news driven smear out of Ukraine” and counter-examples to Brechbuhl, writing: “It’s a good summary of the story lines being peddled in the this, with a good balance of facts.”
“Reading through helps with context,” Reeker added. Not long after, he followed up with another email of US coverage on Ukraine to Brechbuhl, highlighting a particular paragraph as an example that “captures the basic fake narrative.”
“(The) assumption that (Yovanovitch) is some kind of ‘liberal outpost … leading a political struggle’ really is without merit or validation,” he wrote.
Former officials who worked with her praised her experience and ability and the diplomatic community has rallied to support her.
Last week, two major groups representing the diplomatic community issued statements in support of the diplomat, with the American Academy of Diplomacy stating that Trump’s comments in his call with Zelensky were “deeply troubling.”
A former State Department official said last week that “the fact that agents of the President, whether they be his son or Giuliani, should somehow be dragged into this mess on behalf of people who are unworthy and dubious at best is really distressing.”
“We saw the knives were out for Masha but it was still shocking that she was forced to depart her post just weeks before she was going to go anyway,” retired US Ambassador James Melville told CNN last week. “That’s just such a sign of disrespect, and almost contempt for career officers and diplomacy.”
Retired US ambassador Nicholas Burns last week described Yovanovich as “extremely effective,” “highly ethical” and “a person of high character.”
Yovanovitch was strongly committed to US foreign policy objectives in Ukraine and outspoken in highlighting corruption in there, according to numerous former officials.
“She understood that corruption was the ‘Achilles heel,’ so to speak, of Ukraine,” a former State Department official who knows Yovanovitch told CNN Thursday prior to the release of the complaint. “And so Masha, by doubling down on corruption and making it kind of her leitmotif of her tenure as ambassador, was doing exactly what she should have been doing and what US policy has been in Ukraine for quite some time.”
Yovanovitch has not responded to requests for comment. She is known to be a very private person, according to a source close with her.