WASHINGTON, Oct 11 — The former US ambassador to Ukraine who Donald Trump has called “bad news” arrived on Capitol Hill to testify today in the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into the president, while another US envoy agreed to testify next week even as the White House sought to stonewall the investigation.
Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly recalled from Ukraine in May, is scheduled to give a deposition to House investigators probing Trump in a scandal that has cast a pall over his presidency. She did not respond to questions posed by reporters.
The Democratic lawmakers leading the inquiry were waiting to see if Yovanovitch showed up after the White House said earlier in the week it would refuse to cooperate with an inquiry that the Republican president has termed “a kangaroo court.”
A career diplomat who has served as US ambassador to two other countries, Yovanovitch’s stint as ambassador in Kiev was cut short when she was recalled to Washington in May as Trump allies levelled unsubstantiated charges of disloyalty and other allegations against her.
According to media reports, Trump took the action after complaints by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others that she had obstructed Giuliani’s efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate Biden. Democrats have called her removal politically motivated.
Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, will comply with a House subpoena and testify next Thursday before the committees leading the impeachment inquiry, his lawyers said.
But Sondland is not authorised to release the documents the House committees have sought, his lawyers said, adding that he hopes the material will be shared with the committees before his appearance. Sondland was initially scheduled to testify before the House committees on Tuesday, but was blocked by the Trump administration from appearing.
Sondland, a Trump political donor who contributed US$1 million to the Republican president’s inauguration committee, exchanged text messages about Washington’s relationship with Ukraine with other top diplomats. House Democrats received a cache of the texts as part of their impeachment inquiry.
Sondland was a Seattle-based hotelier until Trump nominated him to his position as ambassador in May. He was confirmed by the US Senate in June and presented his credentials at the European Commission in July.
The inquiry was launched after a whistleblower complaint from a person within the US intelligence community about a July 25 phone call, in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival, Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
Biden, the former US vice president, is a leading Democratic contender for the right to face Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.
Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring a vulnerable foreign ally to dig up dirt on a domestic opponent for his own political benefit. Trump has denied he did anything wrong on the call.
Yesterday, two foreign-born Florida businessmen who had helped Giuliani investigate Biden were arrested in what prosecutors said was a scheme to illegally funnel money to a pro-Trump election committee and other US political candidates.
The pair, Ukraine-born Lev Parnas and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, were arrested at an airport outside Washington carrying one-way tickets to Vienna. Prosecutors said they conspired to contribute foreign money, including at least US$1 million from an unidentified Russian businessman, to candidates for federal and state offices to buy influence.
The investigation of Trump could lead to the approval of articles of impeachment – or formal charges – against the president in the House. A trial on whether to remove him from office would then be held in the US Senate, where the Republicans who control the chamber have shown little appetite for ousting the president.
The testimony from Yovanovitch is the first of several depositions of key figures planned by the House committees spearheading the probe.
Yovanovitch became the target in March of allegations – vehemently denied by the State Department – that she gave a Ukrainian prosecutor a list of people not to prosecute.
Trump allies called for her removal, accusing her of criticizing the president to foreign officials, something current and former colleagues found inconceivable. Giuliani alleged she blocked efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
According to a White House summary, Trump described her as “bad news” to Zelenskiy in the July call in which he sought the Ukrainian leader’s help to investigate the Bidens. “She’s going to go through some things,” Trump added.
One of the foreign-born businessmen arrested yesterday, Parnas, sought the help of a US congressman – identified by a person familiar with the matter as Republican Pete Sessions – to get Trump to remove Yovanovitch, according to the indictment.
Michael McKinley, a career diplomat who has served as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s policy adviser since May 2018, has resigned, the Washington Post reported. His departure comes with Pompeo deeply enmeshed in the Ukraine controversy. — Reuters