The former US ambassador to Ukraine was warned that allies of Donald Trump were “looking to hurt” her after she was pushed out of her job, the impeachment inquiry into the president has heard.
Marie Yovanovitch told congressional investigators that a senior Ukrainian official urged her to “watch my back” amid efforts to discredit her, having been recalled from Kiev as Mr Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani pressed Kiev to look into baseless corruption allegations against former vice president Joe Biden.
According to a newly-released transcript from nine hours of verbal evidence she gave to the inquiry, Ms Yovanovitch detailed various attempts by the White House to bad mouth her in Ukraine and the US.
She spoke of her fear that Mr Giuliani and other Trump allies were planning to “do things, including to me” as they ramped up their campaign to have Mr Biden investigated, which peaked when the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart for help during a controversial phone call.
That call on 25 July led to the launch of the impeachment inquiry after a whistleblower raised the alarm, with the president subsequently accused of abusing his power by asking a foreign leader to investigate the man expected to be nominated by Democrats to be his rival in the 2020 presidential election.
Ms Yovanovitch told the inquiry she was “surprised and dismayed” by what she understood of the transcript of the call between Mr Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during which the US president described her as “bad news”.
She added that she felt threatened and perplexed by his remark that she was “going to go through some things”.
Ms Yovanovitch had been forced from her job at the time of the call, the transcript of which has been corroborated by people with first-hand knowledge of the events who have appeared on Capitol Hill.
The impeachment inquiry has been labelled a “witch-hunt” by Mr Trump, who has consistently denied that he or his lawyer have done anything wrong.
As well as speaking about perceived threats against her, Ms Yovanovitch offered new information that suggested the president was directly involved in a phone call with Mr Giuliani and the Ukrainians back in January 2018.
She said she was aware of an interest by Mr Giuliani and his associates in investigating Mr Biden and Burisma, a gas company that the Democrat’s son Hunter was involved with.
Mr Giuliani was said to be in touch with Ukrainian officials “with a view to finding things that could be possibly damaging to a presidential run”, as well as investigating the 2016 election and theories of Ukrainian interference.
She drew a clearer link between Mr Giuliani and the businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who last month were arrested over claims they broke election campaign finance laws.
She understood they were looking to expand their business interests in Ukraine “and that they needed a better ambassador to sort of facilitate their business efforts here”.
The transcript of her evidence was released the day after Republicans were offered the chance to submit written questions to the whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry.
Lawyer Mark Zaid said on Twitter that his client was willing to answer any written questions directly from Republican members of the House of Representatives – other than those querying his identity.
The unexpected move has been viewed as an olive branch to suppress demands by Mr Trump and others for the whistleblower to be unmasked, with the president tweeting that they “must come forward”.
His requests have fallen on deaf ears as the whistleblower is covered by US laws that protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials.
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