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A video released Saturday captures President Donald Trump appearing to say he wants to “get rid” of the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
The recording, which was provided to the PBS NewsHour by a lawyer for one of the people who heard the original conversation, is said to be from a dinner in Washington, D.C., on April 30, 2018– a year before Yovanovitch was actually fired.
Joseph Bondy, an attorney for Lev Parnas, told NewsHour that Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, was at the dinner with the president and several others when Trump said he wanted Yovanovitch out.
About 42 minutes into the hour-long video, Parnas appears to say, “The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start, is we gotta get rid of the ambassador. She’s still left over from the Clinton administration.”
Trump then appears to say, “Where? The ambassador to Ukraine?”
Parnas replies, “Yes. She’s basically walking around telling everybody ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.’”
A few seconds later, Trump appears to say, “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”
Bondy said Parnas attended the dinner along with Igor Fruman, another of Giuliani’s business associates. Both Parnas and Fruman have been indicted on federal charges, including violating campaign finance laws.
Saturday, Bondy said he released the video because he saw it as critical to the public’s understanding. “Given its importance to the national interest, we decided to release this recording in a manner intended to ensure equal public access, and in an effort to provide clarity to the American people and the Senate as to the need to conduct a fair trial, with witnesses and evidence,” he said.
The recording made by Fruman, reviewed and first reported by ABC News, appeared to capture Trump making the comments. Bondy said that after news of the audio recording became public, Parnas searched an online database connected to his iPhone and found a video sent to him by Fruman, from the dinner that was more than an hour long. Bondy has turned the iPhone video over to congressional investigators.
Minutes before discussing Yovanovitch, Trump discussed the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which is part of the reason Ukraine sought military aid from the United States.
In the video, someone is heard saying, “The resources in Ukraine are tremendous.” A voice also says Ukraine is part of pipelines in Europe. In response, Trump appears to ask, “Ukraine has oil?” Someone replies affirmatively. Trump then appears to ask, “Why aren’t companies going in? Too risky?” Someone says, “Exactly. They were supporting Clintons for all these years.”
Seconds later, Trump appears to ask, “How long will [Ukraine] last in a fight with Russia?” Someone replies, “Without us, not very long.” Trump appears to echo the voice saying, “Without us.”
Trump has repeatedly said he does not know Parnas well. He has also attacked Yovanovitch on Twitter by claiming that every place she went “turned bad.”
The video begins with shaky footage of a number of people standing around a dinner table. Then about two and a half minutes in, a voice announces that the president has arrived and the camera shows Trump taking a seat in a dining chair.
Soon after, the camera turns to the ceiling of the room, capturing audio of conversations, and remains in that position for the remainder of the video. Trump and others discuss a number of other topics including international trade deals, negotiating with countries like China and Argentina and trying to find a peace deal in the Middle East.
Trump can also be heard criticizing Germany for its energy partnership with Russia and saying other European nations contribute too little to NATO and Ukrainian efforts to combat Russia.
At one point, Trump asks how Ukraine is feeling about the situation with Russia. “Do they feel they are going to be O.K.?” Trump asked.
Others at the dinner say they will be O.K. with U.S. support and tell Trump that Petro Poroshenko, who was then the president of Ukraine but is now facing criminal corruption charges since he left office, is a “good guy.”
Trump turns to the question of U.S. aid to Ukraine.
“It’s always us that has to support everybody? You have to wonder why doesn’t Germany support them? Why aren’t these others?”
“They are supporting Russia,” someone tells Trump. “A lot of countries are backstabbing us and supporting Russia.”
The name “Biden” can be heard mentioned by someone other than Trump, but the context is unclear and the conversation continued to focus on other issues relating to Ukraine.
The release of the video recording comes the day that White House lawyers began their argument in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial. The impeachment process has largely centered on the president’s actions toward Ukraine.
Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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