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In impeachment deposition, Yovanovitch links Trump to her ouster

Marie Yovanovitch, the former Ukrainian ambassador forced from her position in May, testified on Capitol Hill Friday despite being denied permission to do so by the State Department. In her prepared opening statement, Yovanovitch blasted the Trump administration for leveraging “unfounded and false claims” to justify her ouster. Lisa Desjardins reports and joins Judy Woodruff and Yamiche Alcindor.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Forced out. The former American ambassador to Ukraine tells lawmakers that President Trump pressed to have her fired.

    Lisa Desjardins breaks down how her testimony is the latest twist in the escalating impeachment inquiry.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    From her first steps on Capitol Hill today, former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch entered and added to a political drama.

    The career diplomat arrived even after the State Department told her last night she wasn't permitted to speak to lawmakers voluntarily. The solution? House Democrats quickly issued a subpoena, allowing her to say she was legally compelled to attend.

    Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in May, amidst charges from Rudy Giuliani and in conservative media that she had spoken against the president. She blasted back at those ideas in her opening remarks behind closed doors today.

    Multiple news outlets obtained them. She said her removal was based on — quote — "unfounded and false claims." And Yovanovitch said: "The State Department has been attacked and hollowed out from within." And if the diplomatic corps is not rebuilt," she fears that will harm our nation's interests, perhaps irreparably.

    Yovanovitch is central to much of the impeachment investigation. Her ousting was cited in the whistle-blower's complaint at the heart of that inquiry. During the July 25 phone call that triggered that complaint, President Trump spoke out against her to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said — quote — "The woman was bad news" and added: "She's going to go through some things."

    And, according to an indictment handed up yesterday, also working to remove her were Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, two men who say they were working for Rudy Giuliani and the president. The federal indictment charges, Parnas' efforts to remove the ambassador — that's Yovanovitch — were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian officials.

    Also today, news that Gordon Sondland will testify next week. Sondland is the ambassador to the E.U., and text messages show he was involved in discussions about President Trump and what he wanted from Ukraine.

    Last night, Mr. Trump campaigned in Minneapolis, leveling more criticism at his opponents in Congress.

  • President Donald Trump:

    These are bad people. My phone call, as an example, with the president of Ukraine was perfect.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The president rallied supporters, telling them their views are at stake.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They want to erase your vote, like it never existed. They want to erase your voice, and they want to erase your future.

    (BOOING)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The president is holding another rally tonight in Louisiana.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa is here with me now, along with our own Yamiche Alcindor, who has been tracking today's developments from the White House.

    So, Lisa, let's go back to Ambassador — former Ambassador Yovanovitch. Tell us again who she is. And what more do we know about what she said today?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, she is still with the State Department, so, in doing this, she was kind of bucking the high command, although getting a subpoena to her gave her a legal reason for showing up.

    I'm going to come back to that.

    But her statement, Judy, was extraordinary on a few levels. She also fired back and said she has never, for example, met Hunter Biden. She never advocated on behalf of Hillary Clinton or President Obama, as some of her critics have alleged.

    And, Judy, she went on to lay out her suspicion that the reason she was being pushed out by some — I think she's implying Rudy Giuliani's associates — was for their financial interests. She says she was fighting corruption in Ukraine and that that was a problem for some who were trying to make use of that corruption for their own financial gain.

    Judy, she's also says she's incredulous over the fact she was removed overall. This is all very important also for two other reasons. One, she's laying out a case here about corruption potentially within the Trump administration.

    Two, Judy, she submitted to this subpoena. She complied with the subpoena. The more that Trump administration officials don't do that, and some like her do comply, Democrats will try and build a case for obstruction of justice for that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much.

    Yamiche, you have been talking to folks at the White House. What are they saying in their defense? And what do they see as their strategy going forward here?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump is really pushing back on the ambassador's claims that he personally was pushing to have her removed from her post.

    Today on the White House lawn, the president said: I don't know this woman. I'm sure she's wonderful, but I have nothing to do with her.

    So the president is trying to put distance between himself and the ambassador's claims.

    Now, Stephen Miller, the president's senior adviser, was out today speaking to reporters today. And he told us that he really believes that this is all part of partisan hatred toward the president. So their strategy really is to say that the Democrats are doing this because they don't want the president to be in office, they want to overturn the 2016 election.

    So, it's a lot of messaging from the White House on that front. But Democrats, of course, push back and say that that's not what this is about. This is about getting to the truth.

    Add to that Stephen Miller, when asked over and over again whether or not he would personally comply with a subpoena to testify before the House, he said, I don't want to answer and refused to answer.

    And when the president was asked, well, what do you make of Ambassador Sondland coming next week and Ambassador Yovanovitch coming today, he said — kind of shrugged his fingers and said, you know what, I don't like anybody testifying. I don't want anyone to testify.

    So the White House's strategy still is to try to block people from testifying and to try to not comply with any document requests. But the president, in some ways, is still stuck in this position where ambassadors can come and say that they are legally obligated to come before the House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, what are at this point the next steps for the Democrats in Congress?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Democrats just in the last hour got off a conference call, House Democrats, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, talking about their messaging.

    Remember, Congress comes back next week. So the dynamics are going to be critical when lawmakers from both parties return. They want to have a serious look at impeachment. They're still going to try and get out that they're working on other issues. They want that to be part of the narrative.

    It's going to be difficult when you're talking about impeachment, but they're going to try.

    Judy, something else going on today, I have learned and some others have reported as well that House Republicans have a new concern about the president. And they are moving on it. And it has to do with Turkey. House Republicans are joining with House Democrats on the Foreign Affairs Committee to propose some legislation that would sanction Turkey.

    This would be beyond what the president and the treasury secretary have been talking to. It would be much sharper sanctions. This would be a rebuke of the president's policies. We're waiting now for that legislation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And speaking of Turkey, Yamiche, we saw that the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, announced today that they are putting in place sanctions that they could impose on Turkey down the line.

    What do we know about that, the thinking that went into this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, both Steve Mnuchin and the president both say that these are authorized sanctions, but they are not actually issuing these sanctions.

    So, this is really the Trump administration and President Trump himself responding to that bipartisan criticism that Lisa is talking about. The president feels as though his party is definitely making noise about this and sustained noise about this.

    So he wants to say, look, if Turkey gets out of line, we have something ready to do that. On the White House lawn, the president said, I'm ready to wipe out Turkey's entire economy, if needed.

    That said, when the administration is pushed to say, well, how is this going to help the Kurds and how is this going to help people, our former allies, who are now fearing for their lives, they said, well, it's a complicated military situation there, and we can't really answer that question.

    So the president's really trying his best here to try to deal with some of this criticism. But most people are saying that these do not go far enough.

    And, obviously, as you can see, in the House, and in Congress, lawmakers themselves are banding together to do even more than the president is doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Again, so much to follow. It has been an extraordinary week.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

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