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Key insights from transcripts of depositions with Amb. Yovanovitch, Michael McKinley

Monday marked a milestone in the House impeachment inquiry, as almost 500 pages’ worth of transcripts from two of the investigation’s closed-door witness depositions were publicly released. Lisa Desjardins, Nick Schifrin and Yamiche Alcindor join Amna Nawaz to discuss new details revealed by the testimonies of former Amb. Marie Yovanovitch and former State Department official Michael McKinley.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The first transcripts from closed-door depositions at the heart of the Ukraine impeachment inquiry are out, as four potential witnesses refuse to testify today, despite having been served subpoenas.

    House impeachment investigators today released almost 500 pages of testimony from a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a former adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

    "NewsHour" correspondents Lisa Desjardins and Nick Schifrin have been digging through both of them.

    And they both join me here now.

    Welcome.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you very much.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Five hundred pages.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, did a lot of reading.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You and our incredible "NewsHour" team have been digging through this all day.

    Nick, just start us off here. What did we learn from these depositions?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Three main takeaways, Amna.

    One, we learned more details of what really became an unofficial foreign policy toward Ukraine led by Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, allegedly for business reasons.

    Number two, we learned how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was repeatedly asked to defend Foreign Service officers, specifically that former ambassador to Ukraine you just mentioned, and how he refused.

    And, number three, we learned more details about how Giuliani really led a smear campaign, how he did that and with whom, against that ambassador.

    So let's talk about the ambassador. Her name is Marie Yovanovitch. And her transcript was released today. She's the former ambassador to Ukraine. She served as a Foreign Service officer for 33 years across both Republican and Democratic administrations.

    Let's frame some of her testimony. She led the Trump administration's, President Trump's policy on Ukraine, which had two aspects, one, give Ukraine lethal weapons in order to deter Russia, and, number two, try and get at corruption, endemic corruption, inside Ukraine.

    That was the official policy. She ran into a buzz saw. And that was really led by Rudy Giuliani, and that was this unofficial foreign policy. At one point, she was asked about that difference by New Jersey Democrat, former State Department official Tom Malinowski.

    This is what he said: "In a sense, that parallel policy, no pun intended, started to trump the official policy at that point?" Answer: "In retrospect, yes."

    And that is the core of her testimony.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Lisa, that name, Rudy Giuliani, this is the president's personal attorney, we should mention, comes up a lot here.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. Right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    How I he related? What did learn from the depositions?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I think, to let viewers know what we're doing, we're going to try and go through this in terms of the themes and try and build what this told us about the world today.

    And Giuliani is at the center of all of this, exactly as Nick said. Ambassador Yovanovitch's testimony really gave insight into what she thinks the reasons were Rudy Giuliani was doing this.

    And they were not U.S. national interests, she testified. She gave two reasons, the first, business. And she pointed to two of his associates, men named Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

    And look at this quote. This is what she testified to Congress. She said: "Those two associates had business interests, their business interests in Ukraine through this energy company, and they needed a better ambassador to sort out or facilitate those business interests."

    Now, the second reason that we found in her testimony today that she believes she was pushed out as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was the interests of a specific powerful Ukrainian. We're going to show him.

    His name is Yuriy Lutsenko. There he is. He's a former prosecutor general just until August 29. Just a few months ago, he left office. He is a fascinating character, originally a reformer. He's a man who had been jailed and beaten for being a reformer in past administrations.

    But now he's come into power. And Yovanovitch testified that she was pushing back because he was not actually reforming, that, under him, his office was not becoming a place for reform, and that Giuliani and he had connected, and that he was going through Giuliani to try and push her out. That's her testimony.

    Now, we have a special correspondent in Ukraine. Of course we do. We're "NewsHour." We're going to hear more from him later.

    But Simon Ostrovsky sent us this quote. He's been texting with this man who plays a big role in the testimony, Lutsenko. And Lutsenko responded to our special correspondent and said: "I don't comment on fantasies and lies."

    He says it is all lies. So there is a lot to watch. And Lutsenko's name is in this document more than any other.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Nick, it's important to point out, as Lisa mentioned, we can underscore Marie Yovanovitch was forced out of her role.

    What else did we learn from this about why she was fired?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Right.

    So she talks about how there was a campaign in conservative media, by the president, by the president's son, and led by Rudy Giuliani, to get her fired. And that came as a surprise to her, because she really testifies how she was really in the dark throughout that entire campaign.

    And at one point, she says, hey, look, it would be great to get a little bit of backup here, basically get a little defense, how can we quiet this campaign? And she's told that it wasn't going to be the State Department to quiet that campaign. It was going to be the president's allies in conservative media, specifically one.

    This is part of her statement: "The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, or perhaps somebody around him was going to place a call to Mr. Hannity on FOX News to say, you know, what is going on? I mean, do you have proof these kinds of allegations or not? If you have proof, you know, tell me, and, if not, stop."

    That call was made to Mr. Hannity, according to this testimony, and the allegations did stop for a couple of days. And then they came back. And that's where we get two examples where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked to defend this woman with 33 years of experience, and where he refused.

    First example, State declined to release a statement that she asked for defending her because they feared — quote — "President Trump would tweet something and pull the rug from underneath the State Department." That's the first time.

    The second time, after it became clear that President Trump disparaged her during the call, the July 25 call with President Zelensky of Ukraine, he talks about her with Zelensky. Zelensky disparaged her as well.

    There are efforts inside the State Department to get Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again to release a statement defending her. And that is where Mike McKinley comes in. This is the second testimony released today, former senior adviser to Pompeo, ambassador to four countries, across Democratic and Republican administrations.

    He asked Pompeo three times to defend Yovanovitch in the days after we learned that President Trump disparaged her on that call. Pompeo refused, and McKinley resigned.

    And so there is this resentment in the senior aspects of the State Department that Yovanovitch talks about. And this is also the core of her testimony. She says in her opening statement "We see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within" because of what she went through.

    She says, "In such circumstances, the only interests that are going to be served are those of our strategic adversaries, like Russia, that spread chaos and attack the institutions and norms that the U.S. helped resist."

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They're such strong words. We were both reading that and saying, wow, this is the testimony before Congress.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I apologize, just less than a minute left here, but help me put this into context now.

    How does all of this fit into the impeachment inquiry?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. That's what this is about, right, an impeachment inquiry.

    So, let's look at really quickly — well, actually, I will tell you. There's two things. One, she touched on the idea of these investigations the president wants, one, the investigation into whether Ukraine itself was behind the 2016 meddling.

    She said no. Republicans continued to ask that. She said, no, I found that never to be credible.

    Now then the other idea, this idea of an investigation into the Bidens and the energy company that Joe Biden's son is on, she also said that she — she wasn't part of that. But she said, listen, investigations like that in Ukraine, you should know, are used as political leverage. They're kept open so that you can keep your thumb on someone involved.

    Should also say she said some things supportive to the president, including she said he had been concerned about corruption in Ukraine for a long time.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lisa Desjardins and Nick Schifrin pulling out some fascinating details from the first 500 pages we have gotten. More testimony, we should mention, coming out tomorrow.

    Thank you to you both.

    For more on how the president and his allies are reacting to all of this, our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, joins us now from San Diego tonight. She's there on assignment.

    Yamiche, good to see you there.

    I want to ask you about — we heard the president just a little while ago react to some of the news of the day. Take a listen to what he had to say.

  • Question:

    Was Marie Yovanovitch the target of a smear campaign by…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • President Donald Trump:

    I really don't know her.

    But if you look at the transcripts, the president of Ukraine wasn't a fan of hers either. I mean, he didn't exactly say glowing things. I'm sure she's a very fine woman. I just don't know much about her.

  • Question:

    She told lawmakers she had concerns about Rudy Giuliani's role.

  • President Donald Trump:

    But you have to take a look at the transcript, because the president of Ukraine wasn't favorably inclined.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yamiche, you have been tracking the president's reaction through this entire inquiry so far.

    What do you make of what he had to say today?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump was fiercely defending himself on the White House lawn, but he was using a largely misleading claim.

    If you look at the July 25 call memo released by the White House, the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, says to President Trump, "Thank you for being the first person to tell me that the former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was a bad ambassador. And I agree with you 100 percent."

    So what you have is the president essentially being implicated as the person who told the president of Ukraine that that was a bad ambassador.

    Now, it's also important to note what allies of the president are saying today.

    Here's what Jim Jordan — he's a Republican on the Oversight Committee — had to say today about these transcripts.

  • Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio:

    The two individuals whose transcripts were released today, frankly, have not much to do with the — with the underlying issue.

    Ambassador — Mr. McKinley had nothing to do with the situation that — that's sort of the basis of what the Democrats are doing.

    And Ambassador Yovanovitch had already been recalled and was no longer in Ukraine when the call took place, when the aid question was even present.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He went on to say that the process was really unfair and that Democrats are not following essentially due process for the president.

    Now, I had a long conversation with another ally of the president, Matthew Gaetz. He's a Republican who sits on the House Judiciary Committee. And he told me that he thinks these transcripts being released today was really part of an orchestrated effort by Democrats to negatively impact the president.

    He also says that the process wasn't fair and that Republicans should have more say in how things are going, and that the president's lawyers should also be involved more in this impeachment inquiry.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yamiche, as you heard from Nick and Lisa, these depositions are offering us a firsthand look from people at the heart of this impeachment inquiry, with a lot of details about things we didn't know before.

    Going through those, what did you learn today, or what can you share with us that you can pluck out as interesting in terms of how the president operates?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    These transcripts were really a window into how President Trump and this White House allegedly operate.

    You had FOX News mentioned more than a dozen times. You had Twitter mentioned more than a dozen times. And Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, she said first that she was encouraged by Gordon Sondland, who was the E.U. ambassador, the European Union ambassador, to praise President Trump via Twitter.

    She was also told that she needed to leave Ukraine because President Trump might tweet about her. So we talk a lot about President Trump using Twitter, but this is really Twitter sitting at the center of our foreign policy.

    Then you also have the president allegedly being on the phone call with a president of Ukraine talking about our — a U.S. ambassador, essentially saying that she's not someone who can be trusted. And the president of Ukraine is essentially saying, you're the person who's encouraging me not to look at this ambassador in a positive way.

    Then you have the president allegedly getting on the phone with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and again mixing foreign policy and his own political interests, allegedly.

    And Democrats essentially show that this is an unorthodox way and really, they would say, an unfair way for the White House to operate. President Trump, of course, thinks that he did nothing wrong here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, joining us tonight from San Diego.

    Thank you, Yamiche.

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