The former ambassador says he was warned to 'take care of my back'

WASHINGTON: It started with a warning to watch over her, that people wanted to hurt her. From there, the former US ambassador. UU. Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told House investigators that it became a chilling campaign to fire her while President Donald Trump and his allies headed to Eastern Europe to gain political advantages at home.

Testimony from Yovanovitch, released Monday, offered a first word-for-word look at the closed-door House impeachment hearings. Inside, Democrats and Republicans are waging a pitched battle over what to make of Trump's efforts to get Ukraine 's leaders to investigate political rival Joe Biden, Biden's son and Democratic activities in the 2016 election.

The transcript came out on the same day that four Trump administration officials defied subpoenas to testify, acting on orders from a White House that is fighting the impeachment investigation with all its might. Among those refusing to testify: John Eisenberg, the lead lawyer at the National Security Council and, by some accounts, the man who ordered a rough transcript of Trump's phone call with Ukraine 's leader moved to a highly restricted computer system.

During nine hours of sometimes emotional testimonies, Yovanovitch detailed the efforts led by Rudy Giuliani and other Trump allies to remove her from her post. The career diplomat, who was retired from her job in May by Trump's order, testified that a senior Ukrainian official told her she really needed to take care of my back.

While the biggest boost in Yovanovitch's testimony was revealed in his opening statement, the 317-page transcript on Monday provided new details.

Yovanovitch offered important threads of information, including the possibility that Trump was directly involved in a phone call with Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, and Ukrainians dating back to January 2018. And he rejected Republican suggestions that he housed opposition to Trump

She had been withdrawn from Kiev before the July 25 telephone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy who is at the center of the political trial investigation. Later, I was surprised and dismayed by what she saw in the transcript of the call, including that Trump had called her bad news. He also said that she will go through some things.

I was surprised, Yovanovitch said, to see that the president would talk about me or any ambassador that way to a foreign counterpart.

When asked about her when she went on a campaign trip on Monday, Trump made a more equivocal comment: I am sure she is a very good woman. I just don't know much about her.

The president of the Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives, Adam Schiff, said that the transcripts of the hearings are being published, so the American public will begin to see for himself. Two were released on Monday, and more will come.

Republicans accused the Democrats of carrying out a unilateral process behind closed doors.

But the transcripts show GOP lawmakers were given time for questioning, which they used to poke at different aspects of the impeachment inquiry. Some Republicans criticized the process as unfair, while others tried to redirect witnesses to their own questions about Biden's work on Ukraine corruption issues while he was vice president.

In public, some Republicans say the president's actions toward Ukraine , though not ideal, are certainly not impeachable.

Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chief Republican on the oversight committee, defended Yovanovitch's expulsion so clearly within the president's prerogative.

President Trump has the authority to name who he wants in any ambassadorial position. It is a call only to the president of the United States as commander in chief, Jordan said.

Yovanovich was removed from Kiev when Giuliani pressured Ukrainian officials to investigate allegations of unsubstantiated corruption against Biden and his son Hunter, who was involved with Burisma, a gas company there.

Giuliani's role in Ukraine was central to Yovanovitch's testimony. She said she was aware of an interest by the Trump lawyer and his associates in investigating Biden and Burisma "with a view to finding things that could be possibly damaging to a presidential run,'' as well as investigating the 2016 election and theories that it was Ukraine , and not Russia, that interfered.

However, when asked directly if Giuliani was promoting research on Burisma and Biden, Yovanovitch said: It was not entirely clear to me what was happening.

More directly, she drew a link between Giuliani and two businessmen -- Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have been indicted in the US on charges stemming from campaign donations -- as part of the campaign to oust her. 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.''

Yovanovitch said was told by Ukrainian officials last November or December that Giuliani was in touch with Ukraine 's former top prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, "and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me.''

She said she was told that Lutsenko was looking to hurt me in the United States.

said he sought the advice of Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union , after an article appeared in The Hill newspaper about Giuliani's complaints against her. Sondland said: You have to go big or go home, and advised him to tweet out there that supports the president.

Yovanovitch said he felt he could not follow that advice as a nonpartisan government official.

The former envoy stressed to investigators that she was not disloyal to the president. She answered "no'' when asked point blank if she'd ever "badmouthed'' Trump in Ukraine , and said she felt US policy in Ukraine "actually got stronger'' because of Trump's decision to provide lethal assistance to the country _ military aid that later was held up by the White House as it pushed for investigations into Trump's political foes.

Long hours in his testimony, they asked Yovanovitch why it was a thorn in his side that Giuliani and others wanted to be fired.

Honestly, he said, it's a mystery to me.

Yovanovitch, still employed by the State Department, is on a scholarship at Georgetown University.

She told investigators that the campaign against her, which included a retweeted article, undermined her ability to serve as a credible ambassador and wanted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue a statement in her defense. But no statement was issued.

The political trial panels also unveiled Monday the testimony of Michael McKinley, former Pompeo senior advisor.

McKinley, a 37-year-old career diplomat, testified that he decided to resign from his position as principal advisor to Pompeo after his repeated efforts for the State Department to issue a statement of support for Yovanovitch after the Trump-Zelenskiy phone transcript. The call was released. To see the challenge of someone who I know is a serious and committed colleague in the way it was done, the alarm woke me up, he said.

McKinley said he was already worried about politicization in the State Department, and that the refusal to publicly support Yovanovitch convinced him that it was time to leave.

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