Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was removed from her post by President Donald Trump, spent much of her Friday before the House Intelligence Committee disputing allegations that she worked against Trump while in Kyiv and describing in vivid detail the shock of being targeted by the president.
The career diplomat is a key witness in the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, and the drama surrounding the hearing was only fueled by tweets Friday from Trump blasting Yovanovitch, who said she already felt threatened by the president.
“This is part of a pattern to intimidate witnesses,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., said after the hearing.
Yovanovitch told the committee that she never told U.S. embassy employees to ignore Washington’s orders because Trump would soon be impeached, that she did not work on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, and that she has never spoken with Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, whom Trump wanted Kyiv to investigate for his lucrative role at a Ukrainian gas company.
“Partisanship of this type is not compatible with the role of a career Foreign Service Officer,” Yovanovitch said during the second day of public impeachment hearings focusing on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch retires from State Department
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a central figure in the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, retired from the State Department on Friday after three decades in the foreign service, a person familiar with her plans confirmed.
Yovanovitch testified in the U.S. House of Representatives that her reputation was smeared by Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who seized on disinformation that she had been badmouthing the president and blocking corruption investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
She denied all the allegations under oath, and her colleagues have testified that she was the victim of disinformation tactics that had been used on U.S. officials for years.
Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her post last year, had most recently been serving as a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, although she was not teaching classes this semester. The retirement was first reported by NPR.
She had been a foreign service officer for 33 years and served in six presidential administrations, four Republican and two Democrat.
She was appointed as an ambassador three times, twice by President George W. Bush and once by President Barack Obama. She served as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and then Ukraine during her career.
Indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas has said that Trump ordered Yovanovitch's removal at a dinner after Parnas said he told the president that she had been bad-mouthing him, and that the president ordered her fired several times before she was recalled.
Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow earlier this month that he was sorry for having believed Yovanovitch had bad-mouthed Trump and regrets certain things he did, "like hurting the ambassador."
Parnas said the effort to get the Ukrainians to announce an investigation involved the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, on whose board Hunter Biden served during his father's vice presidency.
Parnas said the effort was "all about" the Bidens and "never about corruption." He also said the Burisma inquiry was the sole reason Yovanovitch was recalled. "That was the only motivation," he said.
In the impeachment trial Friday, the Senate failed to pass an effort to call witnesses and his acquittal in the Republican-controlled chamber seems likely next week.
The articles of impeachment allege Trump abused the power of his office to pressure Ukraine’s president to announce investigations into the Bidens for his own political gain, and obstruction of Congress.
Abigail Williams is a producer and reporter for NBC News covering the State Department.
Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.
Former American ambassador
Official portrait, 2015
August 29, 2016 – May 20, 2019
|Preceded by||Geoffrey Pyatt|
|Succeeded by||Joseph Pennington (acting)|
September 22, 2008 – June 9, 2011
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||John Evans|
|Succeeded by||John Heffern|
February 4, 2005 – February 4, 2008
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Stephen Young|
|Succeeded by||Tatiana Gfoeller|
Marie Louise Yovanovitch
(1958-11-11) November 11, 1958 (age 62)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
|Education||Princeton University (BA)|
National Defense University (MS)
Marie Louise "Masha" Yovanovitch (born November 11, 1958) is an American diplomat and senior member of the United States Foreign Service. She served in multiple State Department posts, including Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (2004–2005); U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (2005–2008); U.S. Ambassador to Armenia (2008–2011); Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (2012–2013); and Ambassador to Ukraine (2016–2019). Yovanovitch is a diplomat in residence at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. On January 31, 2020 it was reported that she had retired from the State Department.
While ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch was the target of a conspiracy-driven smear campaign, amplified by President Donald Trump and his allies. In May 2019, Trump abruptly recalled Yovanovitch from her post following claims by Trump surrogates that she was undermining Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former vice president and 2020 U.S. presidential election candidate Joe Biden. Yovanovitch's removal preceded a July 2019 phone call by Trump in which he attempted to pressure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden. Following a whistleblower complaint about the phone call and attempts to cover it up, an impeachment inquiry against Trump was initiated by the House of Representatives. Yovanovitch testified in several House committee depositions in the inquiry.
Early life and education
Marie Yovanovitch is the daughter of Mikhail Yovanovitch and Nadia (Theokritoff) Yovanovitch, who fled the Soviet Union and later the Nazis. She was born in Canada, moved to Connecticut at age three, and became a naturalized American citizen at age eighteen. She grew up speaking Russian.
Yovanovitch graduated from the Kent School in Connecticut in 1976; her parents were longtime foreign language teachers at the school. Yovanovitch earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and Russian studies from Princeton University in 1980. As part of her degree, Yovanovitch completed a 94-page long senior thesis titled "The Excommunication of Tolstoy. A Personal and Political Event." She studied at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow (1980) and was awarded a Master of Science degree from the National Defense University's National War College in 2001.
Early diplomatic career
Yovanovitch joined the United States Foreign Service in 1986. Her first foreign assignment, in Ottawa, was followed by overseas assignments including Moscow, London, and Mogadishu. From May 1998 to May 2000, she served as the Deputy Director of the Russian Desk in the U.S. Department of State.
From August 2001 to June 2004, as a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, she was the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. From August 2004 to May 2005, she was the senior advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Yovanovitch also served as International Advisor and Deputy Commandant at the National Defense University's Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy and as dean of the School of Language Studies within the U.S. Department of State's Foreign Service Institute.
U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Armenia and subsequent service
Yovanovitch is "well known in diplomatic circles for her measured demeanor and diligence in representing both Republican and Democratic administrations." Yovanovitch was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan on November 20, 2004; she presented her credentials on February 4, 2005, and remained in this post until February 4, 2008. Her nomination as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan was confirmed by the Senate on a voice vote.
Yovanovitch was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Armenia on August 4, 2008; she presented her credentials on September 22, 2008, and remained in this post until June 9, 2011. Her nomination as ambassador to Armenia was again confirmed by the Senate on a voice vote. During confirmation hearings, Yovanovitch acknowledged that Turks had committed mass killings, rapes, and expulsions of Armenians between 1915 and 1923, calling this "one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century," but, in line with U.S. policy, declined to use the phrase Armenian genocide, saying that the use of this politically sensitive phrase was a policy decision that could be made only by the highest-ranking U.S. officials, namely President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
While in Armenia, Yovanovitch oversaw a staff of almost 400 Americans and Armenians in one of the largest embassy compounds in the world. She pushed Armenian authorities to give fair treatment to Armenians arrested in post-election protests in 2008. Yovanovitch received the Secretary's Diplomacy in Human Rights Award, a department award honoring ambassadors who demonstrate "extraordinary commitment to defending human rights." She was also known for her work supporting democratic development and the advancement of women.
After returning to Washington in 2012 and 2013, Yovanovitch served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. In that position, Yovanovitch was a key State Department headquarters contact for U.S. diplomats in Europe, working with, among others, U.S. Ambassador to PolandLee Feinstein, regarding issues such as U.S. missile defense in Poland. Yovanovitch received the department's Senior Foreign Service Performance Award six times and the Superior Honor Award five times. She was promoted to the rank of Career Minister in 2016.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
Yovanovitch was announced as the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Ukraine on May 18, 2016, to replace Geoff Pyatt; the nomination was sent to the Senate the next day, and confirmed by voice vote of the Senate on July 14, 2016. Having been sworn in on August 12, Yovanovitch arrived in Ukraine on August 22 and presented her credentials on August 29, 2016.
Anti-corruption work and other activities
Yovanovitch was respected within the national security community for her efforts to encourage Ukraine to tackle corruption, and during her tenure had sought to strengthen the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which had been created to bolster efforts to fight corruption in Ukraine; these efforts earned Yovanovitch some enemies within the country. In a March 2019 speech to the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, Yovanovitch said that the Ukrainian government was not making sufficient progress to combat corruption, saying: "It is increasingly clear that Ukraine's once-in-a-generation opportunity for change has not yet resulted in the anti-corruption or rule of law reforms that Ukrainians expect or deserve." On April 1, 2019 Yovanovitch spoke at an anti-corruption conference where she thanked Ukrainians for their courage and commitment to end corruption.
Smear campaign against Yovanovitch and ousting
Main article: Trump–Ukraine scandal
As U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch was the target of a conspiracy-driven smear campaign. Allegations against her were then made by Trump's personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, as well as conservative commentator John Solomon of The Hill and Ukraine's then-top prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who accused her of being part of a conspiracy involving anti-corruption probes in Ukraine and efforts by the Trump administration to investigate ties between Ukrainian officials and the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign. Lutsenko, who has been accused by Ukrainian civil society organizations of corruption, claimed that Yovanovitch, an Obama administration appointee, had interfered in Ukraine politics, had given him a "do-not-prosecute" list and was interfering in his ability to combat corruption in Ukraine. The U.S. State Department said that Lutsenko's allegations against Yovanovitch were "an outright fabrication" and indicated that they were a "classic disinformation campaign." Lutsenko subsequently recanted his claims of a "do-not-prosecute" list. Solomon's stories were nonetheless amplified by President Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., Giuliani, Solomon, and conservative media outlets. Ukrainians who opposed Yovanovitch were also sources for Giuliani, who "was on a months-long search for political dirt in Ukraine to help President Trump." Giuliani confirmed in a November 2019 interview that he believed he "needed Yovanovitch out of the way" because she was going to make his investigations difficult.
On April 24, 2019, after complaints from Giuliani and other Trump allies that Yovanovitch was undermining and obstructing Trump's efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate former vice president and 2020 presidential election candidate Joe Biden, Trump ordered Yovanovitch's recall. She returned to Washington, D.C. on April 25, with her recall becoming public knowledge on May 7, and her mission as ambassador being terminated on May 20, 2019. In a July 25, 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (the contents of which became public on September 25 2019), Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden and disparaged Yovanovitch to his foreign counterpart, calling her "bad news".
Documents to the House Intelligence Committee provided by Lev Parnas, a former associate of Giuliani, outlined text exchanges in which Lutsenko pushed for the ouster of Yovanovitch and in return offered to provide damaging information on Joe Biden. In Russian-language messages, Lutsenko told Parnas that Yovanovitch (referred to as "madam") should be ousted before he would make helpful public statements; for example, in a March 22, 2019 WhatsApp message to Parnas, Lutsenko wrote, "It's just that if you don’t make a decision about Madam—you are calling into question all my declarations. Including about B." It is thought that Lutsenko targeted Yovanovitch due to her anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. One week before an April 1, 2019 conference on anti-corruption, Parnas exchanged encrypted WhatsApp text messages with Robert F. Hyde that indicated the ambassador was under surveillance and that her security was at risk. Hyde claimed he had merely forwarded messages received from a Belgian citizen named Anthony de Caluwe. After the House Intelligence Committee released the text messages, de Caluwe initially denied any involvement, but then reversed himself, saying that he had in fact sent the messages to Hyde but that the messages were a joke and "just a part of a ridiculous banter."
An audio tape from April 2018, recorded at a private dinner between Trump and top donors and made public by ABC News in January 2020, captures Trump demanding Yovanovitch's removal, saying: "Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it." The recording appeared to corroborate Parnas' account that he had told Trump that night that Yovanovitch was working against Trump.
Yovanovitch's abrupt ousting shocked and outraged career State Department diplomats. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker, the chief diplomat for U.S. policy for Europe, testified that he had urged top State Department officials David Hale and T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, to issue a statement expressing strong support for Yovanovitch, but that top State Department leadership rejected this proposal. Former senior U.S. diplomats Philip Gordon and Daniel Fried, who served as assistant secretaries of state for European and Eurasian Affairs and as National Security Council staffers under presidents of both parties, praised Yovanovitch and condemned Trump's "egregious mistreatment of one of the country's most distinguished ambassadors," writing that this had demoralized the U.S. diplomatic corps and undermined U.S. foreign policy. The American Foreign Service Association and American Academy of Diplomacy, representing members of the U.S. diplomatic corps, expressed alarm at Trump's disparagement of Yovanovitch in his call with Zelensky.Michael McKinley, a career foreign service officer who served as ambassador to four countries and had been chief adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, resigned in October 2019 in protest of Trump's attacks against Yovanovitch and "the State Department's unwillingness to protect career diplomats from politically motivated pressure." Yovanovitch's ouster became one of the issues explored in the House of Representativesimpeachment inquiry against Trump; her recall was termed "a political hit job" by Democratic members of Congress. Trump subsequently said she was "no angel" and falsely claimed that Yovanovitch had refused to hang his portrait.
In a January 2020 interview, Parnas apologized to Yovanovitch for his role in the smear campaign against her.
On October 11, 2019, Yovanovitch gave closed-door deposition testimony before the House Oversight and Reform, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees. A transcript of Yovanovitch's full testimony was released to the public on November 5, 2019.
The State Department sought to stop Yovanovitch from testifying before Congress, in line with Trump's policy of refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. The House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena, stating that "the illegitimate order from the Trump Administration not to cooperate has no force"—and Yovanovitch proceeded to give testimony.
In her testimony, Yovanovitch testified that Trump had pressured the State Department to remove her, and that she was "incredulous" to be removed based on "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives." Yovanovitch stated that after her removal, Deputy Secretary of StateJohn Sullivan had told her that she had done nothing wrong but that the State Department had been under political pressure from Trump to remove her since summer 2018. Sullivan, in his own testimony to Congress, corroborated Yovanovitch's testimony, confirmed that Yovanovitch was the target of a smear campaign, and publicly affirmed that Yovanovitch had served "admirably and capably" as ambassador.
Yovanovitch testified that her removal was the result of "significant tension between those who seek to transform the country and those who wish to continue profiting from the old ways," and that false narratives were pushed from an "unfortunate alliance between Ukrainians who continue to operate within a corrupt system, and Americans who either did not understand that corrupt system, or who may have chosen, for their own purposes, to ignore it." Yovanovitch described the State Department under Trump as "attacked and hollowed out from within," and warned that Russia and other U.S. rivals would benefit "when bad actors in countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system." Yovanovitch testified that when she sought advice from U.S. Ambassador to the European UnionGordon Sondland on how to respond to the smear campaign, Sondland recommended that she tweet praise for Trump.
Yovanovitch also detailed attempts by Giuliani to interfere in the State Department's consular decisions, by attempting to override a U.S. visa denial for former Ukrainian official Viktor Shokin, who had been declared ineligible for travel in the United States based on his "known corrupt activities." Yovanovitch also said that she was "shocked" and felt threatened by Trump's statement, in a phone call with Zelensky, that "she's going to go through some things," testifying that she was very concerned "that the President would speak about me or any ambassador in that way to a foreign counterpart."
Yovanovitch testified to Congress “My parents fled Communist and Nazi regimes. Having seen, firsthand, the war and poverty and displacement common to totalitarian regimes, they valued the freedom and democracy the U.S. offers and that the United States represents. And they raised me to cherish those values.”
On November 15, 2019, Yovanovitch testified during the public impeachment hearings. In her testimony, Yovanovitch detailed how Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman worked with a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor to orchestrate a smear campaign against her, oust her from her post as ambassador, and "circumvent official channels" of Ukraine policy. Yovanovitch also testified, "Perhaps it was not surprising that when our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of the desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador. How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?" While Yovanovitch was testifying, Trump denigrated her on Twitter. When read what the president had written about her, Yovanovitch testified: "It's very intimidating. I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but the effect is to be intimidating."House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff and other Democrats called Trump's conduct witness intimidation; Democratic Representative Jim Himes, a member of the Intelligence Committee, stated: "The president chose to respond to a patriotic and superb public servant with lies and intimidation. ...Her boss disparaged and intimidated her not after, but during her testimony." During questioning, the committee's Republicans avoided making personal attacks against Yovanovitch or seeking to undermine her credibility, but argued that Yovanovitch's removal and the events leading to it were not relevant to whether Trump had committed impeachable offenses and emphasized that Yovanovitch's removal occurred "before the main events under scrutiny took place."
Subsequent posting and retirement
After being ousted as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch became a Senior State Department Fellow at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. On January 31, 2020, it was reported that she had retired.
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- ^"Testimony of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch". The Washington Post. November 4, 2019. Archived from the original on November 6, 2019. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
- ^ abFandos, Nicholas; Schmidt, Michael S. (November 4, 2019). "Ex-Ukraine Ambassador Testified She Felt Threatened by Trump". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 5, 2019. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
- ^Ahl, Gordon (October 11, 2019). "Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's Opening Statement Before Congress". Lawfare. Archived from the original on October 12, 2019. Retrieved October 14, 2019.
- ^Sonmez, Felicia; Wagner, John; Viebeck, Elise; Shammas, Brittany (November 4, 2019). "Ukraine envoy, fearing loss of job, told to tweet support for Trump; White House lawyer defies House subpoena". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 6, 2019. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
- ^"Impeachment Inquiry Transcripts: Excerpts and Analysis". The New York Times. November 4, 2019. Archived from the original on November 6, 2019. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
- ^Viebeck, Elise (November 14, 2019). "For Trump, Yovanovitch's testimony brings moment of reckoning on gender". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 15, 2019. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
- ^McCarthy, Tom; Smith, David (November 15, 2019). "Ukraine ambassador describes Trump's 'shocking' smear campaign against her". The Guardian. Archived from the original on November 15, 2019. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
- ^ abcShear, Michael D.; Baker, Peter; Savage, Charlie (November 15, 2019). "Trump Denigrates Ex-Envoy Yovanovitch on Twitter During Impeachment Testimony". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 15, 2019. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
- ^Baker, Peter (November 15, 2019). "Key Takeaways From Marie Yovanovitch's Hearing in the Impeachment Inquiry". New York Times. Archived from the original on November 16, 2019.
- ^Romo, Vanessa (January 31, 2020). "Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Key Figure In Impeachment Trial, Retires". NPR. Archived from the original on February 1, 2020. Retrieved February 1, 2020.
- Marie L. Yovanovitch, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
- Profile from Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Full transcript of Yovanovitch's deposition before House committees, October 11, 2019
- Full transcript of Yovanovitch's testimony before House Intelligence Committee, November 15, 2019
- Video of Yovanovitch's testimony before House Intelligence Committee, November 15, 2019 – from C-SPAN
Firing of U.S. Ambassador Is at Center of Giuliani Investigation
Prosecutors want to scrutinize Rudolph W. Giuliani’s communications with Ukrainian officials about the ouster of the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch.
Two years ago, Rudolph W. Giuliani finally got one thing he had been seeking in Ukraine: The Trump administration removed the U.S. ambassador there, a woman Mr. Giuliani believed had been obstructing his efforts to dig up dirt on the Biden family.
It was a Pyrrhic victory. Mr. Giuliani’s push to oust the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, not only became a focus of President Donald J. Trump’s first impeachment trial, but it has now landed Mr. Giuliani in the cross hairs of a federal criminal investigation into whether he broke lobbying laws, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The long-running inquiry reached a turning point this week when F.B.I. agents seized telephones and computers from Mr. Giuliani’s home and office in Manhattan, the people said. At least one of the warrants was seeking evidence related to Ms. Yovanovitch and her role as ambassador, the people said.
In particular, the federal authorities were expected to scour the electronic devices for communications between Mr. Giuliani and Trump administration officials about the ambassador before she was recalled in April 2019, one of the people added.
The warrant also sought his communications with Ukrainian officials who had butted heads with Ms. Yovanovitch, including some of the same people who at the time were helping Mr. Giuliani seek damaging information about President Biden, who was then a candidate, and his family, the people said.
At issue for investigators is a key question: Did Mr. Giuliani go after Ms. Yovanovitch solely on behalf of Mr. Trump, who was his client at the time? Or was he also doing so on behalf of the Ukrainian officials, who wanted her removed for their own reasons?
It is a violation of federal law to lobby the United States government on behalf of foreign officials without registering with the Justice Department, and Mr. Giuliani never did so.
Even if the Ukrainians did not pay Mr. Giuliani, prosecutors could pursue the theory that they provided assistance by collecting information on the Bidens in exchange for her removal.
One of the search warrants for Mr. Giuliani’s phones and computers explicitly stated that the possible crimes under investigation included violations of the law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to the people with knowledge of the matter.
Mr. Giuliani has long denied that he did work at the behest of the Ukrainians, or that he accepted any money from them, and he has said that he did not expressly urge Mr. Trump to fire the ambassador.
Mr. Giuliani’s work to oust Ms. Yovanovitch was part of a larger effort to attack Joseph R. Biden Jr. and tie him to corruption in Ukraine, much of which played out in public.
But intelligence officials have long warned that Mr. Giuliani’s work in Ukraine had become ensnared with Russia’s efforts to spread disinformation about the Biden family to weaken Mr. Trump’s election rival.
Senior officials had warned Mr. Trump in late 2019 that Mr. Giuliani was pushing Russian disinformation, and the intelligence community had warned the American public that Moscow’s intelligence services were trying to hurt Mr. Biden’s election chances by spreading information about his family’s work in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, after F.B.I. agents seized his devices, Mr. Giuliani again denied any wrongdoing. He said the search warrants demonstrated a “corrupt double standard” on the part of the Justice Department, which he accused of ignoring “blatant crimes” by Democrats, including Mr. Biden.
Asked about the search warrants on Thursday, Mr. Biden told NBC’s “Today” show that he “had no idea this was underway.” He said he had pledged not to interfere in any investigation by the Justice Department.
Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert J. Costello, said his client had twice offered to answer prosecutors’ questions, except those regarding Mr. Giuliani’s privileged communications with the former president.
The warrants do not accuse Mr. Giuliani of wrongdoing, but they underscore his legal peril: They indicate a judge has found that investigators have probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the search would turn up evidence of that crime.
The investigation grew out of a case against two Soviet-born businessmen, who had helped Mr. Giuliani search for damaging information about Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter. At the time, Hunter Biden served on the board of an energy company that did business in Ukraine.
In 2019, the businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were charged in Manhattan, along with two others, with unrelated campaign finance crimes. A trial is scheduled for October.
In the Giuliani investigation, the federal prosecutors have focused on the steps he took against Ms. Yovanovitch. Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged that he provided Mr. Trump with detailed information about his claim that she was impeding investigations that could benefit Mr. Trump, and that Mr. Trump put him in touch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
After a few aborted attempts to remove her, Ms. Yovanovitch was ultimately recalled as ambassador in late April 2019 and was told that the White House had lost trust in her.
Mr. Giuliani said in an interview in late 2019 that he believed the information he had provided the Trump administration did contribute to Ms. Yovanovitch’s dismissal. “You’d have to ask them,” he said of the Trump officials. “But they relied on it.” He added he never explicitly requested that she be fired.
The prosecutors have also examined Mr. Giuliani’s relationship with the Ukrainians who had conflicts with Ms. Yovanovitch, according to the people with knowledge of the matter. While ambassador, Ms. Yovanovitch had taken aim at corruption in Ukraine, earning her quite a few enemies.
The investigation has zeroed in on one of her opponents, Yuriy Lutsenko, the top prosecutor in Ukraine at the time, the people said. At least one of the search warrants for Mr. Giuliani’s devices mentioned Mr. Lutsenko and some of his associates, including one who helped introduce him to Mr. Giuliani.
The relationship had the potential to become symbiotic.
Mr. Lutsenko wanted Ms. Yovanovitch removed, and as the personal lawyer to the president, Mr. Giuliani was positioned to help. Mr. Giuliani wanted negative information about the Bidens, and as the top prosecutor in Ukraine, Mr. Lutsenko would have had the authority to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden’s dealings with the energy company. Mr. Giuliani also saw Ms. Yovanovitch as insufficiently loyal to the president, and as an impediment to the investigations.
Mr. Lutsenko hinted at a potential quid pro quo in text messages that became public during the impeachment trial. In March 2019, Mr. Lutsenko wrote in a Russian language text message to Mr. Parnas that he had found evidence that could be damaging to the Bidens. Then he added, “And you can’t even bring down one idiot,” in an apparent reference to Ms. Yovanovitch, followed by a frowny-face emoji.
Around that same time, Mr. Giuliani was in negotiations to also represent Mr. Lutsenko or his agency, The New York Times has previously reported. Draft retainer agreements called for Mr. Giuliani to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the Ukrainian government recover money it believed had been stolen and stashed overseas.
Mr. Giuliani signed one of the retainer agreements, but he said he ultimately did not take on the work, because his representation of Mr. Trump at the same time could constitute a conflict of interest.
When Ms. Yovanovitch testified during Mr. Trump’s impeachment hearings in late 2019, she told lawmakers that she had only minimal contact with Mr. Giuliani during her tenure as ambassador.
“I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she said. “But individuals who have been named in the press who have contact with Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal and financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”
Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.
Fired ukraine ambassador
Trump impeachment: Ex-Ukraine ambassador Yovanovitch retires
The former US ambassador to Ukraine - a central figure in the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump - has retired from the foreign service, US media report.
Marie Yovanovitch was recalled last May after being accused of being disloyal to Mr Trump. She denies the claims.
She gave evidence at the hearings which led to Mr Trump's current trial in the Senate over his Ukraine policy.
The president is likely to be acquitted by loyal senators on Wednesday.
The two charges that led to his impeachment by the lower House of Representatives are abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The first charge relates to an accusation that Mr Trump withheld US military aid to pressure Ukraine into investigating a Democratic political rival, Joe Biden.
The second stems from an allegation that he purposefully obstructed the Congressional impeachment investigation.
The president has repeatedly dismissed the inquiry as a "hoax" and a "witch-hunt".
Why was Marie Yovanovitch fired?
No details have been given about Ms Yovanovitch's retirement after 33 years of diplomatic service.
At the impeachment trial in November, Ms Yovanovitch testified that she was fired from her role as the American ambassador to Kyiv in May over "false claims" by people with "questionable motives".
She said her anti-corruption efforts had incurred the ire of influential Ukrainians who sought to remove her.
Ms Yovanovitch said she was shocked that her enemies appeared to find allies in the Trump administration, including the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
The former envoy's supporters say she was also smeared by US conservative media voices.
In an interview with Fox News' morning show in November, Mr Trump accused Ms Yovanovitch of being disloyal by refusing to hang his photo in the US embassy in Ukraine.
"She said bad things about me, she wouldn't defend me, and I have the right to change the ambassador," he said.
In footage that emerged from April 2018, Mr Trump can be heard saying "Get rid of her!" - appearing to refer to Ms Yovanovitch - at a dinner with a group of donors in Washington.
In her testimony, Ms Yovanovitch said the allegation that she was disloyal to Mr Trump was false.
Why is Congress investigating Trump?
The president is alleged to have withheld millions of dollars' worth of military aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into starting a corruption investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.
At the heart of the impeachment inquiry is a phone call on 25 July 2019 between Mr Trump and Ukraine's then newly-elected president.
Mr Trump's critics say this alleged political pressure on a vulnerable US ally amounted to abuse of power.
Secondly, after the White House refused to allow staff to testify at the first impeachment hearings last year, Democrats accused Mr Trump of obstructing Congress in its inquiry.
Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing and his legal team say the "flimsy" charges are a "dangerous perversion of the Constitution".
'Take her out': Recording appears to capture Trump at private dinner saying he wants Ukraine ambassador fired
A recording obtained by ABC News appears to capture President Donald Trump telling associates he wanted the then-U.S. ambassador to UkraineMarie Yovanovitch fired while speaking at a small gathering that included Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman -- two former business associates of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who have since been indicted in New York.
The recording appears to contradict statements by Trump and support the narrative that has been offered by Parnas during broadcast interviews in recent days. Sources familiar with the recording said the recording was made during an intimate April 30, 2018, dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Trump has said repeatedly he does not know Parnas, a Soviet-born American who has emerged as a wild card in Trump’s impeachment trial, especially in the days since Trump was impeached.
"Get rid of her!" is what the voice that appears to be Trump’s is heard saying. "Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it."
On the recording, it appears the two Giuliani associates are telling Trump that the U.S. ambassador has been bad-mouthing him, which leads directly to the apparent remarks by the president. The recording was made by Fruman, according to sources familiar with the tape.
"Every president in our history has had the right to place people who support his agenda and his policies within his Administration," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
During the conversation, several of the participants can be heard laughing with the president. At another point, the recording appears to capture Trump praising his new choice of secretary of state, saying emphatically: "[Mike] Pompeo is the best." But the most striking moment comes when Parnas and the president discuss the dismissal of his ambassador to Ukraine.
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," Parnas can be heard telling Trump. "She's basically walking around telling everybody 'Wait, he's gonna get impeached, just wait." (Yovanovitch actually had served in the State Department since the Reagan administration.)
It was not until a year later that Yovanovitch was recalled from her position -- in April 2019. She said the decision was based on "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives" that she was disloyal to Trump.
House investigators have been attempting to document – in part with text messages supplied by Parnas -- an almost year-long effort on the part of Parnas and Giuliani to get Yovanovitch removed from her post. At times, the messages made public by the House Intelligence Committee show Giuliani referencing his repeated efforts to have Yovanovitch recalled from Kyiv, a push that was initially unsuccessful.
"Boy I'm so powerful I can intimidate the entire Ukrainian government," Giuliani messaged Parnas in May 2019. "Please don't tell anyone I can't get the crooked Ambassador fired or I did three times and she's still there."
The identities of others participating in the recorded conversation are unclear. During an early portion of the recording where video can be seen, Donald Trump Jr. appears on the recording posing for pictures with others. Sources say they were attending a larger event happening at the hotel that night for a super PAC that supports the president.
Another clip seen on the recording, according to the sources, is of individuals entering what appears to be a suite at the Trump Hotel for the intimate dinner. The phone that was recording the Trump conversation appears to be placed down on a table with the audio still recording the conversation between the commander-in-chief and other guests, according to the sources. The image of the president does not appear on the video reviewed by ABC News.
In a recent interview with MSNBC, Parnas publicly recounted his memories of the scene at the dinner and said that Trump turned to John [DeStefano], who was his deputy chief of staff at the time, and said "Fire her," he claimed. Sources familiar with the closed-door meeting corroborate that DeStefano was in attendance.
"We all, there was a silence in the room. He responded to him, said Mr. President, we can't do that right now because [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo hasn't been confirmed yet, that Pompeo is not confirmed yet and we don't have -- this is when [former Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson was gone, but Pompeo was confirmed, so they go, wait until -- so several conversations he mentioned it again."
However, Pompeo had been confirmed and privately sworn in days earlier.
A copy of the recording is now in the custody of federal prosecutors in New York's Southern District, who declined to comment to ABC News.
Trump’s supporters have maintained that no evidence has been put forward directly linking Trump to any of the alleged impeachable actions. And Trump has maintained that removing Yovanovitch was within his right.
Trump has distanced himself from Parnas, who is under federal indictment in New York in a campaign finance case, and the president’s supporters have questioned his credibility and motives.
"I don't know him," the president said just last week when asked about Parnas. "I don't know Parnas other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people, including people today that I didn't meet. But I just met him. I don't know him at all. Don't know what he's about, don't know where he comes from, know nothing about him. I can only tell you this thing is a big hoax."
As ABC News previously reported, Parnas, who cooperated with the House impeachment probe of Trump, began providing materials that were in his custody to congressional investigators late last year.
Just last week, Parnas' attorney transferred more materials after a series of rulings from the judge in his criminal case, granting him permission to share records obtained by the government with House impeachment investigators to comply with a subpoena, including documents seized from Parnas’ home and the complete extraction of Parnas’ iPhone 11 and Samsung phone, seized from him upon his arrest in October 2019.
Joseph A. Bondy, Parnas' attorney, tweeted at the time that the materials were brought to House investigators "despite every stumbling block placed in our path" since his client's arrest.
The records, which were mostly WhatsApp messages, also included 59 pages of emails and handwritten letters that appear to describe Giuliani's attempts to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and an effort to remove Yovanovitch from her post.
One email exchange appears to suggest Parnas and his associates had Yovanovitch "under physical surveillance in Kyiv," according to the committee’s cover letter.
During her congressional testimony, Yovanovitch said she received a call from the State Department that "there were concerns about my security."
Giuliani is a subject of the probe being led by the New York prosecutors, sources said. Parnas' cohort, Fruman was also arrested at the same time and faces similar charges though he is not cooperating with the congressional investigations.
Parnas and Fruman were indicted by the Southern District of New York on charges including conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud, false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records as part of an alleged scheme to circumvent federal campaign finance laws against straw donations and foreign contributions. Both have pleaded not guilty.
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And as if mesmerized, I did not take my eyes off the rosary that lay next to the mouse on his desktop. It was the only item in this study that hadn't been here before. Although, these beads looked more like beads, consisting of alternating dark and light balls. A few more minutes and I didn't even have time to track how the rosary with a pleasant rustle slid over the buttons of the keyboard and wrapped.