WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. career diplomats told the Trump impeachment inquiry that they did not feel supported by the State Department under President Donald Trump and that the department was being used for domestic political purposes, according to transcripts of their testimony released on Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington upon his return from New York, U.S., November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
The Democratic-led House of Representatives investigation into the Republican president is focused on a phone call in July in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Joe Biden, a former vice president and contender for the Democratic Party nomination to run against him in the November 2020 election.
Michael McKinley, a former senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, told the inquiry last month that he recommended a statement of support for ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, but was told Pompeo decided “better not to… at this time.”
“The timing of my resignation was the result of two overriding concerns: the failure, in my view, of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry; and, second, by what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives,” McKinley said, according to the transcript released by House committees.
The committees have heard testimony behind closed doors for weeks and the inquiry is moving into a public phase. Republicans, despite having members on the three panels conducting the probe, have complained of a lack of transparency.
Yovanovitch, who was abruptly removed as ambassador last May, told the inquiry on Oct. 11 that she felt threatened by Trump describing her on the call to Zelenskiy as “bad news” a transcript showed.
“I was very concerned,” she said. “I still am.”
A previously released White House summary of the call showed that Trump told Zelenskiy that the ambassador was “bad news” and was going to “go through some things.”
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and defended the call with Zelenskiy as “perfect,” accusing Democrats of unfairly targeting him to reverse his surprise election win in 2016.
Yovanovitch testified that when she returned to Washington last April, Philip Reeker, the acting assistant Secretary of State, told her that Pompeo was no longer able to protect her from Trump.
“Mr. Reeker said that I, you know, I would need to leave. I needed leave as soon as possible” and that Trump had wanted her to leave in the summer of 2018 “and that the Secretary had tried to protect me but was no longer able to do that,” according to the transcript.
Yovanovitch said she had first learned in late 2018 that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had been involved with Ukraine when Ukrainian officials alerted her to the former New York mayor’s communications with a former Ukrainian prosecutor general.
In her testimony, some of which was previously leaked to news media, Yovanovitch also told lawmakers that she was “shocked” that Trump would repeatedly talk about her in the call or any ambassador that way to a foreign counterpart.
Four U.S. officials called to testify by Democrats did not show up as requested on Monday, lawmakers said, and the president pressed his demand for a whistleblower to appear.
Some Democrats say Trump, who has ordered administration officials not to cooperate, should face an obstruction of justice charge among the counts they plan to consider.
The testimony of the witnesses — three White House budget officials and the White House National Security Council’s top lawyer — would have been important to determining whether Trump used foreign aid to Ukraine as leverage to secure a political favor.
Lawmakers were especially interested in questioning the lawyer, John Eisenberg, who took the unusual step of moving a transcript of the call into the White House’s most classified computer system, according to a person familiar with last week’s testimony by Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who listened in on the call.
A few days after the call, Eisenberg also told Vindman not to discuss the matter, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“There is no reason to call witnesses to analyze my words and meaning,” Trump tweeted on Monday.
He also dismissed an offer by the anonymous U.S. official whose whistleblower complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry to answer Republican lawmakers’ questions in writing.
The official, a member of a U.S. intelligence agency, has not been identified in keeping with longstanding practice to protect whistleblowers. Lawyers for the whistleblower say they have received death threats after conservative media outlets have floated possible names.
“He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!” Trump tweeted.
Democrats say they do not need to hear from the whistleblower because other witnesses have corroborated much of the whistleblower’s complaint. Republicans say they need to hear from the whistleblower directly to assess their credibility.
If the House votes to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove the president from office. Senate Republicans have so far show little appetite for removing the president.
Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Susan Cornwall, Mark Hosenball; David Morgan; Jonathan Landay, Steve Holland, Jan Wolfe and Susan Heavey in Washington, and Karen Freifeld in New York; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell