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Former Ukraine diplomat says Trump pressured State Dept. to dismiss her

By Nicholas Sakelaris
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Former Ukraine diplomat says Trump pressured State Dept. to dismiss her
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, pictured here with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, testified in the House Friday. Photo courtesy U.S. State Department/Flickr

Oct. 11 (UPI) -- Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch appeared before Congress Friday for a deposition arranged by Democratic investigators who are leading the impeachment inquiry related to President Donald Trump's dealings with Kiev.

The deposition was held in a private hearing, but prepared remarks show Yovanovitch planned to tell Democratic investigators Trump pressured State Department officials to have her removed in May.

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Her prepared remarks were reported by NBC News, The Washington Post and The New York Times on Friday.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Trump abused his powers by leveraging Ukraine military aid for a favorable political maneuver, in connection with a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump pressed Zelensky during the call to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who formerly worked for a Ukrainian oil and gas company. Trump has said he withheld aid to Ukraine, temporarily, and inquired about investigating the Bidens. He's said, however, the two issues were never connected and one wasn't used to influence the other.

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The White House said this week Trump's administration will not cooperate with the "illegitimate" impeachment inquiry until it is approved by the full House.

Yovanovitch is one of multiple key witnesses the House wants to depose as it looks further into a whistle-blower complaint that expresses concern about Trump's conduct with Ukraine this summer. She explained in detail Friday what happened when she was recalled in April and dismissed, the remarks said. Yovanovitch said she was told to return "on the next plane" and immediately met with the deputy secretary of state on arrival, who said Trump had lost confidence in her.

"He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the summer of 2018," her opening statement read. "He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause."

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Yovanovitch also said she was disappointed how events have unfolded and the resignations of so many federal employees.

"Today, we see the State Department attacked and hallowed out from within," her remarks said. "State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees."

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Yovanovitch concluded her remarks by saying she carried out policies for both the Trump and Obama administrations.

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"Our efforts were intended and evidently succeeded, in thwarting corrupt interests in Ukraine, who fought back by selling baseless conspiracy theories to anyone who would listen," she wrote in her remarks. "Sadly, someone was listening, and our nation is the worse off for that."

Earlier Friday, Democratic investigators said they've set a deposition next week for U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland -- whose scheduled testimony earlier this week was blocked by the administration and drew a subpoena. His attorneys said he is planning to appear and answer questions fully and truthfully.

"Notwithstanding the State Department's current direction not to testify, Ambassador Sondland will honor the committees' subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying on Thursday," Sondland attorneys Robert Luskin and Kwame Manley said Friday.

"Ambassador Sondland has at all times acted with integrity and in the interests of the United States."

The House also subpoenaed records this week from the Defense Department and White House budget office that need to be turned over by Oct. 15.

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