Longtime U.S. ambassador arrives to testify about Ukraine before House committees

The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who Donald Trump has called “bad news” arrived on Capitol Hill to testify on Friday in the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into the president, while another U.S. envoy agreed to testify next week even as the White House sought to stonewall the investigation.

Marie (Masha) Yovanovitch, who was abruptly recalled from Ukraine in May, is scheduled to give a deposition to House investigators probing Trump in a scandal that has cast a pall over his presidency. She did not respond to questions posed by reporters.

The Democratic lawmakers leading the inquiry were waiting to see if Yovanovitch showed up after the White House said earlier in the week it would refuse to co-operate with an inquiry that the Republican president has termed “a kangaroo court.”

According to media reports, Trump took the action after complaints by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others that Yovanovitch had obstructed Giuliani’s efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden.

Democrats have called her removal politically motivated.

The inquiry was launched after a whistleblower complaint from a person within the U.S. intelligence community about a July 25 phone call, in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate domestic political rival Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Biden is a leading Democratic contender for the right to face Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.

There has been no evidence either Biden was engaged in illegal activities.

Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring a vulnerable foreign ally in need of foreign aid money to dig up dirt on a domestic opponent for his own political benefit. Trump has described the call as “perfect,” denying wrongdoing.

‘She’s going to go through some things’

On the phone call with Zelenksy, Trump referred to Yovanovitch as “bad news.”

“She’s going to go through some things,” Trump added.

Yovanovitch became the target in March of allegations — vehemently denied by the State Department — that she gave a Ukrainian prosecutor a list of people not to prosecute.

Trump allies called for her removal, accusing her of criticizing the president to foreign officials, something current and former colleagues found inconceivable. Giuliani alleged she blocked efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

California Democrat Adam Schiff arrives on Capitol Hill on Friday. Schiff is chair of the House’s intelligence committee, which is spearheading the probe. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press)

Yovanovitch previously served as U.S. ambassador to Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. According to a cached biography on the State Department, earlier in her career she worked at the U.S. embassies in Ottawa, London, Moscow and Mogadishu.

She was born in Montreal to Russian parents, her family moving to the U.S. a few years later. She has dual U.S.-U.K. citizenship.

The testimony from Yovanovitch is the first of several depositions of key figures planned by the Democrat-led House committees spearheading the probe. The committees are intelligence, foreign and oversight.

Ambassador to EU complying with House demand

Meanwhile, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, will comply with a House subpoena and testify Oct. 18 before the committees, his lawyers said.

But Sondland is not authorized to release the documents the House committees have sought, his lawyers said, adding that he hopes the material will be shared with the committees before his appearance. Sondland was initially scheduled to testify before the House committees on Tuesday, but was blocked by the Trump administration from appearing.

Sondland, a Trump political donor who contributed $1 million US to the Republican president’s inauguration committee, exchanged text messages about Washington’s relationship with Ukraine with other top diplomats. House Democrats received a cache of the texts as part of their impeachment inquiry.

Sondland was a Seattle, Wash.-based hotelier until Trump nominated him to his position as ambassador in May. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June and presented his credentials at the European Commission in July.

In a text with another U.S. official, Bill Taylor, Sondland denied there was a quid pro quo in the White House’s dealings with Ukraine.

On Thursday, two foreign-born Florida businessmen who had helped Giuliani investigate Biden were arrested in what prosecutors said was a scheme to illegally funnel money to a pro-Trump election committee and other U.S. political candidates.

The pair, Ukraine-born Lev Parnas and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, were arrested at an airport outside Washington carrying one-way tickets to Vienna. Prosecutors said they conspired to contribute foreign money, including at least $1 million from an unidentified Russian businessman, to candidates for federal and state offices to buy influence.

The investigation of Trump could lead to the approval of articles of impeachment — or formal charges — against the president in the House. A trial on whether to remove him from office would then be held in the U.S. Senate, where the Republicans who control the chamber have shown little appetite for ousting the president.

One of the foreign-born businessmen arrested on Thursday, Parnas, sought the help of a U.S. congressman — identified by a person familiar with the matter as Republican Pete Sessions — to get Trump to remove Yovanovitch, according to the indictment.

Michael McKinley, a career diplomat who has served as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s policy adviser since May 2018, has resigned, the Washington Post reported. His departure comes with Pompeo deeply enmeshed in the Ukraine controversy.

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