Two United States career diplomats told Trump impeachment inquiry investigators 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.
The transcripts of the depositions of Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, were the first released by investigators in the inquiry.
“As we move towards this new public phase of the impeachment inquiry, the American public will begin to see for themselves the evidence that the committees have collected,” said the chairs of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees.
“With each new interview, we learn more about the president’s attempt to manipulate the levers of power to his personal political benefit,” the chairs added in a statement.
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 Zelenskyy 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.
McKinley told the inquiry last month that he recommended a statement of support for the now-removed US ambassador to Ukraine, 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 utilisation 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 October 11 that she felt threatened by Trump describing her on the call to Zelenskyy 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 Zelenskyy that the ambassador was “bad news” and was going to “go through some things”.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and defended the call with Zelenskyy as “perfect”, accusing Democrats of unfairly targeting him to reverse his surprise election win in 2016.
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.
She said the Ukrainian officials warned her in advance that Giuliani and other allies of Trump were planning to “do thinks, including to me” and were “looking to hurt” her.
In her testimony, some of which was previously leaked to news media, Yovanovitch also told investigators that she was “shocked” that Trump would repeatedly talk about her in the call or any ambassador that way to a foreign counterpart.
Yovanovitch said she received a call from Carol Perez, a top foreign service official, at around 1am on April 25 Ukraine time (22:00 GMT, April 24), abruptly telling her she needed to immediately fly back to Washington, DC. Yovanovitch said when she asked why, Perez told her, “I don’t know, but this is about your security. You need to come home immediately. You need to come home on the next plane.”
Yovanovitch said she did not think Perez meant it was to protect her physical security. Instead, Yovanovitch said, Perez told her it was for “my wellbeing, people were concerned”.
Yovanovitch testified that when she returned to Washington, DC, 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 to 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.
The former envoy also told investigators that she was not disloyal to the president.
“I have heard the allegation in the media that I supposedly told our embassy team to ignore the president’s orders since he was going to be impeached,” she said. “That allegation is false. I have never said such a thing to my embassy colleagues or anyone else.”
US officials refuse to testify
Four US officials called to testify by Democrats did not show up as requested on Monday, politicians said, and the president pressed his demand for a whistle-blower 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 favour.
Democrats 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 analyse my words and meaning,” Trump tweeted on Monday.
He also dismissed an offer by the anonymous US official whose whistle-blower complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry to answer Republican ‘ questions in writing.
The official, a member of a US intelligence agency, has not been identified in keeping with long-standing practice to protect whistle-blowers. Lawyers for the whistle-blower 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 whistle-blower because other witnesses have corroborated much of the whistle-blower’s complaint. Republicans say they need to hear from the whistle-blower 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 shown little appetite for removing the president.