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House Committees Release Transcripts Of Testimony From Impeachment Inquiry

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

House committees have begun releasing the transcripts from the depositions in the impeachment inquiry. These transcripts tell us more about the Trump administration's removal of its U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and why her firing matters. Democrat Adam Schiff describes the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, as a dedicated public servant who was encouraging Ukraine to fight corruption and who had a front-row seat to everything that was unfolding.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: It is someone who also is one of the first witnesses to this irregular back channel that the president established with Rudy Giuliani and the damage that it was doing to America's national security and foreign policy interests.

CHANG: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen has been going through the testimony and joins us now.

Hey, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what more have you learned from Yovanovitch's transcript about her removal?

KELEMEN: Well, she says she was shocked to read the White House call record when President Trump told Ukraine's new president that she would "go through some things" - that was the quote. She says she felt threatened by that and wouldn't have thought that a president would speak about her or any ambassador that way to a foreign counterpart.

She also told a story from late April. That's when she got a call from a top foreign service officer who told her that there was a lot of nervousness, that she should board the next plane home. She asked, what happened? And she was told, I don't know, but this is about your security. And when Yovanovitch got back to Washington, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan informed her that the president had lost confidence in her and that she was being withdrawn but also that she had done nothing wrong.

CHANG: Well, that's exactly what Republicans are jumping on. I mean, they say that ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president. Here's Congressman Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM JORDAN: The president of the United States can have whoever he or she thinks is going to serve the interest of our country as an ambassador to whatever country.

CHANG: So then why, Michele, is this scenario as described by Yovanovitch so unusual here?

KELEMEN: Right. Well, it was because she was facing a smear campaign by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his associates. And Yovanovitch told the impeachment inquiry that she first learned about all of this from Ukrainian officials. It was Ukraine's interior minister, for example, who told her to - and this is a quote - "watch her back." He told her about Giuliani's associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, names that were not known to her before then, who wanted a different ambassador in the job. And she came to understand that this was because of their business interests.

So Yovanovitch told the impeachment inquiry, look. This is really a dangerous precedent that private interests can come into play in recalling an ambassador. She says the president may have made this decision but says, you know, that he was influenced by some untrustworthy figures, including a former Ukrainian prosecutor who spread some false stories about her and later retracted them.

CHANG: Now, the committee's released another transcript today. It's of the deposition of a top adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Can you tell us a little more about this witness, give us a sense of what he has testified to?

KELEMEN: Right. So that's Mike McKinley. He's a 37-year foreign service officer and a close aide to Pompeo. He told the committee that he was worried that the State Department was becoming dragged - was getting dragged into politics. And when he saw that transcript of the call, he wanted to show support for Yovanovitch. He didn't get anywhere with that. He said he raised it several times with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, including on the day he resigned, September 30. And he said he didn't get a reaction from the secretary.

CHANG: So how would you say Pompeo comes off in all of this?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, it's interesting. He's been trying to shift the storyline, accusing committees of bullying and intimidating his employees. But McKinley testified that State Department employees felt bullied by the department itself. They're not getting any public support from this secretary. They're having to answer these subpoenas and now have big legal bills to pay. Yovanovitch, for instance, said she never met with Pompeo or communicated with him. She tried to meet with his counselor, Ulrich Brechbuhl, who was - she was told was handling the situation. But she says that he did not accept a meeting request.

CHANG: That's NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen at the State Department.

Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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