Trump’s comments on former Ukraine ambassador raise further questions
Months after the US Ambassador to Ukraine was unexpectedly recalled from her post, President Donald Trump disparaged the career diplomat in a call with his Ukrainian counterpart, a White House transcript released on Wednesday revealed.
Trump’s comments about Marie Yovanovitch — a member of his own country’s diplomatic corps — are a stunning breach of norms, former officials say, and lend credence to the claim that her early departure from the post was politically motivated.
“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that,” Donald Trump told Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 call, according to a White House transcript released Wednesday.
Zelensky, who was elected in April 2019, echoed the US President’s sentiment, saying “I agree with you 100%.”
“She’s going to go through some things,” Trump added.
‘One of the best’
Yovanovitch, a career member of the foreign service and who has served in ambassadorships under three presidents, was sworn in as ambassador to Ukraine in August 2016.
“It is so unprofessional of the President to do that — to throw a US government employee under the bus, someone as distinguished as Ambassador Yovanovitch is,” retired US Ambassador Nicholas Burns told CNN Wednesday. Burns, who served in the US government for nearly three decades, said he had not seen anything like it.
“It’s injurious to morale and you can imagine how career people feel when they see one of the best people that we have, Masha Yovanovitch, treated like this,” he said.
Those who worked with Yovanovitch praised her experience and skill.
“Masha (Yovanovitch) knows that part of the world so well, speaks the languages, knows the issues cold,” retired US Ambassador James Melville told CNN Wednesday. “They couldn’t have had a better ambassador than Masha.”
Burns described Yovanovich as “extremely effective,” “highly ethical” and “a person of high character.”
He called for “the higher levels of the State Department” to “come out and defend her.”
“They should say she was a good ambassador, she did what was asked. She did what her constitutional duty asked her to do, represent the United States ably and honorably,” Burns said. “She deserves an apology, a public apology.”
‘Political hit job’
In May 2019, Yovanovitch was recalled to Washington, DC, months earlier than expected. The State Department said at the time that Yovanovitch was “concluding her 3-year diplomatic assignment as planned” and that her departure aligned with the presidential transition in Ukraine.
However, Democrats at the time accused the White House of carrying out a “political hit job.” On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, called for an investigation involving the timing of her departure. The chairmen of the House Intelligence, Oversight, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees said in a press release Wednesday, “The transcript also makes clear that President Trump…directly intervened to have his own Ambassador to Ukraine recalled.”
In late March, then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko — the prosecutor with whom Rudy Giuliani had met to discuss “collusion” — claimed to The Hill’s John Solomon that Yovanovitch had given “a list of people whom we should not prosecute.” The State Department denied Lutsenko’s claim, and Lutsenko later walked it back.
Nonetheless, Yovanovitch remained under fire by conservative outlets and figures. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted on March 24, “We need more @RichardGrenell’s and less of these jokers as ambassadors,” along with a link to an article from the conservative “Daily Wire” on growing calls for her to be ousted Giuliani has claimed without evidence on numerous occasions that Yovanovitch had impeded his investigation in Ukraine and has tied this baseless claim to a conspiracy theory involving funding from the billionaire George Soros.
“We saw the knives were out for Masha but it was still shocking that she was forced to depart her post just weeks before she was going to go anyway,” Melville said. “That’s just such a sign of disrespect, and almost contempt for career officers and diplomacy.”
In May, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel called Yovanovitch’s removal “a political hit job.”
“It’s clear that this decision was politically motivated, as allies of President Trump had joined foreign actors in lobbying for the Ambassador’s dismissal,” they said in a press release. A month earlier, they had privately sent a letter urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue a public show of support for the ambassador.
CNN has reached out to Yovanovitch and the State Department for comment.