A US government official has reportedly told politicians leading the impeachment hearings against Donald Trump that she was urged by a Republican-linked lobbyist to remove the US ambassador to Ukraine from her post, as the president's allies launched a smear campaign against her.
Catherine Croft, a Ukraine expert who worked at the US State Department, said she was repeatedly contacted by lobbyist Robert Livingston about ousting Marie Yovanovitch, according to prepared remarks obtained by NPR.
Mr Livingston, who previously served as the Republican congressman from Louisiana, reportedly described Ms Yovanovitch as an “Obama holdover” and claimed she was “associated with George Soros” while urging Ms Croft to fire her.
“It was not clear to me at the time — or now — at whose direction or at whose expense Mr Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” Ms Croft reportedly wrote.
The former State Department official went on to note that she reported the interactions with Mr Livingston to Fiona Hill, who previously served as the former top Russia adviser to the White House and has already testified to the House committees leading the impeachment probe.
“It is my hope that even as this Committee’s process plays out, we do not lose sight of what is happening in Ukraine,” Ms Croft added.
Mr Anderson reportedly described the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani as an obstacle in US-Ukraine relations during his opening remarks on Wednesday.
According to his prepared statement, John Bolton, the former national security adviser, told Mr Anderson that Mr Giuliani “was a key voice with the president on Ukraine which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagement” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Mr Trump removed Ms Yovanovitch after continued attacks against the diplomat from his personal attorney and others apparently seeking to undermine her influence in US-Ukraine relations. He referred to her in the 25 July phone call with Mr Zelensky which is the basis for the impeachment probe, calling her "the woman" and "bad news", adding: "Well, she's going to go through some things."
The president has been accused of withholding almost $400 million of military aid to Ukraine while demanding Mr Zelensky launch investigations into one of his 2020 political rivals, Joe Biden, as well as his son, Hunter, who previously served on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm. There has been no evidence of illegal wrongdoing on either part of the Bidens.
Several diplomats have come forward in recent weeks to provide evidence of an apparent “shadow diplomacy” surrounding Ukraine, in which Mr Giuliani and others close to the president were allegedly working to secure public statements from the Ukrainian president that his country was investigating the Bidens, as well as the origins of the US probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Ms Croft reportedly said on Wednesday that “the only reason given” to withhold the crucial financial aid to Ukraine “was that the order came at the direction of the president”.
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