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CNN Live Event/Special
Ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch Testifies Publicly at House Impeachment Hearing. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired November 15, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
QUIGLEY: Thank you. Madam Ambassador, it's like a Hallmark movie. You ended up at Georgetown, this is all OK.
But it wasn't your preference, seven, eight months ago, correct?
YOVANOVITCH: No, it was not.
QUIGLEY: It wasn't your preference to be the victim of a smear campaign, was it?
QUIGLEY: Wasn't your preference to be defamed by the president of the United States, including today, was it?
QUIGLEY: Wasn't your preference to be ousted at seemingly the pinnacle of your career, was it?
QUIGLEY: You wanted to finish your extended tour, correct?
YOVANOVITCH: I did.
QUIGLEY: What did you want to do after that, did you know?
YOVANOVITCH: I -- I wasn't sure.
QUIGLEY: There's nothing wrong with Georgetown. It's a fine place, right?
YOVANOVITCH: It's a wonderful place.
QUIGLEY: But it's the only choice at the end of a distinguished career, after all that. It's not the end of a Hallmark movie. It's the end of a really bad reality TV show, brought to you by someone who knows a lot about that.
(LAUGHTER) Why did you -- you previously testified that you sought advice from Ambassador Sondland at this time about what to do. Is that correct?
YOVANOVITCH: I did.
QUIGLEY: Why did you reach out to the ambassador?
YOVANOVITCH: Because this was clearly so political and was not going to be, you know -- the State Department was not in a position, shall we say, to -- to manage the issue, it didn't appear to me.
And so I asked Ambassador Sondland, who said that he, you know, he was a political appointee, he said he was close to the president. And so he had just been in Ukraine for a ship visit with some of his E.U. colleagues from Brussels, and so I reached out to him for advice.
When (ph) this was no longer a Ukraine kind of -- an interview with Mr. Lutsenko, kind of a Ukrainian -- but it became sort of the...
YOVANOVITCH: ... American -- American politicians and pundits, et cetera, were repeating those allegations, I asked him for advice.
QUIGLEY: It meant a lot to you. This was an extraordinary time. It meant -- the advice meant a lot. And what was -- what was his advice?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, he suggested that I needed to go big or go home. And he said that the best thing to do would be to, you know, send out a tweet, praise the president, that sort of thing.
QUIGLEY: And what was your reaction to that advice?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, my reaction was that I'm sure he meant well, but it was not advice that I could really follow. It felt -- it felt partisan, it felt political and I just -- that was not something that I thought (ph) was in keeping with my role as ambassador and a Foreign Service officer.
QUIGLEY: Did he give you any specific suggestions on what to say about the president of the United States, or just say something nice about him?
YOVANOVITCH: Yeah, just to praise him.
QUIGLEY: Thank you.
I yield the balance to the chairman.
SCHIFF: I want to follow up on Mr. Quigley's line of questioning, and also hearken back to something you were asked by minority counsel earlier. You were asked a couple questions. Do you think you could have done more to push back against this smear campaign?
And I'm not suggesting this is what the counsel was getting at, but sometimes victims are asked, aren't you responsible for your own victimization? What would you say to people who say, isn't it kind of your fault, Ambassador, that you didn't fight your own smear harder?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, I think that -- you know, I've been a Foreign Service officer for a long time. And just like the military, we have our own culture, we have our own kind of chain of command, so to speak. And I did everything that I could to -- you know, to address these issues and ask the State Department to do what I felt was the right thing, which was support me when -- when it was important to do so, because it was also about supporting the policy.
I -- I think it was for others to stand up for me.
SCHIFF: Quite agree.
STEFANIK: Thank you.
Since the chairman has gaveled out all of my colleagues with their unanimous consent, I am going to read for the record, many of the chairman's comments in September of the importance of hearing from the whistleblower.
Again, Ambassador, thank you for your patience, thank you for your service. But since we haven't been able to conduct ourselves in normal procedures, I'm just going to use the five minutes for this.
September 29th in The Wall Street Journal, quote, "The whistleblower at the center of the impeachment investigation of President Trump will testify in the House very soon." This is a quote by the chairman.
USA Today, September 29th, talking with ABC News' "This Week": "Schiff, the Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said the whistleblower would testify very soon. And the only thing standing in the way was getting security clearances for the attorneys representing the whistleblower so they could attend the testimony."
From Vox, September 29th, "Rep. Adam Schiff said Sunday the whistleblower at the center of a growing scandal surrounding President Donald Trump will testify before the House Intelligence Committee very soon."
On CNN, September 29th, "Schiff said Sunday on ABC, as well as NBC's 'Meet the Press,' that he expects the whistleblower to testify very soon."
The Washington Post, September 29th, "In an appearance on ABC News this week, Schiff echoed Pelosi's message. He also said he expected the Intelligence Committee to hear from the whistleblower very soon, pending a security clearance from acting director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire."
In The Huffington Post, "Schiff told ABC's 'This Week' that he expects the whistleblower to appear before this committee very soon."
In The New York Post, quote, "We'll get the unfiltered testimony of that whistleblower."
In The Washington Times, quote, "That whistleblower will be allowed to come in."
These are all quotes from Chairman Adam Schiff.
In Talking Points Memo, "The question was posed" -- actually, this was by George Stephanopoulos -- "Have you reached an agreement yet with the whistleblower and his or her attorneys about coming before the committee and providing the information firsthand? Quote, 'Yes we have,' Schiff responded. 'And as DNI Maguire promised during the hearing, that whistleblower will be allowed to come in and come in without a minder from the Justice Department or from the White House to tell the whistleblower what they can and cannot say. We'll get the unfiltered testimony of that whistleblower.'"
In Daily Kos, "We're ready to hear from the whistleblower as soon as that is done, and we'll keep obviously riding shotgun to make sure that the acting director doesn't delay in that clearance process."
In CNBC, "Well get the unfiltered testimony of that whistleblower."
In MarketWatch, "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that an agreement has been reached under which the whistleblower will testify before the committee very soon."
I can keep going but, again, the chairman refused to allow us to put these into the record with unanimous consent, so I've read those out and as we know, it is important to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and from firing. And we want to make sure whistleblowers are able to come forward.
But in this case, the fact that we are getting criticized by Chairman Adam Schiff for statements that he himself made early on this process shows the duplicity and just the abuse of power that we are continuing to see.
With 1 minute, 54 seconds left, I'll yield to my colleague Mr. Jordan.
JORDAN: I thank the gentlelady for yielding.
I would also add that the Chairman has promised we'll get to see the transcripts. But there's four people we've deposed that we have not be able to use the -- see their transcripts, have their transcripts re- loose (ph) and -- released and; therefore, the testimony they provided, we're not able to use in these open hearings.
If it's an open hearing, all the available testimony from depositions that has been taken by the committee should be available to be discussed for the American people to see. But no, no, no -- Mr. Morris, and Mr. Hale and two other -- Mrs. Williams, two others have -- and another one have not yet been released. So I hope the chairman releases that.
One other point I would make in the -- in the last minute of Ms. Stefanik's time, the Democrats have asserted that this -- this whole thing with -- with Ambassador Yovanovitch was part of some sinister scheme by the White House to get Mr. Zelensky to do an -- President Zelensky to do an investigation.
If recalling Ambassador Yovanovitch was part of some scheme by Trump, and Pompeo, and Giuliani to get President Zelensky to do an investigation, why would they replace her with the Democrats first witness, their star witness, Bill Taylor?
I mean, that -- if that's the plan, not the best plan I've ever seen put together. Their star witness, their first witness, Mr. Taylor was here Wednesday. That's what they were up to?
I think that just demonstrates that that is not what went on here. Mr. Zelensky never undertook any investigations and the reason the aid was released -- as we discussed on Wednesday -- was because Vice President Pence, Ambassador Bolton, and U.S. senators all talked with President Zelensky. And they were convinced he was the real deal, as the ambassador has alluded to in her testimony. That's why the money was released.
With that, I yield back.
SCHIFF: Mr. Swalwell?
SWALWELL: Mr. Chairman, a lot has changed since the whistleblower came forward, two things in particular. First, most of what the whistleblower has alleged has been corroborated by the witnesses that we have heard from. Second, the president -- who my colleagues so shamelessly continue to defend -- continue to pressure, threaten and intimidate the whistleblower.
So I'd like unanimous consent to put into the record a September 26, 2019 article from Business Insider, "Trump suggested the whistleblower who filed a complaint against him is guilty of treason, which is punishable by death".
SCHIFF: Without objection.
SWALWELL: How about September 26, 2019, Vanity Fair, "Trump Suggests Executing The Whistle-blower's Sources Like", quote, "'in the good old days'". Third...
SCHIFF: Without objection.
SWALWELL: ... September 29th, "Whistleblower's lawyer raises fear for client's safety"...
SCHIFF: Without objection.
SWALWELL: ... from Axios.
Mr. Chairman, the whistleblower has an absolute right to anonymity. The whistleblower's lawyer has said that he fears for his personal safety and will only answer questions now in writing. I wish my colleagues would join me in protecting the whistleblower's right to anonymity.
But here, Ms. Yovanovitch, we are here to talk about you and what you witnessed. And you saw a lot as it related to Mr. Giuliani. And I want to read a quote to you from Mr. Giuliani -- but first ask you, when you were in Ukraine, you understood that Rudy Giuliani was Donald Trump's personal lawyer. Is that right?
YOVANOVITCH: Yes, that's right.
SWALWELL: Are you familiar with Rudy Giuliani's quote in The New York Times describing himself as a lawyer saying, quote, "He basically knows what I'm doing," comma, "sure, as his lawyer," were you familiar with that quote?
YOVANOVITCH: It sounds familiar.
SWALWELL: And you have a lawyer with you today, Ms. Yovanovitch. And you understand that lawyers act on their clients' behalf. Is that right?
SWALWELL: That it would be improper for a lawyer to go outside any directive that a client gives, is that right?
YOVANOVITCH: That's my understanding.
SWALWELL: Are you familiar with a New York Times story on May 9, 2019, where Rudy Giuliani says that he intends to visit Ukraine and says, "We're not meddling in an election; we're meddling in an investigation." Are you familiar with that quote?
SWALWELL: That's 11 days before you were removed as ambassador, is that right?
SWALWELL: He is talking publicly about designs on coming to Ukraine. But what I think is interesting is that Mr. Giuliani says "We're," as in we are. He doesn't say "I am not meddling in an election." He doesn't say "I'm not meddling in an investigation." He says, "We". He's speaking for himself and his client. And I want to talk about that quote, "We're not meddling in election. We're meddling in an investigation." Is it proper for you or anyone who acts on behalf of the United States government to meddle in an investigation?
YOVANOVITCH: No, I don't believe so.
SWALWELL: Why not?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, there are law enforcement channels, and things need to be handled properly and without any kind of political bias.
SWALWELL: Now, this anticorruption crusader, President Trump, who my colleagues have touted out as having such a great interest in anticorruption -- in both the calls that have been referenced today, the August 21 call and the July 25 call, isn't it true that President Trump never mentions the word corruption?
YOVANOVITCH: Yes, that's true.
SWALWELL: And as far as the foreign aid that my colleagues keep saying, "Well, he can't be guilty. He didn't complete the cheat. The aid went to the Ukrainians," isn't it true that the only reason the aid -- or the only time the aid went to the Ukrainians was after the whistleblower complaint became public?
YOVANOVITCH: Yes, it was after the whistleblower complaint became public.
SWALWELL: So you don't really get points when you get your hand caught in the cookie jar and someone says, "Hey, he's got his hand in the cookie jar," and then you take your hand out, which is essentially what my Republican colleagues and the president are trying to take credit for.
Finally, I want to put up the disgusting tweet from the president today where he attacks your character. But I think I know who you are, Ambassador. I think the country knows who you are. He smeared you when you were in Ukraine. He smeared you on that phone call with President Zelensky on July 25. He is smearing you right now as you are testifying. Ambassador Yovanovitch, are the president's smears going to stop you from fighting corruption?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, I will continue with my work.
SWALWELL: And if your country asks you again to fight corruption, will you still do that, despite the smears?
SWALWELL: Thank you.
I yield back.
SCHIFF: Mr. Hurd?
HURD: Your Excellency, 33 years...
Move over here. Thirty-three years, six senior Foreign Service performance awards, five State Department superior honor awards, the Presidential Distinguished Service Award and the Secretary's Diplomacy in Human Rights Award. You're tough as nails and you're smart as hell, and I -- you're a great example of what our ambassadors should be like. You're an honor to your family. You are an honor to the Foreign Service. You are an honor to this country, and I thank you for all that you have done and will continue to do on -- on behalf of your country.
YOVANOVITCH: Thank you.
HURD: Now, I'm nervous about what I'm getting ready to do. I want to do a five-year history of Ukraine in about 45 seconds, and now that you're a -- a professor you can grade my paper, OK?
Valentine's Day, 2014, the Ukrainian people get fed up with the Ukrainian president, Yanukovych, and basically overthrow him. He goes on the run. This was the Revolution of Dignity. Who was the acting president during that time when Yanukovych went out?
YOVANOVITCH: I think it was...
HURD: Turchynov? Is that how you say it?
YOVANOVITCH: Turchynov. Thank you for helping me.
HURD: Turchynov. OK, excellent. Then in March of 2014, that is when we saw little green men coming into Ukraine, and ultimately, the Russians invade the Ukraine and not only annex -- try to annex Crimea, but also tried to -- they invade the entire country in the eastern Donbass, as well.
HURD: Then there was an election and the Ukrainian president was Poroshenko. That was in June of 2014. Then you came to post in 2016 of August, is that correct?
YOVANOVITCH: Two years later.
HURD: January 2017, Trump was elected and in December 2017 is when the Javelins were approved, right? And we saw those Javelins delivered in April of 2018 to be put to first use. Then we had Zelensky elected in 2019, April, correct? Now the -- Zelensky defeated the previous president, Poroshenko.
HURD: There's no love lost between those two dudes, is there?
YOVANOVITCH: I don't think so.
HURD: OK. And then in May of 20 -- 2019 Zelensky is sworn in.
HURD: So my questions -- we talk a lot about Rudy Giuliani. Do we know what officials within the Zelensky regime he actually met with? I know two: a gentleman named by Yermak, who was one of Zelensky's senior advisors, and then we also know of the former attorney general that we've already established here, the -- we did -- was corrupt, Lutsenko.
HURD: All right. And Mr. Lutsenko served under Zelensky for a couple of months up until April -- excuse me, August, is that correct?
YOVANOVITCH: Yes, that's right.
HURD: And their parliament basically voted him out, is that correct?
YOVANOVITCH: Yes, that's right.
HURD: So if Rudy Giuliani is trying to influence the Zelensky regime, would a guy that worked under the previous regime, under Poroshenko, be the right guy to do it?
YOVANOVITCH: So are you saying Mr. Lutsenko?
YOVANOVITCH: That he -- could you -- could (inaudible)
HURD: Did Mr. Lutsenko have much credibility within the Zelensky regime? The current -- the current regime?
YOVANOVITCH: I don't think so.
HURD: He didn't. He didn't.
Now, Mr. Yermak. Do you know of any other Ukrainians that Mr. Giuliani was meeting with that was part of the Zelensky regime?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, just to remind, I -- I would have already have left Ukraine by that point.
HURD: But there was a...
YOVANOVITCH: But no, I'm not aware.
HURD: Even with the administration to come, right, Zelensky won the election. There was a two-month period of preparing to be installed as president. Even during that time, were you aware of any contact?
YOVANOVITCH: There was -- so there is a -- one of the oligarchs, as we've heard about. One of the oligarchs is named Mr. Kolomoisky, and he met with Mr. Fruman...
YOVANOVITCH: ... and Mr. Parnas...
YOVANOVITCH: ... when that was apparently to get a -- a meeting for Mr. Giuliani.
HURD: And those are - yeah, but those are not people that were actually in government or became in the Zelensky regime. Is that correct?
[14:20:00] YOVANOVITCH: No.
HURD: OK. Mr. Chairman, I yield back. Thank you.
SCHIFF: Mr. Castro?
CASTRO: Thank you, Chairman, and thank you, Ambassador, for your 33 years of service to our nation. A big question here today is why you were pushed aside as Ambassador. For example, Americans know that an employer has a right to fire an employee but they shouldn't do it for certain reasons. You shouldn't be fired because you're disabled, because you're a woman, because you're black and for other reasons.
And I think most Americans agree that a President shouldn't fire an Ambassador or recall an Ambassador because the Ambassador's standing in his way of doing a corrupt act. So I want to ask you did the President ever tell you why he was recalling you?
CASTRO: Did anybody at the White House ever tell you why you were being recalled?
CASTRO: Did the President ever consult you about who the good guys and the bad guys were in the Ukraine?
CASTRO: Did Secretary Pompeo ever tell you why you were being recalled?
CASTRO: And it appears in the testimony that we've heard in the Intelligence Committee so far that there were a group of the President's men, perhaps Secretary Perry, Rudy Giuliani, Ambassador Sondland, who were in on this scheme to help the President get the Bidens and Burisma investigated.
And I want to put aside President Trump for just a second and ask you in all of your years of service, have you ever come across a President, been asked by a President or known of colleagues who were asked by an American President to have - to help - to help that President get an American investigated overseas?
YOVANOVITCH: I'm not aware of that.
CASTRO: And if a President asked you to investigate a former Vice President for this purpose, what would you have said?
YOVANOVITCH: I mean, with what I know today, I would've said no.
CASTRO: And would you have considered it an unlawful act? YOVANOVITCH: I don't know that it's unlawful per se but I - I think again that there are channels for conducting proper investigations and that that would have been the best way to handle something like this.
CASTRO: But certainly it would be - it's bizarre for a President to ask that some American be investigated by another government?
YOVANOVITCH: It's very unusual.
CASTRO: And also, you mention that there is corruption in Ukraine, Ukraine isn't the only country that - that confronts corruption. If the people in power in a country where corruption is rampant are being asked by a foreign leader who's got a lot of leverage over them to conduct an investigation, could that be dangerous because they're - they could trump up charges against someone if they wanted?
YOVANOVITCH: It could.
CASTRO: And I also want to ask you, I spoke to Ambassador Kent. He made a comment yesterday about selective prosecutions and what it means going forward, what kind of precedent it sets, and you've spoken about a dangerous precedent for the State Department and for diplomats.
But I want you to help us consider the precedent going forward. If there's no consequences for President Trump or really any President who does this, what are the consequences for this country and for any American, not just a former Vice President or presidential candidate or even somebody in politics, but a person in business who does business in Saudi Arabia or some other country, if a President is going to speak to another head of state or some foreign official and try and get that person investigated, what does that mean for the future of the country and for Americans?
YOVANOVITCH: Well I think that investigations, prosecutions, judicial decisions properly should remain with investigators, prosecutors and the courts. And I think that, as I said before, I think Senator Vandenberg, when he said that politics needs to stop at the water's edge, I think he was right in that.
CASTRO: I yield back to the Chairman.
SCHIFF: Mr. Ratcliffe?
[14:25:00] RATCLIFFE: Thank the Chairman and I - Ambassador Yovanovitch, I'd like to join all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in thanking you for your service. I'd like to ask you about your earlier testimony about your Senate confirmation and Congresswoman Stefanik had asked you how the Obama-Biden State Department had prepared you to answer questions about Burisma and Hunter Biden specifically. You recall that?
YOVANOVITCH: Yes - yes.
RATCLIFFE: And she mentioned that you had been asked or been prepared for a question about Hunter Biden's role on the board of Burisma but I don't think that you gave us the answer or answers that the Obama- Biden State Department prepared you to give in response to that question. Do you remember what those answers were?
YOVANOVITCH: Yeah, it was something along the lines of I would refer you to the Vice President's office on that.
RATCLIFFE: So did they, in the course of that brief - you about the amount of money that Hunter Biden was being paid by Burisma?
YOVANOVITCH: No, I - this - this wasn't part of a briefing. I mean, I had sort of big old books with questions that might come up.
RATCLIFFE: In preparation for your confirmation. And they thought that Hunter Biden's role at Burisma might be significant enough that it would come up during your confirmation. Is that correct?
YOVANOVITCH: Apparently so. I mean, there were hundreds of questions.
RATCLIFFE: Well hundreds of questions but were there hundreds of companies? How many companies other than Burisma did the Obama-Biden State Department prepare you to give answers for? And if so, if there were others, which ones?
YOVANOVITCH: I - I just don't recall.
RATCLIFFE: You don't recall that there were any other companies, is that correct?
YOVANOVITCH: I'm quite sure there probably were some companies but I - I - I mean, you know, this is a while ago and I don't recall.
RATCLIFFE: But you specifically recall Burisma?
RATCLIFFE: All right. Out of thousands of companies in the Ukraine, the only one that you recall the Obama-Biden State Department preparing you to answer questions about was the one where the Vice President's son was on the board, is that fair?
RATCLIFFE: You understood from Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent's testimony, as it's been related to you, that he testified a few days ago, do you understand that that arrangement, Hunter Biden's role on the Burisma board, caused him enough concern that, as he testified in his statement, that "in February of 2015, I raised my concern that Hunter Biden's status as a board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest." He went on to talk about the Vice President's responsibilities over the Ukraine and - or over Ukraine - Ukrainian policy as one of those factors. Do you recall that?
RATCLIFFE: Did you ever - do you agree with that?
RATCLIFFE: That it was a legitimate concern to raise?
YOVANOVITCH: I that it could raise the appearance of a conflict of interest.
RATCLIFFE: And did you discuss that ever with Mr. Kent?
YOVANOVITCH: I don't believe so.
RATCLIFFE: Shortly before your confirmation August of 2016, Prosecutor General Shokin was fired by President Poroshenko, correct?
RATCLIFFE: And president -- Prosecutor General Shokin was one who had opened the investigation in Burisma, correct?
YOVANOVITCH: I think that is right, but I'm not actually sure.
RATCLIFFE: He was in charge of it, at least at that point in time as the prosecutor general? And are you aware of the very public statements by the vice president that that firing of the prosecutor general occurred in March 2016, six hours after the vice president told President Poroshenko that he needed to fire the prosecutor general or that he couldn't receive $1 billion from the United States? Do you recall.
RATCLIFFE: And do you that that raises a potential concern or conflict of interest that the vice president of the United States was ordering the firing of the prosecutor in charge of a company that has been identified as one that is substantially corrupt?
YOVANOVITCH: I actually don't, I don't think that -- the view that Mr. Shokin was not a good prosecutor general fighting corruption, I don't think that had anything to do with the Burisma case.
RATCLIFFE: But the legitimate concern about Hunter Biden's role was legitimate, correct?
YOVANOVITCH: I think it creates a concern that there could be an appearance...
RATCLIFFE: Based on your testimony ambassador, I'd like to renew my request, Mr. Chairman, that Hunter Biden's testimony that has been requested...
SCHIFF: Requesting (ph) has expired.
RATCLIFFE: ... requested by the Republicans be considered...
SCHIFF: The time (ph) has expired.
RATCLIFFE: ...is legitimate rather than as a sham as the...
SCHIFF: The gentleman (ph) will (ph) suspended...
RATCLIFFE: ...referred to by the chairman.
SCHIFF: Your time has expired.
RATCLIFFE: I have an unanimous...
SCHIFF: Mr. Heck --