Impeachment inquiry: Ambassador Yovanovitch says she was told to tweet support of Trump

Christal Hayes and Bart Jansen, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump released hundreds of pages of testimony Monday from the former Ukraine ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, and a former State Department adviser, Michael McKinley.

Separately, four White House officials scheduled to appear before the House Oversight, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees did not show up.

From 'bullying' to 'go big or go home': 5 takeaways from impeachment inquiry transcripts

Follow along for the latest impeachment updates on Monday: 

Yovanovitch describes 'nervousness' at State Department

Testimony by Yovanovitch and McKinley were the first in a series of transcripts to be released from closed-door depositions in the inquiry.

Yovanovitch is quoted as saying she was pulled out of her job after hearing that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had been criticizing her. She described "nervousness" at the State Department and the White House about her role.

Yovanovitch said she got a call in April from Director General of the Foreign Service, Carol Perez, who offered a “heads-up, that things were going wrong, kind of off the – off the track.”

“There was a lot of nervousness on the seventh floor and up the street,” Yovanovitch said she was told by Perez, referring to the State Department and the White House. “I said, well, thanks for giving me a heads-up. What's the problem? Tell me what's going on. And she (Perez) said she didn’t know.”

Later that night, in another call, Perez told Yovanovitch she needed to be on the next plane to Washington.

Advice for Yovanovitch: 'Praise' Trump

Prior to her ouster, Yovanovitch was attacked by conservative media, Donald Trump Jr. and others. 

She testified that she reached out to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a close Trump ally who had been asked by the president to help with Ukraine policy.

Sondland’s advice: Tweet her support for Trump.

“He said, you know, you need to go big or go home,” Yovanovitch said. “You need to, you know tweet out there that you support the president and that all these are lies and everything else.”

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Yovanovitch ultimately decided not to heed Sondland’s advice.

“It was advice that I did not see how I could implement in my role as an ambassador and as a foreign service officer,” she said.

Yovanovitch said Sondland may not have used the words “support President Trump” in urging the tweet, but his meaning was clear.

Yovanovitch said Sondland told her, “You know the president. WeIl, maybe you don't know him personally, but you know, you know, the sorts of things that he likes. You know, go out there battling aggressively and, you know, praise him or support him.”

Don Jr.: Get rid of 'jokers' as ambassadors

Under fire from Donald Trump Jr. and conservative media, Yovanovitch had urged the State Department to issue a strong statement of support for her. But the department declined because any statement could be undercut by a presidential tweet, she said. 

“If you have the president’s son saying, you know, we need to pull these clowns, or however he referred to me, it makes it hard to be a credible ambassador in a country,” Yovanovitch said.

The president’s son criticized Yovanovitch in a tweet on March 24, saying the country needed “less of these jokers as ambassadors.” He posted a link to an article about growing calls to remove Yovanovitch, who was referred to as former President Barack Obama’s ambassador.

Envoy: Trump influenced by people who are 'not trustworthy'

Republicans have noted that Trump can replace any ambassador at any time because they are appointed. But Yovanovitch said she warned John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, that her ouster could send a signal to Ukraine and other countries that ambassadors could be removed because of influence from private people.

Yovanovitch said she told Sullivan her removal was a “dangerous precedent."

She said it appeared that "private interests and people who don't like a particular American ambassador could combine to, you know, find somebody who was more suitable for their interests."

"It should be the State Department, the President, who makes decisions about which ambassador [serves]. And, obviously, the president did make a decision, but I think [it was] influenced by some who are not trustworthy,” she added.

McKinley: State Department was 'broken and demoralized'

Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, told lawmakers Yovanovitch's recall had a "significant effect on morale" among foreign service officers, according to the transcript of his testimony.

McKinley said the State Department's lack of a statement of support for her "was viewed as puzzling and baffling." 

He abruptly quit his post on Oct. 11, days before he testified. He said the timing of his resignation was due to the "failure" of the State Department to support foreign service employees entangled in the impeachment inquiry, specifically Yovanovitch, as well as "what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives."

McKinley, who served as a diplomat for more than 35 years with roles in Afghanistan, Brazil and other countries, told lawmakers many viewed the State Department under Trump "as broken and demoralized."

GOP lawmaker: Closed-door interviews are a 'charade'

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tweeted that the transcripts would reveal that the closed-door interviews are a charade.

“As more of these transcripts come out, Americans will begin to see that these closed-door interviews have done little to advance the Democrats’ case,” Meadows said. “This unserious impeachment effort will be exposed for what it is: a charade, based on a fairy tale.”

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, cast aside the vast array of concerns noted by Yovanovitch and McKinley in their depositions by saying their testimony wasn’t relevant in the impeachment inquiry and did not change anything.

“The two individuals whose transcripts were released today, frankly, have not much to do with the underlying issue,” Jordan told reporters. “Mr. McKinley had nothing to do with the situation that's sort of the basis of what the Democrats are doing, and Ambassador Yovanovitch had already been recalled and was no longer in Ukraine when the call took place, when the aid question was even present.”

Jordan attacked Democrats for releasing just these two transcripts and the process of the hearings, which are still scheduled to continue behind closed doors this week. Democrats have already said they plan to release the remainder of the approximately 100 hours of deposition transcripts from the 13 witnesses who testified and also plan to start public hearings as early as later this month.

Jordan downplayed the concerns about Rudy Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine and the campaign that sought to have Yovanovitch removed, noting that Ukraine’s president also appeared on board with replacing her and the president has discretion over who he wants working in foreign policy and such investigations.

“As I've said before, the fundamental facts have never changed and will never change,” Jordan said. “We've seen the transcript, everyone’s been able to read it. That's the best evidence that nothing, no quid pro quo, no kind of conditions, were ever in play.”

DOJ says Eisenberg is immune from testifying 

An attorney for John Eisenberg, the National Security Council’s lawyer, notified lawmakers that Eisenberg wouldn't show up Monday morning for his deposition. In doing so, attorney William Burck sent three letters – including one from the Department of Justice that declared Eisenberg was immune from being called to testify.

The three-page letter from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel analyzed Eisenberg’s role at the White House and concluded he was “absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony in his capacity as a senior adviser to the President.”

The letter, which was dated one day before Eisenberg was scheduled to appear, was the latest attempt by the Trump administration to block witnesses from appearing before Congress as part of the impeachment inquiry.

Burck said in a separate letter that his client received a subpoena Friday, which didn’t give him a “single business day to prepare for testimony.” But, the letter added, “Even if Mr. Eisenberg had been afforded a reasonable amount of time to prepare, the President has instructed Mr. Eisenberg not to appear at the deposition.”

Burck said Eisenberg would wait on the courts to decide a lawsuit filed by another administration official, former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman. The president blocked a subpoena for Kupperman to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

“Mr. Eisenberg, as a lawyer and officer of the court, will abide by whatever final decision the federal judiciary reaches on the dispute between the Executive and Congress,” Burck wrote.

Eisenberg is one of four witnesses who were scheduled but not expected to appear Monday to testify.

Trump says whistleblower should testify

The whistleblower who raised alarms about the president's dealings with Ukraine and touched off the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry is willing to answer written questions submitted by House Republicans, the person's lawyer says.

But Trump says that's not good enough.

The testimony offer, made over the weekend to Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, followed escalating attacks by Trump and his GOP allies who demand the whistleblower be identified.

The proposal would allow Republicans to ask questions of the whistleblower without going through the committee's chairman, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

But Trump, weighing in on Twitter Monday morning, said the person should appear publicly.

"He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!" Trump wrote, slamming the entire process as a "Con!" 

Four officials scheduled to testify

Eisenberg and his deputy, Michael Ellis, are two of the officials that impeachment investigators summoned Monday. Both did not show up. 

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, testified Oct. 29 that he was concerned about the July 25 phone call when Trump urged Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden while withholding nearly $400 million in military aid. Vindman listened to the call and reported his concerns to Eisenberg.

“I was concerned by the call,” Vindman told the House inquiry. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”

Trump has insisted he was justified in urging Ukraine to investigate corruption.

Vindman said Eisenberg suggested storing a summary of the call on a computer used for highly classified material. Ellis was with Eisenberg when he made the suggestion.

Other White House witnesses scheduled Monday were Robert Blair, a senior adviser to Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Brian McCormack, the associate director for natural resources at the Office of Management and Budget. Blair and McCormack also  did not show up to give testimony. 

McCormack previously worked as Rick Perry's chief of staff before Perry announced his resignation as Energy Secretary. Perry has been scrutinized because he was the official who set up the July 25 phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president and because he led the U.S. delegation to Ukraine for Zelensky's inauguration. 

Perry was invited to testify Wednesday but the Energy Department released a statement Friday saying, “The Secretary will not partake in a secret star chamber inquisition where agency counsel is forbidden to be present."

Subpoena lawsuit modified

The former deputy national security adviser, Charles Kupperman, dropped part of his complaint in federal court about the House impeachment inquiry, but still urged a decision in the case within a few months.

Kupperman filed a lawsuit asking the federal courts to decide which is more powerful: a House subpoena for testimony or President Donald Trump’s claim of executive privilege to block him from appearing.

But lawyers from the House and the Justice Department each told U.S. District Judge Richard Leon at a hearing Thursday that they would urge him to dismiss the case.

Kupperman’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, filed a letter to Leon on Monday acknowledging that the House vote Thursday on rules for the impeachment inquiry eliminated the part of his filing that questioned whether the subpoena was authorized and valid.

But Cooper still urged a decision in the case by “the end of December or early January” because of the great national interest in the impeachment inquiry.

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump impeachment: House releases testimony from Yovanovitch, McKinley