Before she was fired, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was advised by the US State Department to issue a public statement of loyalty to President Donald Trump, possibly on camera, the impeachment inquiry has heard.
Giving evidence to the Intelligence Committee in Washington DC on Monday, the under secretary of state for political affairs, David Hale, described how in March 2019, Ms Yovanovitch came under fire during a “smear campaign” allegedly led by Mr Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani – who apparently wanted her removed from office.
The so-called smear campaign, four months before the 25 July phone call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky at the centre of the impeachment scandal, focused on an allegation the Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko said Ms Yovanovitch had given him a “do not prosecute list,” though Mr Lutsenko later retracted that claim.
According to Mr Hale, during the smear campaign, Ms Yovanovitch felt “the tempo of the social media and other criticisms of her were such that she felt she could no longer function” in her role.
So amid this apparent deterioration in the relationship between the White House and the diplomatic team in Ukraine, Mr Hale suggested the State Department wrote “a very robust 10 full-page statement of defence and praise ... for the ambassador’s work,” he told the inquiry.
“And the concept was that simultaneously, or in coordination anyway, she would put out a statement. And they were debating in her embassy whether she should do it on camera or a written statement.”
Explaining the rationale behind the plan, Mr Hale said: “I thought it was a good idea for her to demonstrate that she – there was – because it had become so personal, that she needed to remind people what foreign services are and who we were loyal to, and who we work for and that she was committed to that, and that that would be backed up, of course, by the statement that she was also seeking from the State Department.”
Ultimately, no written statement by the State Department in support of Ms Yovanovitch was drawn up, and she did not issue a public statement of loyalty to Mr Trump.
Mr Hale said his team came to recognise “it would only fuel further negative reaction. And our plan at that point was to try to contain this and wait it out.”
He added: “A statement of endorsement for the ambassador might lead these various individuals, whoever they were, who were conveying information that was derogatory about the ambassador, to counter it, and so it would just further fuel the story and there would be more back and forth.
“So I think the judgment was that it would be better for everyone, including the ambassador, to try to just move past this.”
Speaking at the impeachment hearings at the beginning of November, Ms Yovanovitch said after clashing with Mr Giuliani, she was told by Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, and one of the Trump allies working with Mr Giuliani to tweet praise of the president help her keep her job.