Republicans have made a big deal out of the fact that a president has the right to fire an ambassador. During her testimony on Friday, Marie Yovanovitch agreed. She said,”I have always understood that I served at the pleasure of the President.” The issue under review is not the fact that Trump fired Yovanovitch. Rather, it is the reason he did so. As Yovanovitch’s testimony made clear, she became an obstacle to the president’s attempt to exploit corruption in Ukraine.
Here is how Yovanovitch described the situation in Ukraine.
It was— and remains—a top U.S. priority to help Ukraine fight corruption. Significant progress has been made since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. Unfortunately, as the past couple of months have underlined, not all Ukrainians embraced our anti-corruption work. Thus, perhaps, it was not surprising, that when our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. Ambassador.
As George Kent said during Wednesday’s hearing, “You can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.” It’s clear that Ambassador Yovanovitch pissed off some corrupt people and they launched a smear campaign in order to get her fired.
We know that on the Ukrainian end, those people included two corrupt former prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko. It appears that the role of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was to connect people like that to Rudy Giuliani, as well as reporters like John Solomon. That’s the nexus between Yovanovitch and Trump’s attempt to bribe the Ukrainian government in order to get dirt on his political opponent. There were actually three groups of actors in this drama.
- Trump wanted dirt on Joe Biden, as well as affirmation of his conspiracy theory about Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election to help Clinton.
- Zelensky wanted U.S. support, both in the form of a White House meeting and military aid.
- Corrupt Ukranians wanted to upend the anti-corruption efforts of career professionals like Yovanovitch.
The Ukrainians fed dirt on Yovanovitch to both Giuliani and Solomon, which eventually got her fired. At the same time, they dished out lies about the Bidens and the 2016 election, which Giuliani took back to Trump and Solomon published in his articles. Trump used those lies to pressure Zelensky into making a public statement about opening investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election—holding out a White House meeting and military aid as the payoff. Everyone was going to get what they wanted, until the whistleblower exposed the whole racket.
That is why I nearly jumped out of my seat on Wednesday when Representative Jim Himes said that “President Trump wasn’t trying to end corruption in Ukraine, I think he was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine at Vice-President Biden and at the 2020 election.” There were actually two quid pro quos that were part of this whole deal. In addition to the one Trump was using against Zelensky, the corrupt prosecutors were willing to dish up dirt on the president’s political opponents in exchange for an end to U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.
This is where Bill Taylor’s testimony about the two diplomatic channels that were at work in Ukraine—the regular and the irregular—comes into play. Amidst their efforts to get dirt on Trump’s political opponents, the irregular channel, led by Rudy Giuliani, was working to undermine the anti-corruption efforts of the regular channel. The smears against Yovanovich and her eventual firing were part of that effort.