Why Did Bolton Tell Engel to Look Into the Removal of Yovanovitch?

During the impeachment hearings in the House, Republicans claimed that the firing of Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was within the president’s prerogative. In addition, when confronted with evidence that his demands for investigations weren’t part of official U.S. foreign policy, they asserted that it is the president, not his staff, who determine this country’s foreign policy. Those same arguments have been repeated by the president’s defense team during the Senate trial.

On Wednesday, news broke about a telephone call in late September between former National Security Advisor John Bolton and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Elliot Engel.

According to Engel, during a private phone conversation in late September, shortly after Bolton was fired, Bolton told him—“unprompted”—that the House Foreign Affairs Committee should look into the ouster of US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

“He strongly implied that something improper had occurred around her removal as our top diplomat in Kyiv,” Engel said in his statement.

Given the fact that it is true that U.S. ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, why would Bolton zero in on the ouster of Yovanovitch?

There is strong evidence to suggest that the firing of the ambassador was a quid pro quo in response to demands made by Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko. But it is also true that Trump and Giuliani had good reasons for wanting to get rid of her. She was tireless in her efforts to work with Ukrainians to fight corruption in their country. That was to her credit when it came to carrying out official U.S. policy in that country.

But when Trump’s policy in Ukraine became an attempt to extort Zelensky into digging up dirt on his political opponent, the president’s personal interests superseded official policy. Yovanovitch became an obstacle at that point and had to be removed. Gordon Sondland, as one of the three amigos, was then charged to work with Giuliani to carry out the president’s agenda. Here’s what I wrote about that during the House hearings.

I was struck by the testimony of several people during the impeachment hearings about how Gordon Sondland presented the idea that, even though he was the Ambassador to the European Union, the president had put him in charge of diplomatic efforts with Ukraine. On Wednesday, Sondland stated that he had stepped into that role because, with the ouster of Yovanovitch, there was no ambassador to Ukraine. So Sondland took over—which left the three amigos (Sondland, Volker, and Perry) in charge…

[During her testimony, Fiona] Hill explained that Sondland was involved in a “domestic political errand, and we were involved in national security foreign policy, and those two things had just diverged.” When Ambassador Taylor talked about a “regular” and “irregular” channel at work, that is what he was referring to. Trump and his allies knew that they had to get Ambassador Yovanovitch out of the way to open up a lane for the domestic political errand, which involved aiming Ukranian corruption at Joe Biden and the 2020 election.

When Bolton told Engel that something improper had occurred around Yovanovich’s removal, this might be what he was referring to. It is also possible that he has additional information about these events.

While the president’s defenders are right to suggest that ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president and that the commander-in-chief sets foreign policy, those standards don’t apply when Trump’s aim was to abuse his power in support of his own political interests.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.