Trump's Russia ambassador pick says he knew of Giuliani 'campaign' against ex-Ukraine envoy

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told lawmakers Wednesday that he was aware of a “campaign” against the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine by President TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE’s personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiDemocrats release two new transcripts ahead of next public impeachment hearings GOP senator calls impeachment 'sabotage' effort, raises questions about witness on eve of testimony Impeachment guide: The 9 witnesses testifying this week MORE over the summer, corroborating parts of the ex-ambassador’s private testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

“My knowledge in the spring and summer of this year about any involvement of Mr. Giuliani was in connection with a campaign against our ambassador to Ukraine,” Sullivan said under questioning from Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezGraham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward MORE (D-N.J.) during his confirmation hearing to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

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Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted as U.S ambassador to Ukraine in late April, told House lawmakers in closed-door testimony earlier this month that Sullivan informed her she was recalled from her position in Ukraine because Trump had lost confidence in her.

Yovanovitch also said that she was told by Sullivan that there had been a "concerted campaign" against her since Summer 2018 but that she had done nothing wrong, according to her written opening statement.

Pressed Wednesday on the details surrounding Yovanovitch’s dismissal, Sullivan repeated that it was because the president had lost confidence in her. He added that he asked why that was the case, and was not given a specific reason.

“My experience has been that when the president loses confidence in an ambassador, no matter what the reason, that the president’s confidence in his ambassador in a capital is the coin of the realm, the most important thing for that ambassador,” Sullivan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sullivan also said that Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoDemocrats release two new transcripts ahead of next public impeachment hearings McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran MORE sought to push back on the campaign against Yovanovitch but eventually decided they needed to recall her because of Trump’s loss of confidence. 

“The secretary in turn had pushed back and sought justification from those who were criticizing Ambassador Yovanovitch,” Sullivan testified. 

“After several months had elapsed, the Secretary finally told me that there had come a point when the President had lost confidence in the Ambassador and we needed to make a change to our mission in Ukraine.” 

Sullivan also told lawmakers that he became aware of a packet of information about Yovanovitch that was supplied to the State Department counsel. He said it was told he came from “someone at the White House” but that he didn’t know who was responsible for producing the packet.

“It didn’t provide, to me, a basis for us taking action against our ambassador,” Sullivan said of the packet. But he said “to be cautious” he asked the Justice Department or the State Department inspector general to look at the materials.

The State Department inspector general furnished the documents, which sought to bolster unproven allegations against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Democrats release two new transcripts ahead of next public impeachment hearings Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage MORE,  to Congress earlier this month. Democrats have described them as “propaganda” and “disinformation.” Giuliani told NBC News earlier this month that he gave the information to Pompeo and that he was told State would look into them.

Sullivan told lawmakers Wednesday that Pompeo had not read the packet. A source with knowledge told The Hill in early October that Pompeo “never promised Rudy Giuliani that he would investigate the contents of the envelope or anything related to Ukraine.”

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, was recalled from her post in Ukraine in May, around the same time Giuliani acknowledged he was pursuing information in Ukraine that could be damaging to President Trump’s political rivals.

Her dismissal came under fresh scrutiny following the release of a rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump asked him to “look into” Biden and his son Hunter’s dealings with Ukraine. 

On the call, Trump describes Yovanovitch as “bad news” and was “going to go through some things.” Zelensky told Trump that he agreed Yovanovitch was a “bad ambassador,” according to the White House memo.

Sullivan said Wednesday he did not know what Trump meant when he called Yovanovitch “bad news.”

Trump told reporters on the day of Yovanovitch’s testimony that he didn’t know her, sidestepping a question about whether he put pressure to have her removed as ambassador to Ukraine.

“She may be very much a wonderful woman.  If you remember the phone call I had with the President — the new President — he didn’t speak favorably.  But I just don’t know her. She may be a wonderful woman,” Trump said, referencing his phone call with Zelensky at the center of the House impeachment inquiry.

Trump has repeatedly defended his call with Zelensky as “perfect,” disputing allegations raised by an intelligence community whistleblower that he was soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election by asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Trump has insisted his efforts were about fighting “corruption” and had nothing to do with politics. 

Sullivan defended Trump during the hearing on Wednesday, saying the president was interested in fighting corruption in Ukraine. He also told that it would go against American values to solicit foreign interference in investigating a political opponent. 

“Soliciting investigations into a domestic political opponent, I don’t think that would be in accord with our values,” Sullivan said. 

Ukraine policy was brought up multiple times in the course of Sullivan’s confirmation hearing, particularly in the context of Russian intervention in Crimea. He was also asked multiple times about matters related to the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s contacts with Ukraine. 

Several witnesses have testified in connection with the House impeachment inquiry, describing an unusual second channel directing foreign policy toward Ukraine that included Giuliani, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerImpeachment guide: The 9 witnesses testifying this week Public impeachment hearings enter second week The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Trump floats testifying in impeachment hearing MORE, Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryOvernight Energy: EPA delays board's review of 'secret science' rules | Keystone pipeline spill affecting more land than thought | Dems seek probe into Forest Service grants tied to Alaska logging Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Highly irregular: Rudy, the president, and a venture in Ukraine MORE and U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

The State Department has also sought to block witnesses from testifying voluntarily, causing House committees to issue subpoenas to compel their appearance. Sullivan said Wednesday that the department did so at the direction of the White House and on advice from White House and State Department counsels. 

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Sullivan said Wednesday it wouldn’t be unusual to have officials outside the State Department working on foreign policy, noting Perry’s participation would be relevant given his work on energy issues with Ukraine.

However, Sullivan said that it would be problematic to have more than one channel working on foreign policy, saying it creates difficulty for the secretary of State in maintaining control over it.

“I think we normally assume everyone is pursuing the same policies when we have different channels of communications to a country,” said Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenProgressive group to spend as much as M to turn out young voters On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows MORE (D-N.H.) 

“That’s a problem when there are multiple parties involved and it’s a challenge I think for any secretary of State to maintain control over U.S. foreign policy in any government, even within the U.S. government,” Sullivan said, citing disagreements between cabinet secretaries over policy decisions during the Bush era.

“It’s a challenge for the secretary of state to maintain control over that policy in any administration,” Sullivan said.