First transcripts reveal deep concern over Giuliani pressure campaign

House Democrats on Monday released the first transcripts from the witness interviews guiding their impeachment investigation, providing the clearest window yet into the closed-door depositions underlying the fast-moving probe into President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE’s dealings with Ukraine.

The verbatim transcripts — detailing last month’s interviews with Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and Michael McKinley, a recently resigned top State Department official — produced no new bombshells for either side amid the ongoing probe into Trump’s campaign to pressure Ukrainian leaders to find dirt on his political rivals.


But the new blow-by-blow accounts provide additional support for some of the central allegations in the whistleblower complaint that sparked the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry in late September, revealing the high degree of concern among State Department veterans — both in Ukraine and Washington — surrounding the administration’s pressure campaign.

Central to that campaign was Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiSunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Moussaoui says he now renounces terrorism, bin Laden Democrats launch probe into Trump's firing of State Department watchdog, Pompeo MORE, who worked outside government channels in a multipronged effort to oust Yovanovitch, help his business partners win contracts in Kiev and press Ukrainian leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE, a leading contender in the 2020 presidential race.

Yovanovitch described the pressure campaign as “unprecedented.”

"I thought that this was a dangerous precedent, that as far as I could tell, since I didn't have any other explanation, 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," she testified on Oct. 11, according to the transcript. "It should be the State Department, the President, who makes decisions about which ambassador."

"And, obviously, the President did make a decision," she added, "but I think influenced by some who are not trustworthy."

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, was removed from Ukraine in May. But following Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — in which Trump referred to the former ambassador as "bad news" — Yovanovitch said she felt her career and her pension were threatened.

"I hate to be repetitive, but I was shocked," she said. 

Yovanovitch said she was largely in the dark about both Giuliani’s activities and his intentions. But she was picking up strong hints that the president’s personal lawyer wanted her gone from two very different sources: a Ukrainian Cabinet official leery of politicizing U.S.-Ukraine relations and conservative opinion columnist John Solomon, formerly with The Hill, who published accusations from Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s former top prosecutor, that Yovanovitch had provided him with a list of figures he should not prosecute — allegations she denied and he later retracted, according to a Ukraine media outlet. 

Still, the story circulated on conservative blogs and talk shows, Trump tweeted about it, and the State Department rescinded an extension of service it had offered just weeks earlier. 

"The week after the Hill article, the State Department ... was saying, well, it's not going to be possible to extend you," she said.

Yovanovitch said after her recall, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan explained that Trump made the decision for her to be removed and that she was told to jump on the next plane to D.C. to avoid the president announcing her dismissal on Twitter or some other public platform.

“The reason they pulled me back is that they were worried that 1f I wasn't, you know, physically out of Ukraine, that there would be, you know, some sort of public either tweet or something else from the White House,” she recalled.

The details of McKinley’s Oct. 16 deposition reveal similar frustrations — but with a different target in mind. McKinley, a former top adviser to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoChinese state media: Wuhan conducted 6.5 million coronavirus tests in 9 days The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE, said he resigned from the post just days before his testimony largely to protest the unwillingness of department brass to go to bat for senior diplomats in the face of pressure from the White House. 

“Frankly, to see the emerging information on the engagement of our missions to procure negative political information for domestic purposes, combined with the failure I saw in the building to provide support for our professional cadre in a particularly trying time, I think the combination was a pretty good reason to decide enough, that I had I had no longer a useful role to play,” McKinley testified. 

Yovanovitch, echoing those sentiments, said it’s highly unusual for State leaders to remain silent in the face of attacks on their diplomatic corps. 

“There are all sorts of attacks and allegations out there, and the Department is not saying anything about it,” she said. “That's very unusual if, in fact, there is no cause for my removal.”

The release of the transcripts comes as Democrats are poised to shift their 6-week-old impeachment investigation from the closed-door phase of private depositions to the public realm of televised hearings, to be led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGrenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts Democrats call for probe into ouster of State Dept. watchdog GOP lawmakers say they don't want to put Steve King back on committees MORE (D-Calif.).

The airing of the transcripts also came on a day when four separate White House witnesses defied subpoenas and declined to appear at the Capitol for scheduled depositions. The list of no-shows included John Eisenberg, senior attorney at the National Security Council, and one of his deputies, Michael Ellis.

“This will be further evidence of an effort by the administration to obstruct the lawful and constitutional duties of Congress,” Schiff told reporters Monday in the Capitol. 

Eisenberg was reportedly responsible for moving the transcript of the July 25 call to a classified computer server after hearing concerns from another NSC official, Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, who listened in on the call. 

Vindman, the NSC’s director for European affairs, told impeachment investigators last month that he “did not think it was proper” for Trump to seek help from a foreign power to boost his reelection chances. 

Democrats also had a political reason to begin releasing the transcripts: to keep Trump from dominating the impeachment debate during a week when Congress is on recess and witnesses are refusing to cooperate. 

The release of the transcripts Monday drew criticisms from Trump’s Republican allies, who have been calling for the immediate release of all the transcripts — not just a select few — since the depositions began on Oct. 3.

Shortly before the documents emerged, Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal MORE (R-N.C.), a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, predicted Democrats would cherry pick the transcripts most critical of Trump's actions.

“You and I both know how this game will work out. They will release the transcripts that are most beneficial to them, make the news cycle happen, and then the damning transcripts that are available, they will wait a period of time [to release],” Meadows said. “And so I don't think that's fair [or] transparent, and certainly we need to make sure that there are no select edits.”

Republicans have been especially eager for the release of the deposition featuring Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports Live coverage: Senators enter second day of questions in impeachment trial MORE, the former special envoy to Ukraine who stepped down in late September. 

“He was very persuasive,” said Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanFBI director stuck in the middle with 'Obamagate' Merger moratorium takes center stage in antitrust debate Trump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans MORE (Ohio), senior Republican on the Oversight Committee, “so we’ve been calling for that since Day One.”

Schiff said Democrats on Tuesday will release the transcripts of two more witnesses: Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland.