Who is Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine removed by Trump?

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is sworn in to testify to the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (AP)
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is sworn in to testify to the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (AP)

On May 20, Marie Yovanovich was removed as ambassador to Ukraine. She was told only that she had lost the confidence of President Donald Trump. 

Five months later, over the objections of the State Department, she gave a deposition to the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees. Yovanovitch figures in the impeachment inquiry mainly in two ways: She was the target of Trump’s private lawyer Rudy Guiliani in Ukraine, and she was the point person for American anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.

Here are some key details about her and where her story fits with the issues at the center of the impeachment probe. She will offer public testimony Nov. 15.

A career diplomat

Yovanovich has worked for the government for over 30 years. Her parents fled Eastern Europe to Canada, where she was born, and then moved to the United States. She got a degree in Russian studies at Princeton, followed up by work at the Pushkin Institute and the National War College.

Yovanovich focused on the sphere of the former Soviet Union. Before Ukraine, she was the ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, both times appointed by President George W. Bush. She worked under six administrations, two of them Democratic and four Republican. Earlier in the Bush years, she was deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

President Barack Obama appointed her ambassador to Ukraine in 2016. She continued on under Trump, until told to step down and return to the United States in May.

In his July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump referred to Yovanovitch.

"The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news," Trump said, according to the White House readout. 

Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine

Yovanovitch’s removal as ambassador is tied to work by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine. And part of that work was Giuliani’s conversations with the then-top Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko.

Yovanovitch said in her deposition she first learned of that alliance in late 2018.

"It was people in the Ukrainian government who said that Mr. Lutsenko, the former prosecutor general, was in communication with Mayor Giuliani, and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me," she said.

In March 2019, The Hill published Lutsenko’s accusation that Yovanovitch had given him a list of people he should not prosecute. Lutsenko later walked that back, saying he had written the list. But it all took place in a meeting where, Lutsenko said, Yovanovitch tried to discourage him from investigating a man known for his anti-corruption work.

Soon after the article appeared, Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a right-wing article calling for Yovanovitch to be removed.

The State Department and Yovanovitch denied that such a list ever existed.

In her deposition, Yonavovitch said Lutsenko, since replaced, had failed to reform the General Prosecutor’s Office or prosecute money laundering cases worth over $40 billion.

"The Prosecutor General's Office was viewed as an instrument of corruption, basically to grant people favors," she said. "They could open cases, they could close cases based on money passing hands or whatever was most opportune, and it trickled down to the ordinary people's lives as well. So it was seen as a place where ironically corruption thrived and he was brought in to clean that up.

The House counsel asked, "Was he successful in cleaning that up?"

"No," Yovanovitch said.

Early in her deposition, Yonavovitch said Ukraine faced a choice. It could rise above or continue to be a place where "corruption is not just prevalent, but frankly is the system." 

A problem of hearsay

While Yovanovich said she felt targeted by Giuliani and Lutsenko, her information was second-hand.

In the first public hearings, Republican emphasized that the first two witnesses based their understanding on what others had told them. This could be an issue for Yonavovitch too.

During her deposition, a House counsel asked if she had further conversations with Ukrainian government officials about Giuliani’s actions in Ukraine.

"Yes, I did," Yovanovitch said. "Most of the conversations were not with me directly, people on the embassy staff, but yes, I did have other conversations."

Ukrainian concerns about American politics

Yonavovitch said Giuliani’s role in Ukraine was unclear to her. However, her account of a conversation with Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov cast Giuliani’s efforts in a political light.

Avakov told her, she said, he spoke with Giuliani in early 2019, and that the exchange threatened to put Ukraine in the middle of American politics.

"The issue of whether it was Russia collusion or whether it was really Ukraine collusion, and, looking forward to the 2020 election campaign, and whether this would somehow hurt former Vice President Biden," Yovanovitch said. "I think he felt that that was just very dangerous terrain for another country to be in."

Fear of Trump

In her deposition, Yovanovitch was asked what she felt when she read in the readout of the July 25 phone call that Trump said about her, "Well, she’s going to go through some things." 

"I was very concerned," Yovanovich said. "I still am."

The House counsel asked, "Did you feel threatened?" 

She responded, "Yes."