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Marie Yovanovitch writes about being a key figure in 1st Trump impeachment in memoir

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's a strange thing, amid all the urgent efforts to end the war in Ukraine, all the frantic diplomacy underway, to recall that the U.S. has no ambassador to Ukraine. The job has been filled in an acting capacity for three years now. That is because the last Senate-confirmed ambassador to Ukraine got a call from Washington spring of 2019 telling her, come home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIE YOVANOVITCH: They were concerned about my security, and I needed to come home right away.

KELLY: Marie Yovanovitch testifying during impeachment proceedings about why she was called home. That summons came amidst a coordinated effort to smear the ambassador. Yovanovitch told me when she asked the State Department to back her up, she was told to put out her own statement pledging loyalty to then-President Trump.

YOVANOVITCH: And I thought, boy, if that's what we've come to, that I have to defend myself, I just didn't see how I was going to be able to survive in the job.

KELLY: It was only later that Yovanovitch learned the attacks on her were part of politics related to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In her new memoir, "Lessons From The Edge," Yovanovitch writes about those politics and that they were driven by Trump's lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

YOVANOVITCH: Giuliani wanted to find dirt in Ukraine that would implicate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son of corruption or anything else, kind of following the Russian talking points that it wasn't Russia that had meddled in U.S. elections. It was Ukraine. And he was also hoping that there might be some dirt there in there on Joe Biden.

KELLY: I mean, it's been described as a shadow foreign policy - that there were the official marching orders you were getting through normal State Department channels, and then meanwhile, there was this whole separate track being run by the president's then-lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Is that a fair way to put it?

YOVANOVITCH: I think that's a fair way to put it. And the purpose of Giuliani's mission was to, you know, take down a political opponent for President Trump.

KELLY: I think I fully grasped the extent of the pressure campaign to oust you when I listened to this tape that I want to play now. This is audio from Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani's, who has since been convicted of campaign finance crimes - audio from a dinner in 2018. And you hear him telling Trump that you were badmouthing him, badmouthing the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Get rid of her.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hurray.

TRUMP: OK? Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK?

KELLY: So that's the then-president of the United States saying take her out - her meaning you. What is that like to hear that from the president of the United States?

YOVANOVITCH: Yeah, it was really painful to hear that for the first time, and obviously still painful. I don't understand how the president could have been manipulated like this by bad actors. You know, this is part of that shadow foreign policy that you're talking about or as Fiona Hill memorably put it, the political errand that Giuliani and others were being sent on.

KELLY: You write at length in this book about the decision to testify in the impeachment hearings, the extent to which you prepared. And I remember - I mean, I remember the day that you testified. I was anchoring our live coverage that day. There was a moment when the chairman, Adam Schiff, alerted you as you're testifying live that President Trump was tweeting at you in real time, attacking you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: As we sit here testifying, the president is attacking you on Twitter. And I'd like to give you a chance to respond. I'll read part of one of his tweets.

(Reading) Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia. How did that go?

KELLY: What went through your mind at that moment?

YOVANOVITCH: I couldn't believe it. You know, Trump always does unbelievable things, but I certainly hadn't been expecting that. You know, it was just the range of emotions, but I knew that I couldn't sort of give in to anger or anything else. Even in the moment, I knew it reflected more on him than it reflected on me.

But I also knew that I had to kind of get myself in hand and sort of be as levelheaded as possible. I mean, my answer, I don't think, was fully coherent, but I tried to get things back on track, and I think I managed in the end.

KELLY: Well, and you write that, you know, while it was not something you appreciated in the moment, that later it became clear to you that Trump's tweeting at you had actually kind of helped you out. How so?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, that's what I believe. I don't know what the Republicans had planned for that day in terms of questioning me, but I think there was such a strong reaction to the president's tweet. I mean, people felt it was out of line. And, of course, it demonstrated that everything that I had been saying was true. So if the Republicans had been planning on sort of being very aggressive with me, I think it really hurt that.

And so they spent the rest of the day basically trying to indicate how irrelevant all of the proceedings were or just downright wrong and getting me to say multiple times something that I had said in the past, which is that presidents get to name their own ambassadors, and they also get to remove ambassadors for any reason at any time. But I also added that it's not necessary to drag me through the mud to do that. Something else was going on.

KELLY: Speaking of how you were treated, when I interviewed your then-boss, now former boss, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the start of 2020, I asked if he owed you an apology. And we went around on that a bit until we got to here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MIKE POMPEO: I'll say only this. I have defended every State Department official. We've built a great team. The team that works here is doing amazing work around the world.

KELLY: Sir, respectfully, where have you defended Marie Yovanovitch?

POMPEO: I've defended every single person on this team. I've done what's right for every single person on this team.

KELLY: Can you point me toward your remarks where you have defended Marie Yovanovitch?

POMPEO: I've said all I'm going to say today. Thank you.

KELLY: Marie Yovanovitch, I've always wondered. Did Pompeo defend you? Did he ever apologize to you?

YOVANOVITCH: He never apologized. And according to Deputy Secretary Sullivan, he did defend me for a number of months until the president's insistence that I be removed became, you know, so strong that Pompeo felt he had no other choice.

But here's the thing. Pompeo, according to Sullivan, knew that I had done nothing wrong, and yet he allowed me to be removed. He allowed my reputation to be dragged through the mud. He abdicated his leadership role. He went to West Point. He was in the Army. And the first thing you do is you defend your troops. That is a basic tenet of leadership. And he failed.

KELLY: You retired from the State Department shortly after that.

YOVANOVITCH: Yes, in January of 2020.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUANTIC'S "TIME IS THE ENEMY")

KELLY: Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine - her memoir is titled "Lessons From The Edge." Elsewhere on the program today, her thoughts on how Ukraine will stand up to Russia in the future.

YOVANOVITCH: They are a freedom-loving people, and they are fighting for their freedom. And when they win, they are going to rebuild. I think...

KELLY: Hold on. You said when they win. You are confident that Ukraine can win, will win this war?

YOVANOVITCH: Eventually, yes.

KELLY: That's in another part of the program.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUANTIC'S "TIME IS THE ENEMY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.