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Diplomat's testimony: Ukraine policy outsourced to Giuliani, Hannity

Marie Yovanovitch, center, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,

Marie Yovanovitch, center, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, on Oct. 11 on Capitol Hill. Credit: EPA/Shawn Thew

When MAGA met Kafka

Nothing in former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch's 33 years as a career U.S. diplomat prepared her for this.

It started with a warning from a senior Ukrainian official to watch her back, that people were "looking to hurt" her. Who was? In an Oct. 11 deposition made public by House impeachment committees on Monday, Yovanovitch testified she was told by Ukrainian officials last November or December that Rudy Giuliani was in touch with Ukraine’s then-top prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, “and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me.” (Read the House transcript of Yovanovitch's deposition.)

Giuliani targeted Yovanovitch because she wasn't playing along with the shadow campaign he was running with two now-indicted associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to have Ukraine investigate unsubstantiated corruption allegations against Joe Biden and his son Hunter. She also learned that Parnas and Fruman were looking to expand their business interests in Ukraine and "needed a better ambassador" to help grease the skids.

Yovanovitch then found herself under public attack by President Donald Trump's allies including Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News host Sean Hannity. She called back to Washington to ask State Department officials for help.

One senior official, Phil Reeker, told her that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "or perhaps somebody around him was going to place a call to Mr. Hannity on Fox News to say, ‘You know, what is going on?’ ” and to try to get them to stop if they had no proof of their allegations that she was sabotaging the president. (Hannity on Monday denied speaking with Pompeo on the subject.)

The campaign against her "simmered down," she said. Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union enlisted by Trump to help Giuliani, suggested to her to “tweet out there that you support the president” — a step she felt she could not take as a nonpartisan official. Then, in late April, she got a 1 a.m. phone call from a Foreign Service supervisor ordering her to leave Ukraine on the next plane because of an unspecified concern about her "security."

Yovanovitch testified she was "shocked" and felt "threatened" when the transcript of the July 25 phone call showed that Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that she was "bad news” and "going to go through some things.” She added, “I didn't know what it meant. I was very concerned. I still am." Trump on Monday spoke more equivocally about her, saying, “I’m sure she’s a very fine woman. I just don’t know much about her.” He also said Zelensky "was not a fan of hers either."

Rudy's guy switching to flip?

Parnas, one of the Giuliani associates indicted on campaign finance charges, is mad at Trump for denying they knew each other and is now prepared to comply with requests for records and testimony from congressional impeachment investigators, his attorney Joseph Bondy told Reuters on Monday.

Parnas previously rebuffed a request to provide documents and testimony. At the time, he was represented by John Dowd, who was part of Trump's legal team in the Russia investigation. Parnas’ willingness to cooperate could be a gold mine for impeachment investigators.

Bondy told The New York Times that "Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him.”

"We will honor and not avoid the committee’s requests to the extent they are legally proper, while scrupulously protecting Mr. Parnas' privileges including that of the Fifth Amendment," Bondy told NBC News.

Whistle blaster

Trump on Monday kept up his demand to unmask the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint set off the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, and the president denounced the whistleblower's offer to submit written answers to questions from Republican lawmakers.

“The Whistleblower gave false information & dealt with corrupt politician Schiff,” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff. “He must be brought forward to testify,” the president continued. “Written answers not acceptable!”

The demand contrasts with Trump's refusal to submit to an in-person interview during the Russia investigation with special counsel Robert Mueller, instead supplying written answers through his lawyers.

The lead lawyer for the National Security Council, John Eisenberg, defied a subpoena Monday to appear before House impeachment investigators, as did other White House witnesses, following Trump’s orders not to cooperate with the probe. Eisenberg played a key role in dealing with the fallout from the Zelensky call.

Janison: Blue smoke

Trump is off California steaming again, blaming its officials for the wildfires there and threatening to cut off aid to the state. As before, that threat is most likely empty, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. His rationale is half-explained through fact-challenged tweets.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, Trump tweeted, "has done a terrible job of forest management. I told him from the first day we met that he must 'clean' his forest floors regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him."

Since locals note that these wildfires aren't forest fires, his "clean-the-floors" solution is irrelevant. His state of mind seems colored by California's state of electoral blueness. He was notably uncritical and sympathetic to Russia in August when he offered Vladimir Putin U.S. help in fighting wildfires raging in parts of Siberia.

Trump loses appeal on hiding taxes 

In a unanimous ruling, a federal appeals court in New York refused to block an effort by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to see eight years of Trump's tax returns.

In its ruling, the three-judge panel did not take a position on the president’s biggest argument — that he was immune from all criminal investigations. But they said that when it comes to letting the state conduct a criminal investigation and get the records from Trump's accountants, the immunity question doesn't apply.

"We are not faced, in this case, with the President's arrest or imprisonment, or with an order compelling him to attend court at a particular time or place, or, indeed, with an order that compels the president himself to do anything," the court said. Judge Robert A. Katzmann also noted, “There is no obvious reason why a state could not begin to investigate a president during his term and, with the information secured during that search, ultimately determine to prosecute him after he leaves office.”

Vance sought the records in a broader probe that includes payments made to buy the silence of two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal, who said they had affairs with Trump. The president's lawyers said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

How Trump could win

A new set of polls from the battleground states likeliest to decide the outcome of the 2020 presidential race shows Trump remains highly competitive even as he lags more in national polls, The New York Times reports.

Across the six closest states that went Republican in 2016 — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina — he trails Biden by an average of 2 points among registered voters but stays within the margin of error. Trump leads Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in three of those states. Warren leads in just one; two others are ties.

The New York Times Upshot and Siena College surveys could boost Biden's electability argument while stoking Democratic fears that the Republicans could — for the third time in the past six elections — win the presidency while losing the popular vote.

What else is happening:

  • The Justice Department warned the publisher for "Anonymous," the senior administration official with a book due out this month, that the revelations might violate confidentiality agreements. The publisher, Hachette Book Group, for "A Warning" responded by saying no such agreements were broken. The official wrote a New York Times op-ed last year about resistance to Trump within the government.
  • E. Jean Carroll, the advice columnist who accuses Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the 1990s, sued him for defamation on Monday. Trump ridiculed her story on the grounds that she was “not my type.”
  • More than 30 high-ranking veterans of the Obama administration officials are hosting a Wednesday soiree for Biden intended to be both a fundraiser and public show of support for the former vice president’s 2020 campaign, which has lagged behind rivals' financially, Politico reported.
  • Warren's rise in the polls is worrying Wall Street, The New York Times reports. Warren has made battling corporate greed and corruption a central theme of her campaign.
  • The Republican National Committee picked up the $60,000 tab for Trump and his entourage, including anti-impeachment GOP allies, to attend the Ultimate Fighting Championship at Madison Square Garden last weekend, according to The Washington Post
  • Trump welcomed the World Series winner Washington Nationals to the White House, getting a hug from MAGA hat-wearing catcher Kurt Suzuki and a thank-you from first baseman Ryan Zimmerman for making "America the greatest country to live in the world.” A handful of no-shows included relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, who cited "divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories" in a Washington Post interview explaining his decision.
  • Trump announced in 2017 he was withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, but the process moves at a glacial pace. The UN was formally notified on Monday. Now there's a one-year waiting period.

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