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Closed-Door Impeachment Transcripts Are Being Made Public


What did the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry say in their closed-door testimonies? We now have the first transcripts of those testimonies, including that of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. It's clear that she thought President Trump wanted her out. She said she was the target of a smear campaign by the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. President Trump was asked about that accusation yesterday, and here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I really don't know her. But if you look at the transcripts, the president of Ukraine was not a fan of hers either. I mean, he did not exactly say glowing things. I'm sure she's a very fine woman. I just don't know much about her.

KING: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen has been following this story. Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So what else did we learn from the transcript of Ambassador Yovanovitch?

KELEMEN: Well, she goes into great detail about how she was ousted, the campaign that she faced and why this matters. You know, she told the committees that she first learned that Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani was targeting her from a Ukrainian official who told her to watch her back. That official also told her about Giuliani and two Soviet-born American businessmen who wanted her withdrawn, perhaps because of their own personal business dealings.

And she called this a dangerous precedent. You know, as - she's a career diplomat, so she knows that the president has the right to choose his own ambassador. But Yovanovitch suggested that Trump was making this decision based on untrustworthy figures.

KING: She also said something else in her testimony. She said she'd been told that someone from the State Department would be calling Fox News host Sean Hannity to try to prevent him from broadcasting allegations about her. What more can you tell us about what was going on there?

KELEMEN: Right. This was a time, you know, she was wondering why she was pulled back. The answer she got was just that the president lost confidence in her. There were all these reports in right-wing media, kind of a disinformation campaign against her. And she says she was told that Secretary Pompeo or someone from his office would call Hannity to ask whether he has any proof of the allegations that he was talking about on television and to warn him that if he doesn't, he should stop.

She also got a tip from Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU who's also a key figure in this story. He suggested that Yovanovitch should go on Twitter and praise Donald Trump. She said, you know, he was - she was told, you need to go big or go home. She didn't see the point since the department really wasn't backing her much in a public way.

KING: We also saw the transcript from Michael McKinley. He's a former top adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He quit in protest. What did he say?

KELEMEN: He talked mostly about how all of this played in the department - and mostly at the - toward the end - you know, after we heard what the president had said about Yovanovitch in that July phone call with Ukraine's president, when he called her bad news and said that she would go through some things. McKinley tried to get the secretary to issue a public statement of support after that call memo came out. He said that, look; she's still employed by the State Department. And he thought that there - you know, that Pompeo could put out just a simple nonpartisan statement that he supports this diplomat. That didn't happen. McKinley said many were puzzled and baffled by that. And he said the silence had a significant effect on morale at the department. For him - for McKinley, he personally decided to end a 37-year career.

KING: We are expecting more of these transcripts to be released today. Whose?

KELEMEN: Well, one is Gordon Sondland, who I mentioned earlier. He's the political donor and current ambassador to the European Union. He had close contacts with the White House throughout this time. Kurt Volker is the other one. He was the part-time U.S. envoy. His main job was to help the Ukrainians resolve the war in the Eastern Ukraine, the one fueled by Russia. But you know, these two men played a much more central role into what the House committees are looking at - whether Trump was withholding military aid press Ukraine to dig up dirt about his political rivals. These two were facilitating contacts between Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the new Ukrainian government.

KING: Michele, lastly, an important question for you - I wonder, are we learning anything new from these transcripts - like anything that hasn't already been leaked?

KELEMEN: Well, the thing is, you know, they've been leaked by one side or the other in this for their own political purposes. And I think we're learning much a clearer picture of what was going on, how career State Department officials were carrying out stated U.S. policy and more about this - what they're calling an irregular channel to Ukraine that was between Rudy Giuliani and the Ukrainian government and what they were up to.

And so I think we're getting many more details. But you have to really go through. And there's...

KING: Yeah.

KELEMEN: ...You know, hundreds of pages there.

KING: NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks so much, Michele.

KELEMEN: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.