Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch failed to hang a photo of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv for more than a year after Trump’s inauguration and said “bad things” about him, the president told Fox News in an interview on Nov. 22.
The White House recalled Yovanovitch from her post in Kyiv on April 24 after months of allegations in the media claiming that she didn’t like Trump and was undermining him. Trump’s anecdote about the portrait, if confirmed, would become the first piece of evidence to substantiate the allegations.
“This ambassador that everyone says is so wonderful, she wouldn’t hang my picture in the embassy, OK? She’s in charge of the embassy. She wouldn’t hang it. It took like a year and a half or two years for her to get the picture up,” Trump said. “She said bad things about me. She wouldn’t defend me.”
Yovanovitch was one of the first witnesses to testify during the closed-door phase of the impeachment inquiry. The Democrats have insinuated, without evidence, that Trump removed Yovanovitch so he could carry out a scheme to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that hired Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
The Democrat-run impeachment inquiry centers on a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump asks Zelensky to “look into” Joe Biden forcing the ouster of a top Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating Burisma. The two presidents both expressed their distance from Yovanovitch during that call, according to a transcript (pdf) released by the White House.
“When I was talking to President Zelensky—it’s right on the phone—you can read it—he didn’t like her. He brought up her name, and he didn’t like her at all. How do you have an ambassador when the new president doesn’t like her? Because she was so wedded in,” Trump said on Nov. 22.
During the call, Zelensky asks Trump for “any additional information” in connection to the investigation “with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine, as far as I recall her name was Ivanovich.” Despite the misspelling of the name and the erroneous title, the statement appears to refer to an investigation by Ukraine into Yovanovitch.
Immediately after, Zelensky went on to say: “It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador, because I agree with you 100 percent. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President, and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President: well enough.”
Yovanovitch told lawmakers conducting the impeachment inquiry that she was removed due to false allegations promoted by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. She was also the subject of a column by investigative journalist John Solomon, who reported that Yovanovitch gave the Ukrainian prosecutor general a do-not-prosecute list.
“I have the right to change an ambassador. Rudy didn’t say good things, but he wasn’t crazy about it. It wasn’t like a major topic. But I have the right to change,” Trump said.
“This was an Obama person, didn’t want to hang my picture in the embassy. Standard is you put the president of the United States’ picture in an embassy. This was not an angel, this woman, OK?” Trump said. “There are a lot of things that she did that I didn’t like, and we will talk about that at some time. But I just want to let you know. This was not a baby we’re dealing with.”
After being recalled to the United States, Yovanovitch was given the opportunity to ask which position she would prefer to take on next and was given the job of her choice as a fellow at Georgetown University. She told lawmakers that her pay was not affected by the new post.
Yovanovitch permanently departed Ukraine on May 20, the day of Zelensky’s inauguration. Ambassador William Taylor eventually replaced her as the head of the embassy in Kyiv. Trump has yet to nominate a permanent replacement.
Because Yovanovitch departed her post before any of the key events of the impeachment inquiry, she didn’t offer any firsthand knowledge during several hours of testimony.
National Security Council official Alexander Vindman briefed Yovanovitch on Trump’s call with Zelensky before the call transcript was released to the public, even though Yovanovitch no longer had any responsibilities or need-to-know on Ukraine policy.