WASHINGTON - Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, is now openly admitting that he pushed President Donald Trump to dismiss the former ambassador to Ukraine - a key factor in the Democrats' impeachment case against his boss.
In a series of interviews ahead of Wednesday's historic impeachment vote by the House of Representatives, Giuliani bragged that he “forced" out Marie Yovanovitch and provided the president with information allegedly showing that she impeded investigations that could have benefited Trump politically.
Within weeks, she was recalled from her post.
The admission from Giuliani, who does not work for the U.S. government, is the latest example of his highly unusual meddling in official diplomatic channels. It also underscores his ongoing efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump's political rivals - the very pressure campaign the House is poised to impeach Trump for later this week.
“I forced her out because she’s corrupt,” Giuliani said in an interview with Fox News late Monday, offering his most unabashed claims of responsibility yet.
Yovanovitch, a respected career diplomat, had been pressing the Ukrainian government to address long-standing concerns by the U.S and others about corruption.
Giuliani's comments come as Trump is facing near-certain impeachment by the House for abuse of power over his administration's efforts to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations, including one into former vice president and 2020 candidate Joe Biden and his son's dealings in Ukraine. The push came as Trump's administration was withholding crucial security aid from the Eastern European nation that was needed to counter Russian aggression.
Trump maintains he did nothing wrong.
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As part of his ongoing campaign on Trump's behalf, Giuliani recently traveled to Kyiv, Budapest and Vienna to gather additional evidence he claims bolsters debunked theories. All the while, Republicans in Congress have largely turned a blind eye to Giuliani's efforts. And White House officials, long weary of Giuliani's influence with the president, have tried to tread carefully, distancing themselves from the former New York City mayor without openly criticizing him.
In an interview with The New York Times on Monday evening, Giuliani portrayed himself as directly involved in the effort to oust Yovanovitch. He said he'd passed information to Trump “a couple of times” allegedly showing that Yovanovitch was impeding investigations in Ukraine that could benefit Trump politically, including the push to have Ukraine investigate the Biden family and other Democrats.
Trump, in turn, passed the information on to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to Giuliani. Within weeks, Yovanovitch was told Trump had lost trust in her and was recalled to the U.S.
Giuliani said Trump and Pompeo had “relied on” his information as they considered Yovanovitch's future, including a charge that she blocked visas for Ukrainian prosecutors to come to the United States to present evidence that Giuliani claimed could be damaging to Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
“I just gave them the facts,” Giuliani said. “I mean, did I think she should be recalled? I thought she should have been fired. If I was attorney general, I would have kicked her out. I mean - secretary of state.”
Testimony in the Trump impeachment inquiry has shown accusations against Yovanovitch were either unsubstantiated or taken out of context.
Yet Giuliani continued to press his case in an article published by The New Yorker on Monday.
“I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way,” he told the magazine. “She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody.
On Fox, Giuliani further claimed that Yovanovitch “committed perjury” when she testified that she turned down a prosecutor's visa requests because he was corrupt.
Giuliani claimed he had witnesses “who will testify that she personally turned down their visas because they were going to come here and give evidence either against Biden or against the Democratic Party. ”
“She should have been fired if the State Department weren't part of the deep state," he said.
Giuliani continued to press his case on Twitter on Tuesday, insisting that, “Yovanovitch needed to be removed for many reasons most critical she was denying visas to Ukrainians who wanted to come to US and explain Dem corruption in Ukraine."
“She was OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE and that’s not the only thing she was doing. She at minimum enabled Ukrainian collusion," he wrote. There is no evidence to support those claims.
Yovanovitch, testifying in October in defiance of Trump, described a “concerted campaign” against her based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
Trump and Giuliani have been pushing the conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, even though U.S. intelligence agencies have blamed Russia, not Ukraine.
At the White House, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway sidestepped questions about whether Giuliani was helping or hurting the president, telling reporters: “He's been his personal attorney, I assume he still is.”
Nonetheless, she said she gets “a little tired of people ... not showing the former mayor of New York the respect he deserves for bringing this country through our darkest darkest days after 9/11 and being a fantastic mayor there."
Asked whether he was comfortable with Giuliani's comments, Marc Short, the vice president's chief of staff, stressed on MSNBC that Giuliani is the president's “personal attorney."
“He's not a part of this administration, and I think that that's a conversation between Rudy and the president," he said.
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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.