What happened to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine?
The answer seems to be that Rudy Giuliani happened to her.
Marie Yovanovitch, a career civil servant, was recalled from her posting as U.S. ambassador in Kiev on May 6 — months before she was scheduled to leave.
She officially ended her tenure as ambassador today, becoming the most recent career civil servant to be swept away by political maneuvering.
Early this year, Giuliani began meeting with Ukraine’s top prosecutor in New York and Warsaw.
Yuriy Lutsenko — the prosecutor — told Bloomberg that Giuliani asked him if Yovanovitch was “not loyal to President Trump.”
Giuliani had apparently embarked on a quest to use Ukraine as a cudgel against Trump’s political opponents, both in the hope of gathering dirt and ginning up investigations in the Eastern European nation.
Around the same time — on March 5 — Yovanovitch took an uncharacteristically open stand in the fight against corruption. In a speech, she called for specific officials to be dismissed, and sharply criticized the government’s record on graft.
That a U.S. expert on the region views Ukraine as corrupt isn’t a surprise. What is more surprising, however, is that the speech appears to have earned Yovanovitch blowback in the conservative press.
Three weeks later — on March 20 — John Solomon of The Hill published an interview with Lutsenko in which Lutsenko accused Yovanovitch of telling him not to prosecute certain people. Over the next few weeks, Lutsenko and Solomon began to push harder on the narrative, alleging that Joe Biden’s son Hunter — who had taken a position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company — was in part being protected from prosecution in Ukraine by the U.S. Embassy there and by his influential father.
The allegations continued to mount, with some of them making it into the New York Times in a May 1 story that addressed questions around Biden’s potential “conflicts of interest” in Ukraine.
Yovanovitch was dismissed on May 6. Josh Rogin of the Washington Post, called her removal a “clear and coordinated effort to smear a sitting U.S. ambassador.”
“But that’s just the beginning of the larger effort to create a cacophony of allegations by the Trump team and its allies to highlight Ukraine to attack Biden, help Manafort and re-litigate the 2016 election,” he wrote. Foreign Policy reported that Yovanovitch had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to publicly defend her before her dismissal. He did not.
Yovanovitch’s removal comes as Trumpworld gears up for 2020. It seems to me that their strategy with respect to Biden is less about “getting” him on some specific allegation. Rather, they seem to want to muddy the waters enough so that the constant patter of allegations of Emolument Clause violations and foreign influence over the Trump White House become indistinguishable from a similar cacophony around Biden. The activities of Biden’s son Hunter certainly aren’t doing him any favors. The Trump administration may hope that, for many news consumers, the two candidates will blend into one swampy allegation, diluting the force of any political campaign that presents itself as a real alternative.
So the allegations don’t necessarily matter. For me, the big question going forward will be how far Giuliani and others in Trumpworld are willing to go to smear their opponents — and how these efforts will influence U.S. policy and personnel.