An associate of Rudy Giuliani has provided congressional investigators with a recording of President Donald Trump saying he wanted to get rid of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, whose removal a year later emerged as an issue in the president’s impeachment, his attorney told The Associated Press on Friday.
The president was speaking to a small group during a dinner in April 2018 at his hotel in Washington, when he demanded the removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. The group included Lev Parnas, the Giuliani associate whose lawyer turned over the recording to the House Intelligence Committee. The House panel’s chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is helping lead the impeachment proceedings against Trump.
The recording, which was first reported by ABC News, appears to contradict the president’s statements that he did not know Parnas, a key figure in the investigation. It came to light as Democrats continue to press for witnesses and other evidence to be considered during the Senate impeachment trial.
ABC News reported that a speaker who appears to be Trump says on the recording, “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”
Parnas and associate Igor Fruman worked with Giuliani on a push to get Ukraine to announce it would investigate former Vice-President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. On the recording, the two tell Trump that the U.S. ambassador has been insulting him, which leads directly to the apparent remarks by the president.
The White House denied any suggestion of presidential wrongdoing.
“Every president in our history has had the right to place people who support his agenda and his policies within his administration,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
Yovanovitch, who was viewed as an obstacle to probes into Biden and his son Hunter, was not recalled from her position until the following April. She said the decision was based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives” that she was disloyal to Trump.
Parnas appears to say on the recording: “The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start, is we gotta get rid of the ambassador. She’s still left over from the Clinton administration.”
He later can be heard telling Trump. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached. Just wait.”
House investigators have been working to document an almost yearlong effort on the part of Parnas and Giuliani to have Yovanovitch removed from her post. Parnas and Fruman were recently indicted by the Southern District of New York on charges including conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Democrats seized on the recording as further evidence of Trump’s involvement.
“If this is additional evidence of his involvement in that effort to smear her, it would certainly corroborate much of what we’ve heard, but I’m not in a position yet to analyze that, not having looked at it,” Schiff said.
Parnas has done a series of interviews in recent days in which he has asserted that Trump was aware of the plan to remove Yovanovitch. Trump has distanced himself from Parnas, and the president’s supporters have questioned his credibility and motives.
“I don’t know Parnas other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people,” Trump said last week. “But I just met him. I don’t know him at all. Don’t know what he’s about, don’t know where he comes from, know nothing about him. I can only tell you this thing is a big hoax.”
The Associated Press has not reviewed the recording.
The president is being tried in the Senate after the House impeached him last month, accusing him of abusing his office by asking Ukraine to probe the Bidens while withholding military aid from a U.S. ally at war with Russia. The second article of impeachment accuses Trump of obstructing Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe.
Republicans have defended Trump’s actions as appropriate and are casting the process as a politically motivated effort to weaken him in his reelection campaign. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and acquittal is considered likely.
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