Tags: johnsullivan | affirm | ukraine | testimony | russia | ambassador

Trump Russia Nominee to Affirm Former Ukraine Envoy's Claim

Trump Russia Nominee to Affirm Former Ukraine Envoy's Claim
From left, President Donald Trump and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, sit together during a meeting with Caribbean leaders at Mar-A Lago, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Wednesday, 30 October 2019 10:26 AM EDT

President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Russia won’t dispute the statement from a former diplomat in Ukraine who told the House impeachment inquiry that she was removed after concerted pressure by the president, according to people familiar with his planned testimony during his confirmation hearing Wednesday.

John Sullivan, in his current role as deputy secretary of state, told U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch that she was being recalled because Trump had lost confidence in her. That followed a campaign by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who singled her out for what he deemed an anti-Trump agenda.

Yovanovitch told House impeachment investigators earlier in October that Sullivan informed her that “there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the Summer of 2018.

“He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause,” she testified, according to her opening statement, which was made public.

The people familiar with Sullivan’s planned testimony said he won’t dispute any of what she said in her opening statement about him. They asked for anonymity to discuss testimony before it is made public.

“He will be the first high-level State Department official we’ve had since we’re getting news that there was a concerted effort to fire the ambassador of Ukraine led by Rudy Giuliani,” said Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I’m going to ask him a lot about what the hell’s going on at the State Department.”

Democrats on the panel planned to use Sullivan’s confirmation hearing to pursue the allegations at the heart of the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry -- that Trump held up U.S. aid and a promised White House meeting to extract a pledge from Ukraine’s new president to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter as well as a conspiracy theory that Ukraine and Democrats, not Russia favoring Trump, interfered in the 2016 election.

“Other people who’ve been before us have been at regional desks where they wouldn’t necessarily have known this,” Kaine said. “I’m asking as somebody who’s supposed to exercise oversight over the State Department.”

Sullivan made no reference to the impeachment inquiry in his prepared opening remarks but pledged that if he’s confirmed as ambassador he’d balance opportunities to work with Russia against vigilance toward its “malign actions.”

“I will be relentless in opposing Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections, to violate the sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia, and to engage in the malign behavior that has reduced our relationship to such a low level of trust,” he said in the statement.

Sullivan was mentioned by name in Yovanovitch’s opening statement to the impeachment inquiry earlier this month. In Yovanovitch’s telling, Sullivan broke the news that she was being recalled from her post early even though her original term wasn’t up for a couple of months and had been extended through 2020 shortly before.

The impeachment connection, and Sullivan’s senior position as Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s top deputy, is expected to result in a contentious hearing where Sullivan’s qualifications for the job may be overshadowed.

‘Accounting to Do’

“He’s No. 2 at the State Department,” said Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the committee. “There’s a lot. From Russia to Ukraine to our ambassadors to political retaliation at the State Department, he has a lot of accounting to do.”

The committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, has refused to hold any hearings linked to Ukraine or allegations of impeachable offenses by the president. It will also be the first Russia-related hearing in the committee in more than two years.

In the Democratic-controlled House, the impeachment inquiry continues to take witness testimony behind closed doors as the full chamber prepares for a Thursday vote on an impeachment resolution. On Wednesday, two more State Department officials, Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, are scheduled to testify, according to a House official familiar with the hearing process. Croft and Anderson are Ukraine specialists.

The role of ambassador in Moscow is a largely thankless one in an administration whose policy toward Russia has been highly contradictory. Trump has repeatedly pledged to improve ties -- and in a summit in Helsinki, Finland last year appeared to back Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vow that he didn’t interfere with the 2016 election despite the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that he did.

Twelve Russian intelligence agents were indicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the U.S. slapped numerous sanctions and visa restrictions on Russia over its role in the election interference, as well as a nerve-agent attack on a former spy in the U.K.

Sullivan has led committees on counterterrorism and strategic security. Yet even an initiative to ease what both the U.S. and Russia call “minor irritants” has failed to produce any gains.

Sullivan briefly held the role of acting secretary of state from the time Trump fired Rex Tillerson in March 2018 until the Senate confirmed Pompeo a month later. His nomination for Russia ambassador has the backing of numerous high-ranking national security officials including former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

“We believe he is the right person at the right time for what is always a very critical post, but perhaps never more critical as now,” the group wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Bloomberg News.

Sullivan will replace Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah and ambassador to China, who left Moscow earlier in October. He will have support from at least one Democrat on the Committee, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, who will introduce him.

“I know John Sullivan,” Cardin said. “I know him to be a straight shooter. He’s been very direct with me. He’s a Marylander.”

© Copyright 2024 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

President Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. ambassador to Russia won't dispute the statement from a former diplomat in Ukraine who told the House impeachment inquiry that she was removed after concerted pressure by the president, according to people familiar with his planned...
johnsullivan, affirm, ukraine, testimony, russia, ambassador
Wednesday, 30 October 2019 10:26 AM
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