Watchdog reveals mysterious attempt to smear ex-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine

Watchdog reveals mysterious attempt to smear ex-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine

The State Department's inspector general briefed the Hill on the attempt to spread misinformation about Marie Yovanovitch.


By:  Andrew Desiderio
Politico

 

The State Department’s inspector general briefed congressional aides Wednesday about an apparent attempt to smear the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who is seen by House Democrats as a key witness in their impeachment inquiry.

Sources who attended the closed-door briefing — deemed “urgent” when it was announced on Tuesday — described it as bizarre and confusing. Steve Linick, the inspector general, revealed that a packet of documents containing misinformation about the former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year from an unknown source. Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, was also a target of debunked conspiracy theories laid out in the documents, lawmakers and aides said.

Democrats said the documents represented another example of a “propaganda” campaign by President Donald Trump and his allies as they sought to solicit foreign assistance to harm the president’s political opponents.

“These documents provide further evidence of a concerted, external effort to conduct a disinformation campaign against a career U.S ambassador, who has been the subject of baseless attacks, including by the president himself,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

Democrats’ impeachment inquiry centers on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. House investigators are also looking into the decision earlier this year to temporarily withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine,and whether it was used as leverage to pressure Zelensky. The inquiry is being led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

In a statement, the three chairmen said the documents “reinforce concern that the president and his allies sought to use the machinery of the State Department to further the president’s personal political interests.”

Menendez said Pompeo appears to have discussed the packet of documents with “at least one of his top aides,” adding that the materials were “distributed at the highest levels of the State Department.” A spokesperson for Pompeo said the State Department provided the documents to the inspector general on May 3.

The origin of the documents is unclear, but one lawmaker who attended the briefing, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), said the stack included folders from a Trump-owned hotel. Raskin described the materials as “amateurish” and said they are a “propagandistic distortion and distraction” from what he called Trump’s abuses of his office.

“The existence of this packet and its curious history raises profoundly troubling questions. Why was Secretary of State Pompeo in possession of this packet of disinformation? Why did he distribute and circulate it? To whom else did he distribute and circulate it?” Raskin told reporters.

A Democratic source familiar with the briefing said the White House sent documents to Pompeo that “contained notes from interviews that took place at Rudy Giuliani’s NYC office with various Ukrainians about debunked conspiracies related to Ukraine.”

Giuliani, who was subpoenaed on Monday, is a central figure in House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, which was launched after a whistleblower alleged Trump solicited foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election. Giuliani has said he was in contact with State Department officials about his efforts to work with Ukrainian officials to dig up dirt on Biden.

Yovanovitch, whom Giuliani has intensely criticized, was recalled to Washington on May 20. She is set to appear for a deposition on Capitol Hill on Oct. 11 as part of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Raskin called the briefing an “irrelevant distraction” and said it centered on “nothing relating to the president’s impeachable conduct.” He also questioned the inspector general’s belief that the briefing — which was noticed on Tuesday afternoon — was “urgent.”