WASHINGTON - The U.S. has recalled career diplomat Marie (Masha) Yovanovitch from her post as ambassador to Ukraine, timing the State Department says was aligned with the coming presidential transition in Kyiv.
But two key Democratic lawmakers claim the move was “a political hit job” with roots in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The State Department said the 60-year-old Yovanovitch, appointed by former President Barack Obama, is completing her three-year tenure in Ukraine “as planned,” although her term actually extended to Aug. 20.
The State Department said her return coincides with the planned June inauguration of comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy as the Ukrainian leader after his resounding defeat of President Petro Poroshenko in last month’s election.
?Democrats cry foul
Congressman Steny Hoyer, the majority leader in the House of Representatives, and Congressman Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, disputed the State Department explanation for Yovanovitch’s early recall, saying she was a “dedicated public servant and a diplomat of the highest caliber who has represented the United States under both Republican and Democratic administrations.”
The lawmakers contended that “the White House’s outrageous decision to recall her is a political hit job and the latest in this administration’s campaign against career State Department personnel. It’s clear that this decision was politically motivated, as allies of President Trump had joined foreign actors in lobbying for the ambassador’s dismissal.”
Hoyer and Engel said that by recalling Yovanovitch “just mere months before her tenure in Ukraine was set to end, the administration is harming American interests and undermining American diplomacy.”
Yovanovitch’s time in Kyiv coincided with U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. One of the key figures in that probe was President Donald Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was paid millions of dollars as a lobbyist for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine linked to deposed President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2014.
Manafort has now been convicted of several financial crimes tied to his lobbying and has been sentenced to 71/2 years in prison.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has alleged that information about payments to Manafort was revealed in an effort to help Democrat Hillary Clinton in her campaign against Trump, a contention that Trump adopted in recent months in an effort to disparage claims that it was Russia that was helping him.
“As Russia Collusion fades,” Trump said on Twitter in March, “Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges.”
The same month, Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted that the U.S. needed more ambassadors like conservative Richard Grenell, the Trump-appointed American envoy to Germany, and “less of these jokers as ambassadors” like Yovanovitch. “Calls Grow to Remove Obama’s U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.”
Hoyer and Engel called on the State Department to reverse Yovanovitch’s dismissal.
“In this period of transition, Ukraine needs gifted professionals like Ambassador Yovanovitch more than ever,” they said.