President Donald Trump was allegedly caught on tape talking about then–US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, telling his cronies to "take her out" and "get rid" of her.
Trump made the statements during a dinner that included Rudy Giuliani's former business partners, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, who have since been indicted.
The partial video and audio recording, first reported by ABC News, appeared to show Parnas telling Trump that Yovanovitch was badmouthing the president at Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, on April 30, 2018. Trump then tells his associates to "take her out."
The reported conversation contradicts Trump's repeated claims that he does not know Parnas and backs up Parnas's assertion that Trump demanded Yovanovitch be fired several times, including at a dinner.
The New York Times reported Friday that Parnas has handed the tape over to congressional Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. That committee's chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, is currently in the final hours of three days of arguments for removing Donald Trump from office at the impeachment trial in the Senate.
Schiff has until around 9 p.m. to play the recording in the Senate before Democrats' time expires and they must give way to White House lawyers for up to three days.
Earlier in the day, Schiff told reporters: "If the president at the urging of Giuliani, or Parnas, or Fruman — if this is additional evidence of his involvement and that effort to smear her, it would certainly corroborate much of what we've heard."
Parnas and Giuliani have both said publicly that they needed to get Yovanovich out of the way in Ukraine because they viewed her as an obstacle to their campaign to get the country to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his family. Parnas told MSNBC earlier this month that that was “the only motivation” in removing Yovanovitch and that "President Trump knew exactly what was going on." Text messages given to House investigators by Parnas this month also back up that motivation.
The tape, according to ABC News, shows Parnas calling Yovanovitch "the biggest problem" and suggesting that they "get rid of the ambassador."
"She's basically walking around telling everybody, 'Wait, he's gonna get impeached, just wait,'" Parnas said.
"Get rid of her!" Trump says in the tape. "Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it."
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have a copy of the tape, ABC News reported, but a spokesperson declined to say to BuzzFeed News whether the recording exists and if it is part of discovery in an ongoing criminal case.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Jay Sekulow, Trump's personal lawyer who is leading the impeachment case on his behalf, told reporters of the recording Friday, "I'm not concerned about that at all."
Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who has served under both Republican and Democratic administrations until she was removed from her post on May 20, 2019, has denied being disloyal to Trump. Current and former State Department employees also told BuzzFeed News that they'd "never heard her say anything pejorative or derogatory about the president."
In her testimony before Congress in October, Yovanovitch testified that she was pushed out after the State Department caved under pressure from Trump, following months of attacks from Giuliani and his associates.
According to the Daily Beast, it was Fruman who recorded the April 2018 conversation. Parnas's lawyer, Joseph Bondy, told the news outlet that his client "personally heard a recording of his April 30, 2018 dinner with the president and others, made by Mr. Fruman, at which the subject of Ambassador Yovanovitch was discussed."
Bondy, and Fruman's attorney, Todd Blanche, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Yovanovitch's removal, as well as her testimony about the targeted campaign against her by Trump and his allies, played a key part in the House's impeachment inquiry into Trump. She testified that she felt threatened by Trump and was "shocked" and "appalled" when she learned that he disparaged her in a now-infamous phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25.
Ukraine officials announced earlier this month that they have launched a criminal investigation into whether Giuliani's associates, including Parnas, were surveilling Yovanovitch's movements and electronic devices last spring.
Parnas and Fruman pleaded guilty late last year to charges of conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud, among others.
Emma Loop contributed to this story.
This story was updated with comment from Jay Sekulow, Trump's lawyer.