Skip To Content
BuzzFeed News Home Reporting To You

Impeachment Today Podcast: Did Someone Say Quid Pro Quo?

More testimony has been released, and it's not good news for Trump's claim that there was no offer to trade US military aid for political favors.

Posted on November 6, 2019, at 4:45 p.m. ET

BuzzFeed News

It's Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, 43 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

In today's episode: More testimony was released on Tuesday, including the US ambassador to the EU just coming out and saying it β€” there was absolutely a quid pro quo offered to the Ukrainians involving US military aid being exchanged for political favors for Trump. And we've got John Hudson from the Washington Post here to talk about Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador in Ukraine who departed in pretty extraordinary circumstances.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Wednesday, November 6th, 2019, 43 days into the impeachment saga, and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown, a reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. Somehow it is only Wednesday, but we are ready to persevere right along with you. Okay. Today we have the Washington Post's John Hudson talking about Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador in Ukraine, who was the first target of the present shadow foreign policy operation. But before we get to all that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

So, wow, that was a day. House Democrats released two more transcripts yesterday. This time of their interviews with Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland. Volker resigned as special Envoy to Ukraine in September. Sondland is still US ambassador to the European Union. We already had the outlines of their testimony, but the details are wild. Volker in particular laid out for Congress how Rudy Giuliani had an outsized role on Ukraine policy for someone not in the government.

He also said though that he was unaware of why military aid to Ukraine was held up. Volker told investigators the aid was released after the administration had given up on Trump's alleged demands. Aha, Trump supporters have said on that last point, how can there be a quid pro quo if Ukrainians didn't know they were being pressured? That's where Sondland comes in. He said three weeks ago he was having trouble remembering some details when he was testifying. Now, after being confronted with some other officials testimony, Sondland submitted an addendum to Congress that was basically like, "Oh, you mean that quid pro quo? The one I told the Ukrainians was a thing? Yeah, just go with what they remember. That sounds right to me."

His original testimony was already bad for the White House. He described Giuliani as essentially moving the goalpost over time, pushing harder and harder on Ukraine to get what Trump wanted. That included by the end of it, Ukraine's president Zelensky announcing two investigations publicly, preferably on TV. One looking into a company where Joe Biden's son served on the board and another validating a conspiracy theory that says Ukraine is the real foreign interloper in the 2016 elections. Drafts that Volker and Sondland wrote for that announcement we're among dozens of pages of Volker's texts that were also released yesterday. So Holy shit, right? Well that was decidedly not the reaction in the Senate.

Here's Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell talking about the likely Senate trial.

Mitch McConnell:

I will say, I'm pretty sure how it's likely to end. If it were today, I don't think there's any question. It would not lead to a removal. So the question is just how long does the Senate want to take? How long do the presidential candidates want to be here on the floor of the Senate instead in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Hayes Brown:

Did you catch the shade there at the end? That little dig at the 2020 Democratic candidates? Meanwhile, Senator Lindsey Graham said that he would not read the transcripts that were released calling the whole process BS. As a reminder, here's what Graham, the chair of the judiciary committee in the Senate said two weeks ago,

Lindsey Graham:

Underwhelming. If you're looking for a circumstance where the president of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid, unless they investigated his political opponent, you would be very disappointed. That does not exist.

Hayes Brown:

Yeah. Things going great. Now in our ongoing attempt to quantify the essence of Yikes, we have today's reading from our Nixometer.

On our scale, a zero is a normal day in a normal white house and 10 is president Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning we're holding at a six and a half. Yesterday was all about building the case that there was a quid pro quo to benefit the president politically. And the last few days have showed why house Democrats feel confident moving forward to the next stage of the process. So when open hearings begin live and on TV, we'll see how the needle moves. Okay. After the break, we talked to JH about Marie Yovanovitch, stick around.

Welcome back friends. Next up is time for the segment we're calling "This Fucking Guy." It's where we zoom in on a person, place, or thing that's shaping the impeachment. Today we're using the gender neutral formulation of guy because we're talking about Marie Yovanovitch. She's the former US ambassador to Ukraine who's full testimony to Congress came out earlier this week. Joining us via Skype from DC to talk about Yovanovitch and why she had this bullseye on her back is the Washington Post's John Hudson. Thanks for joining us John.

John Hudson:

Hey, good to be here.

HB:

So Marie Yovanovitch, who is she and how did we get to the point that the President called her "Bad news" on a call this summer?

JH:

Well, Maria Yovanovitch is now, I guess we would call her the ousted former US ambassador to Ukraine. She sort of ran into a full on smear campaign that was waged by the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani. And her testimony, which happened a few weeks ago, was essentially a woman really line by line talking about that experience of being targeted by a bunch of allegations. You know, Giuliani and others accused her of being negative about the president saying, Oh, you don't need to follow the president to where he's going to be impeached. While she was in Ukraine as the ambassador being supportive of former vice president Joe Biden.

HB:

Which is like a Cardinal sin in the eyes of the Trump White House right now.

JH:

You do not befriend Biden, that's the rule.

HB:

Thou shalt not befriend Biden. And it's wild that it wasn't just Giuliani, it was like that weird like Legion of Doom situation where a bunch of people with their own interests targeted this one person as "She needs to go."

JH:

Right? Yeah. It was a collection of sort of interesting characters. And as you can see in the transcripts that were just released, you've got lawmakers repeatedly asking if, "Did I say that right? Did I spell that right, bro? [inaudible 00:00:06:27]" At one point, Meadows was like, "I'm just a North Carolina guy. That's about as good as I'm going to pronounce it."

HB:

I'm no big city foreign policy expert, but this guy wanted you out and they did. It was a former prosecutor to Ukraine. It was the two men who Rudy Giuliani was working with, two of whom have now been arrested in New York and all of them with this laser focus, trying to get Yovanovitch out of office, to the point that they donated money to a Republican Congressman to help push this process along. You've been covering the state department for a while now. How did the state department manage to leave her out on this limb like this?

JH:

Well, that's been the interesting thing for the testimony. They talk about different moments with which a number of officials when they were encountered the conversation. All right, so this is when Trump's phone call was released with the Ukrainian president and Trump is bad mouthing the ambassador saying, you know, bad things are going to happen to her. That's when a number of state department officials got together and they said, "We should probably issue a statement in support of this person." And it never happened.

JH:

It went all the way up to Secretary Pompeo. And as people testified in the transcripts, Pompeo never signed off on it. And so it never happened until you had these US officials twisting in the wind. Well they had these statements from Giuliani, some retweets from President Trump's son that were all negatively disparaging a US diplomat and no one was really there to defend her.

HB:

So as this is happening, you know, you have Giuliani, et cetera, saying things like she handed over a list of people that she said, "Don't you dare go after these people." Accusing basically her of being corrupt. Has there been any evidence so far that Marie Yovanovitch was actually doing anything improper while she was posted in Ukraine?

JH:

The only thing that we know so far is that she was following pretty traditional US foreign policy, which is recommending against perceived conflicts of interest, political investigations, and just really asking the government to cut down on corruption and graft of the sort of garden variety.

HB:

So she gets recalled from her post back in late April. Some of the details that came out in the testimony were really wild. Like she was called in the middle of the night and told "Get out of the country." That is so outside the pale of normal for how these things work, especially since she was almost done with her post there, right?

JH:

Well her post was coming to an end, but she had been told that they were going to ask to renew her post. She was planning on staying for much longer. And so she described this very disorienting experience where they're like, "Get on the next plane now. This is a security issue."

JH:

And so, you can imagine if you're hanging around in Ukraine and somebody in Washington says you need to get on a plane now. It's a security issue. You know, her first question is like, "Is my safety, is something in Ukraine going to attack me?" She was told that wasn't it, but wasn't given any more clarity. So it's a very disorienting, very sort of scary experience that she laid out.

HB:

But she did leave. She left her post, and so these people who were trying to push her out, they did get what they wanted, but in the kind of weird like monkeys paw kind of way. Be careful what you wish for scenario because yeah, she was gone, but now they're all caught up in the middle of this impeachment saga. So I'm sure they didn't see that one coming.

JH:

Right. The plan was never to have this woman ousted and then have her be a star witness in an impeachment inquiry. It's safe to say that's not what anyone was planning to do by this.

HB:

Okay. So John, we're time warping a year into the future. It's right after the US election. Where is Marie Yovanovitch from where you're standing right now?

JH:

Well, it totally depends on who wins the presidency because if Donald Trump is still president and wins reelection, it's pretty hard to see Marie Yovanovitch, who is now still a member of the foreign service but now at Georgetown, it's hard to see her being promoted within this system when everyone knows she doesn't have the trust of the President. He's bad mouthed her in direct phone calls with the president of Ukraine. So that's pretty tough. In the event that a Democrat wins the presidency, you know, it's very much possible she'll be seen as something of a hero for the Left. A woman who came in and testified and exposed some of the inner workings of this alleged quid pro quo that became the center of the impeachment inquiry. So you know, maybe something even higher than an ambassador post, it's hard to tell.

HB:

It really is. But thank you for giving it a shot, John. I really appreciate that.

HB:

Before we let you go, it's time for our segment called the Kicker where we ask our guests to bring in a tweet, a quote, something that really to them sums up where we are in this moment. So John, what do you got for us?

JH:

There was a fascinating little moment when Marie Yovanovitch was giving testimony and Mark Meadows said, "Masha Yovanovitch, what? What kind of, where did you get that name?" She said, "Well, you know, I'm not actually Ukrainian." Which is the second time she had to say that she was not Ukrainian and she said my parents or from the Soviet union and it's a Russian nickname that I got. And after she explained that, he ended, he said "I yield back." It was a weird sort of moment. It was up to the like, "That proves my point, I rest my case, Your Honor."

HB:

Case closed. Good job, you got her. Thank you John for sharing that moment and thank you again for taking the time today to be on with us.

JH:

Yeah, great to be with you.

Hayes Brown:

Okay. That's it for today. Come back tomorrow for more of the drama, spectacle, and the ineffable wisdom of the constitution in action. Also, we want to keep hearing from you, the listeners. All this week we're asking you to send us the things about impeachment you're most curious about. What are your questions? What doesn't make sense? Open the voice memo app on your phone. Tell us your question and email it to impeachment@buzzfeed.com. We'll be including some of your responses on a future episode. So tell us your name and where you are in the world. Be sure to subscribe on the the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts β€” and maybe leave a rating and review. Also, tell your friends about the show as we all figure this out together.

ADVERTISEMENT