In order to remove Yovanovitch from her post as ambassador to Ukraine, Trump had his lawyers (aka Giuliani) bash her first. (Quote from NPR: "Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, and his associates had begun a smear campaign against Marie Yovanovitch, then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.")

It is the full right of the president to put anyone in the position of ambassador or remove them. What would be the point in making Yovanovitch look bad first? Trump fired plenty of people - why would he need to specifically create an excuse before getting rid of her?

  • It depends whether it was Trump who wanted to remove her first or one of his acolytes. It would make sense in the latter case, to have something to show the boss as a justification. That doesn't fully explain why Trump keeps at it though, but then there's effort justification and so forth. But I'm not familiar enough with the matter to say who started what when. Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 20:43
  • It does seem to mesh well with the "deep state" theories and "drain the swamp" message, so maybe that's why it continues. But it's hard to say what motivated Trump personally and initially. Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 20:47
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    Seriously, this Q is soliciting speculation. Whether that speculation is on the part of the media or of stack subscribers, makes no difference. Until the person who conceived of the smear comes forward to explain, all "we" can do is guess.
    – BobE
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:06
  • I suppose that is a fair point.@BobE. I just was trying to understand if we do understand:).
    – Burt
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:08
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    @BobE That's true, though I think the question can be reasonably rephrased, as I did with it in my answer, to make it non-speculative and more in line with a host of other questions on the site (especially those concerned with this same general impeachment topic). Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 23:39

3 Answers 3


We don't entirely know, and some find it speculative to say that Trump ordered Giuliani and others to do this. Several impeachment witnesses made it clear they considered them as orders from the President, but none said that Trump literally said directly to them that it was one. The witnesses largely inferred it from the context, like any normal person would, could, and does do on a regular basis. Much of the impeachment debate as such currently centers on whether or not "clear from the context" is adequate.

Your question of course also presumes it was a smear campaign with a particular purpose, which some of Trump's supporters I imagine would not necessarily agree with, probably believing it's all true. But let us suppose that the question is more "among those who think it was a smear campaign, what reason(s) have been proposed for it having been done?"

  • Yovanovitch would have impeded the attempts to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens. Removing her was necessary to push forward that agenda and install the so-called "irregular channel" more firmly. A pretense for her removal would be politically handy to obfuscate this real intent. As we've seen, public awareness of that "real intent" is a potentially major threat to the President.
  • The more instances of corruption involving Ukraine you can point to, the more plausible it becomes that the Hunter Biden + Burisma situation was itself an instance of corruption. That makes anti-Biden sentiment easier to induce, and makes it easier to insist that the desired investigation into the Bidens is about corruption rather than political rivalry.
  • The smear campaign originated with Lutsenko, a political adversary of Yovanovitch who was set to lose a great deal from elevated corruption reforms in Ukraine, and who had already lost much to things he attributed to the works and meddling of Yovanovitch. Giuliani and other American actors simply bought into his self-serving propaganda. It was claimed she tried to pressure Ukraine not to investigate the Bidens and other Democrats—a claim the State Department has said is utterly fabricated nonsense—so that was probably all the bait they needed. They wanted more vectors than just Burisma to try to undercut Biden, so when someone offers them the idea that there was an effort to inappropriately protect the Bidens, well, you've just been handed over the Golden Goose with instruction manual! Yovanovitch just becomes the victim and scapegoat caught in the crossfire of the political vendettas of Lutsenko and Trump (or his surrogates).
  • Trump himself seems to prefer dealing with people through smear campaigns in general, even when simpler and equally effective options appear to be readily available. Derogatory nicknames—Pocahontas, Shifty Schiff, Lyin' Ted, Little Michael, etc.—are his bread and butter. A simple "Thank you for your service, but I've decided that I and the United States will be better served by a different Ambassador at this time" should have been all that was needed to remove her and not cause a stir or draw any extra attention. But as soon as it gets in his head that there's something to not like about this person, and/or that they pose some sort of (political) threat to him, he seems to get locked into smear campaign mode. See, for example, how quickly and drastically his opinions on his own attorneys and appointees have changed once they seem to start talking ill of him.
  • It may be worth adding that Trump seems to have directed others to speak to Giuliani. So that gives some credence to what Giuliani may have instructed them to do.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:06
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    "The smear campaign originated with Lutsenko". Do we have a reference for that? Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:11
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    @Fizz There are many, yes. He was named during several of the impeachment testimonies as regards an interview he gave which included most/all of this claims against Yovanovitch. Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:13
  • @zibadawatimmy it should be noted that that article is already over a month old, there may (but I'm not sure if there are) new references that elaborate on this further. While it says that prosecutor "urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch", we do not know yet if that was something the prosecutor did of his own or if others pushed him to do so. So while Lutsenko was certainly an actor in this scheme, we don't know (and I doubt that it did) originate with him. What did he have to gain?
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:20
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    @JJforTransparencyandMonica "What did [Lutsenko] have to gain?" Money and/or something else of value (e.g. good relationship with the President of the USA)?
    – Lag
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:21

The point was that Trump has a very short attention span and the regular channels weren't working to capture his attention, so the bad actors involved needed to make Trump mad in order to get him to act.

It all comes back to loyalty and a Fraud Guarantee.

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas are two Soviet-born real estate businessmen who were hired (via their company, Fraud Guarantee, Inc) by Rudy Giuliani to find some piece of information that could counter the Mueller investigation's damage to Trump's brand.

While they were digging, they hit an obstacle in the form of Marie Yovanovitch. Not that she specifically knew anything or was specifically causing them any issues, but she was the only career diplomat (ie, not picked specifically by Trump and thus of questionable loyalty to Trump, rather than the United States) in Ukraine at the time, and thus would have served as a challenge to their ability to quickly use US government channels in their search for political capital for Trump to use. So they decided to remove her and find someone who would aid their search rather than hamper it.

In April of 2018, they asked Trump directly to fire Yovanovitch. Trump mentioned it once to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then forgot.

On May 8th 2018, they met with then-Representative Pete Sessions and donated $325,000 to the America First PAC earmarked for his campaign, and promised to raise $20,000 for his campaign directly. On May 9th, Sessions and the two gentlemen appeared in photos together at the Capitol. At some point before the end of June 2018, Pete Sessions wrote a letter to Pompeo telling him that Sessions had heard from Kyiv associates that Yovanovitch was badmouthing Trump in private, and should be removed. It appears that Pompeo didn't pass the message on to Trump for whatever reason.

Pete Sessions loses his reelection campaign despite the contributions in November 2018, but Trump has not yet removed Yovanovitch. Fruman and Parnas then offer to pull strings to get Sessions the Ambassadorship if he can further push the issue of ousting Yovanovitch, as working around her is indeed proving to be a major delay in their plans. Also around this time, Ukrainian officials tell Yovanovitch that the former Ukrainian Prosecutor General (and guy Biden bragged about firing for being corrupt) Lutsenko had been in contact with Rudy Giuliani and that one of their goals was to remove Yovanovitch from her post.

In February 2019, Ukrainian officials become aware of Fruman and Parnas' activities and alert Yovanovitch of this, as well as their connection to trying to get Yovanovitch fired.

In March, Conservative columnist John Solomon posted an interview with the corrupt former prosecutor Lutsenko that claimed Yovanovitch was actively blocking investigations into corruption, and gave a fraudulent list that he alleged she gave him telling him not to investigate Burisma, the company Hunter Biden worked for (long after the alleged fraud that they wanted investigated). After that interview was published, everything blew up. Sessions, Giuliani, Hannity and others all took to Fox News to decry Yovanovitch's alleged unpatriotic behavior. Donald Trump Jr. retweets one of their comments, and it's apparently from this retweet that Trump finally takes it to heart. Giuliani gives Trump a nine page document of all the alleged crimes Yovanovitch was up to, labeled her a 'Never-Trumper' and tied her to Joe Biden.

By the end of April, Yovanovitch was flying back to DC.


This is a socio-psychological feature of nationalist movements. For nationalists, efficacy — the effective and efficient accomplishment of goals — isn't sufficient, or even strictly necessary. What matters is the appearance of comparative prestige. Yovanovitch was by all measures an accomplished and respected diplomat. While the administration could remove her for no reason whatsoever, doing so would make the administration appear arbitrary and unsophisticated (even setting aside any implications of manipulativeness). To maintain prestige the administration had to:

  • Find someone clearly more qualified and able than Yovanovitch, or...
  • Degrade and defame Yovanovitch sufficiently that any successor would appear good by comparison.

The first approach is obviously a tall order, one that would require months of searching and vetting, and unlikely to produce someone compliant with the administration's desires. The second approach is quick, easy, and almost thoughtless.

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