Former US ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch denied critical allegations leveled against her by President Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani in a scathing opening statement to lawmakers Friday, calling them "fictitious".
The email included guidance for Republicans seeking to defend the president from potentially damaging witness testimony from an ambassador who was removed from her post in May under controversial circumstances.
Lawyers for Ambassador Gordon Sondland say he'll appear for an interview before a joint House committee taking depositions in the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump despite having been ordered by the State Department not to appear.
"I want to categorically state that I have never myself or through others, directly or indirectly, ever directed, suggested, or in any other way asked for any government or government official in Ukraine (or elsewhere) to refrain from investigating or prosecuting actual corruption", she told House committees considering impeachment during a closed door session on Capitol Hill.
Yovanovitch warned about Russia's "malign intentions" toward Ukraine and said that if the United States allows Russian actions toward its neighbor to stand "we will set a precedent that the United States will regret for decades to come". She also took direct aim at Giuliani's associates whom she said could've been financially threatened by her anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.
Yovanovitch said that after she was abruptly recalled from her post in the spring, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told her that the president had lost confidence in her, according to her prepared remarks.
"She's a fearless woman", Democratic congressman Michael Quigley said of Yovanovitch during a break in the testimony.
The former US ambassador to Ukraine was removed from her post after insisting that Rudy Giuliani's requests to Ukrainian officials for investigations be relayed through official channels.
"The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo of any kind", Sondland said.
In a text with another USA official, Bill Taylor, Sondland denied there was a quid pro quo in the White House's dealings with Ukraine.
Yovanovitch's ouster was mentioned as a point of concern in the whistleblower complaint. "He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me", Ms Yovanovitch said. The State Department has said the assertion was an outright fabrication and Lutsenko himself later walked back his comments.
In a Friday morning statement, an attorney for Sondland said, "Notwithstanding the State Department's current direction not to testify, Ambassador Sondland will honor the Committees' subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying on Thursday".
The former ambassador, who since her removal has been on academic sabbatical at Georgetown University, went on to talk more generally about the crisis of morale at the state department. She left Ukraine in May.
Lutsenko accused Yovanovitch of obstructing Ukrainian investigations and providing the US with "evidence" of wrongdoing.
"Ambassador Sondland hopes the materials will be shared with the Committees in advance of his Thursday testimony", they said in a statement. Sondland participated in text messages about Washington's relationship with Ukraine with other top diplomats.