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NEW YORK (AP) — An associate of Rudy Giuliani has provided congressional investigators with a recording of President Donald Trump saying he wanted to get rid of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, whose ouster emerged as an issue in the president’s impeachment, his attorney told The Associated Press on Friday.
The Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas, attended a small dinner with Trump at his Washington hotel in April 2018. Joseph Bondy, Parnas’ lawyer, said he turned over to the House Intelligence Committee a recording from the dinner in which Trump demands the removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
The recording, which was first reported by ABC News, appears to contradict the president's statements that he did not know Parnas, a key figure in the investigation. It came to light as Democrats continue to press for witnesses and other evidence to be considered during the Senate impeachment trial.
ABC News released a portion of the recording online late Friday. A voice that appears to be Parnas can be heard saying, “The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador." He later can be heard telling Trump, "She's basically walking around telling everybody: 'Wait, he's gonna get impeached. Just wait.'"
A speaker who appears to be Trump then responds: "Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”
Parnas and associate Igor Fruman worked with Giuliani on a push to get Ukraine to announce it would investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. On the recording, the two tell Trump that the U.S. ambassador has been insulting him, which leads directly to the apparent remarks by the president.
The White House denied any suggestion of presidential wrongdoing.
"Every president in our history has had the right to place people who support his agenda and his policies within his administration," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
Yovanovitch, who was viewed as an obstacle to probes into Biden and his son Hunter, was not recalled from her position until the following April. She said the decision was based on "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives" that she was disloyal to Trump.
House investigators have been working to document an almost yearlong effort on the part of Parnas and Giuliani to have Yovanovitch removed from her post. Parnas and Fruman were recently indicted by the Southern District of New York on charges including conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Democrats seized on the recording as further evidence of Trump's involvement.
“If this is additional evidence of his involvement in that effort to smear her, it would certainly corroborate much of what we’ve heard, but I’m not in a position yet to analyze that, not having looked at it," said Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who is helping lead the impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Parnas has done a series of interviews in recent days in which he has asserted that Trump was aware of the plan to remove Yovanovitch. Trump has distanced himself from Parnas, and the president’s supporters have questioned his credibility and motives.
“I don't know Parnas other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people," Trump said last week. “But I just met him. I don't know him at all. Don't know what he's about, don't know where he comes from, know nothing about him. I can only tell you this thing is a big hoax.”
The president is being tried in the Senate after the House impeached him last month, accusing him of abusing his office by asking Ukraine to probe the Bidens while withholding military aid from a U.S. ally at war with Russia. The second article of impeachment accuses Trump of obstructing Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe.
Republicans have defended Trump’s actions as appropriate and are casting the process as a politically motivated effort to weaken him in his reelection campaign. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and acquittal is considered likely.
Kodjak reported from Washington.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Kodjak at http://twitter.com/@AliKodjak.
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