Lawmakers had mixed reactions Friday to an ABC News report detailing a recording that appears to capture President Donald Trump saying he wanted the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch to be fired — a development that could have an impact on the Senate impeachment trial.
The recording appears to catch Trump speaking at an intimate dinner gathering at Trump International Hotel in D.C. on April 30, 2018, one that included Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — two former business associates of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who have since been indicted in New York on charges including campaign finance fraud.
It also appears to contradict recent statements by President Trump that he doesn’t know Parnas and instead support the narrative that has been offered by Parnas during broadcast interviews in recent days that Trump demanded Yovanovitch’s termination.
“Get rid of her!” is what the voice that appears to be President Trump’s is heard saying. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told ABC News in a statement, “Every President in our history has had the right to place people who support his agenda and his policies within his Administration.”
Kellyanne Conway doubled down on that notion speaking to reporters on Friday afternoon at the White House.
“We’ve always maintained, he can have whatever staff. We serve at his pleasure,” she said. “How anything you are describing now is a high crime and misdemeanor or leads to an impeachment or removal of a democratically elected president eight months before the next election, is a puzzle to me.”
Here’s how politicians are responding:
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Asked by ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce about the Parnas reporting, Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager said: “Plainly, if the president, at the urging of Giuliani or Parnas or Fruman, if this is additional evidence of his involvement, it could certainly corroborate much of what we’ve heard.”
He said he couldn’t comment further since he hadn’t yet reviewed the tape or report.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Sen. Tim Kaine also stopped to talk with reporters just before the start of Friday’s session, and when asked about Yovanovitch’s termination, said that senators “should definitely see this tape.”
“I want to know why she was smeared. I want to know why she was fired, and I want to know why she was threatened. And I’m entitled to know that and the American public is entitled to know that,” Kaine told ABC News’ Ben Siegel.
“I would love to look at all the documents and then, based on that, likely call Parnas in. But we should definitely see this tape.”
Vice President Mike Pence
Speaking to reporters in Rome, Vice President Mike Pence was asked about ABC’s reporting and whether it was ever appropriate for President Trump to speak in such a way about a U.S. ambassador.
“I have not heard the tape and would not be prepared to comment on it. But all of the ambassadors for the United States of America serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States. And I don’t think the president has made any secret of the fact that he had concerns about our ambassador to Ukraine and wanted her replaced,” Pence said.
Pence went on to say: “The tape that’s been released today, in my judgment, will only confirm what people already know, is that the president had concerns, and in his authority as president made a decision to make a change.”
When asked about Parnas saying that Pence knew about a campaign to pressure Ukraine regarding the Bidens, Pence attempted to clear himself of any association with the Parnas and Fruman who have pleaded not guilty.
“Well, I’m not aware of what Mr. Parnas said about the Ukrainian ambassador, but I can tell you, what he has said about me has been completely false,” he said. “I don’t recall ever having met Mr. Parnas, although I’ve seen a couple of photographs where apparently he was in my vicinity.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
ABC News asked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for his reaction to the recording at a news conference he held shortly before Friday’s Senate impeachment trial session.
“I haven’t seen that, so I wouldn’t comment on that yet, but I can say the granularity of the description of the despicable treatment of this prized, wonderful, public servant, Ambassador Yovanovitch, I think stuck in people’s minds again.” Schumer said.
“So I think there’s tremendous sympathy for Ambassador Yovanovitch from one end of America to the other — my guess is in the hearts of many of our Republican Senators — so I don’t know that thing, but I do know that the Yovanovitch was terribly treated.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.
When asked about the report at the Republican news conference before Friday’s trial session, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina reiterated the notion that, when it comes to ambassadors, a president can remove anyone at any time.
“The president can fire any ambassador they want. I could give you a lot of examples of ambassadors being fired ’cause they lost the confidence of the president,” he told reporters.
ABC’s Trish Turner pressed Graham on the president saying he didn’t know Parnas — while the audio is clear that the pair are at a dinner talking about Yovanovitch.
“All I can say is — I don’t trust anything Lev Parnas says,” Graham chuckled, before he was asked to follow up on whether the president knew Parnas.
“Does he know him? I’m a politician. You can show me at a dinner with somebody — and if you try to mean that I know them — so if you want to go down that road, I mean, this is what I’m saying — if we go down that road, then we’re going to call in Hunter Biden. … And we’re going to call Joe Biden.”
When asked if the president was caught in a contraction, Graham continued to downplay Trump’s association with Parnas.
“I’m a politician,” he interrupted. “You’re not going to get me to believe the president is lying because he’s at a dinner with a guy.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah
ABC News’ Lissette Rodriguez caught Romney as he was leaving this office earlier Friday morning, and while Romney said he had not yet seen the video or reporting, he said he expects any current allegations will be raised by either the House managers or the president’s defense team.
“I haven’t seen it, and I presume all matters relating to the current allegations being considered will be raised by either the House managers or by the President’s defense team so we’ll see at that.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Johnson, a staunch Trump supporter, dismissed Trump’s words on the tape arguing that the American people knew his style and still elected Trump.
“I’m somebody from Wisconsin. I’m not a New Yorker. Totally different styles, okay? That means just totally different styles,” Johnson told ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett. “I mean, the American people elected President Trump, and they knew who President Trump was and they understood his style.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio
Jordan sided with the president and downplayed the tape, when asked about the report, saying he’s not surprised that a “guy who had a TV show where he talked about firing people was willing to recall the ambassador.”
“My guess is we’re probably not surprised that the guy who, you know, had a TV show where he talked about firing people is willing to recall the Ambassador,” Jordan said.
“I also point out that, you know, if this was all part of some scheme, as the Democrats allege, why would they replace Ambassador Yovanovitch with Ambassador Taylor? Ambassador Taylor was their star witness. He was their first witness. The guy they call up for their very first public hearing.”
Jordan added that her termination was more than a year ago and said, “the president was wanting to recall ambassador, which he did, subsequently did, which he’s totally allowed to do.”
ABC News’ Mary Bruce, Katherine Faulders, John Santucci, Allison Pecorin, Olivia Rubin, Trish Turner, Ben Siegel, Cheyenne Haslett, Lissette Rodriguez and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.