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Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani 'forced Ukraine ambassador out'

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President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has said removing the US ambassador to Ukraine became imperative for him and Mr Trump.

The ex-US envoy, Marie Yovanovitch, fired abruptly in May, has been a key witness in impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump.

"I needed Yovanovitch out of the way," Mr Giuliani told the New Yorker.

The House of Representatives votes this week on impeachment, a probe centred on Mr Trump's Ukraine dealings.

Mr Trump is accused of pressuring Ukraine's leader to dig up supposedly damaging information on a former Vice-President Joe Biden, a domestic political rival. The Republican president has denied all wrongdoing, dismissing the inquiry as a "witch hunt".

image copyrightBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images
image captionThe US House of Representatives will vote this week on whether to impeach the president

The House Rules Committee is meeting to determine how the House debate should be conducted. Mr Trump faces two charges - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The House debate, with votes expected on Wednesday or Thursday, will mark the third time in history that the lower chamber has discussed impeaching a president.

Why is Ms Yovanovitch important?

Ms Yovanovitch's sudden dismissal has emerged as a key element of the inquiry. Speaking before the House Intelligence Committee last month, the 33-year veteran of the foreign service said she believed her anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine had incurred the ire of influential Ukrainians who sought to remove her.

The ambassador said she was shocked that her enemies appeared to find allies in the Trump administration, including Mr Giuliani.

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Mr Giuliani's interview with the New Yorker appears to confirm that Ms Yovanovitch's dismissal was linked to investigations into Ukraine sought by Mr Trump.

The former New York mayor has become a central character in the Ukrainian affair and the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry. Testifying last month, the US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland said that Mr Trump directed him and other top diplomats to work with Mr Giuliani on Ukraine "at the express direction of the president".

Ms Yovanovitch "was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody," Mr Giuliani told the New Yorker.

On Monday evening, he appeared to reinforce this stance, telling Fox News's Laura Ingraham that "of course" he had Ms Yovanovitch removed, claiming it was due to the diplomat's misbehaviour.

There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Ms Yovanovitch.

image copyrightDrew Angerer/Getty Images
image captionThe former US Ambassador to Ukraine was abruptly dismissed in May

Speaking to the New York Times in comments published on Tuesday, Mr Giuliani said he provided Mr Trump with detailed information about his probes into Ukraine, and how Ms Yovanovitch was frustrating his efforts.

Mr Giuliani visited Ukraine again last month, before meeting Mr Trump at the White House on Friday.

Asked about Mr Giuliani's work in Ukraine, the president told reporters his lawyer "does it out of love".

"He's a great person who loves our country," Mr Trump said. "He sees what goes on. He sees what's happening."

What else happened on Tuesday?

media captionMr Giuliani is alleged to have sought to dig up dirt on Democrat candidate Joe Biden

In a six-page letter to the Democratic leadership, the president accused them of "subverting American democracy".

He repeated his claim that the phone call with the Ukrainian president, a call which is at the centre of the impeachment inquiry, was "totally innocent".

"Any member of Congress who votes in support of impeachment - against every shred of truth, fact, evidence and legal principle - is showing how deeply they revile the voters and how truly they detest America's constitutional order.

"Our founders feared the tribalisation of partisan politics and you are bringing their worst fears to life."

He ends the letter by saying that 100 years from now, people will understand and learn from this, "so that it can never happen to another president again".

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