NEW YORK - President Donald Trump can be heard in a taped 2018 conversation saying he wants to get rid of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, whose removal a year later emerged as an issue in Trump's impeachment. The president was talking with a small group that included Lev Parnas, an associate of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, according to a report Friday about the audio recording.
Trump demanded the removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch at an April 2018 dinner at his hotel in Washington, according to ABC News, which reported on the recording. The recording appears to contradict the president's statements that he did not know Parnas, a key figure in the investigation.
ABC said a speaker who appears to be Trump says on the recording, "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. 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.
Parnas appears to say on the recording: “The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we gotta get rid of the ambassador. She's still left over from the Clinton administration.”
He later can be heard telling Trump. "She's basically walking around telling everybody 'Wait, he's gonna get impeached, just wait."
House investigators have been working to document an almost year-long 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 Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., one of the House impeachment managers.
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 Associated Press has not reviewed the recording. A request to Parnas and his lawyer for comment was not immediately answered.
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.