A newly surfaced recording contains audio of President Donald Trump demanding that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch be fired, ABC News reported Friday.
"Get rid of her!" Trump reportedly said of Yovanovitch, during a small dinner in April 2018 that was attended by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who were deeply involved in the covert campaign to remove the ambassador from her post.
"Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it," Trump can reportedly be heard saying on the tape. CNBC has not heard the tape.
But Parnas' lawyer told The Daily Beast on Friday that Fruman made the recording on April 30, 2018, and that Parnas had heard it, but never had possession of it. Parnas and Fruman were both arrested in October of last year and charged with campaign finance violations.
A copy of the recording is in the custody of federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, where Fruman and Parnas were charged, ABC reported. A spokesman for the Southern District declined CNBC's request for comment. A lawyer for Fruman did not respond to a request for comment, and Parnas' lawyer, Joe Bondy, confirmed that the tape did not come from Parnas.
The two Giuliani associates had spent part of the dinner repeating a rumor to Trump that Yovanovitch had been bad-mouthing him, ABC reported. In the past, the president has responded sharply when he feels people have betrayed him, and his response here, according to the ABC report, would seem to fit with this pattern
Trump was asked about the tape during an interview on Fox News set to air Friday night, and he acknowledged it was something he probably said, and defended his right to fire ambassadors.
"I am not a fan of that ambassador," Trump said. He added that what was heard on the tape was not him explicitly telling Parnas personally to get rid of Yovanovitch. "But probably if it was Rudy there or somebody" that he was speaking to.
"I make no bones about it," Trump said. "I have every right. I want ambassadors that are chosen by me."
But as Democrats allege and witnesses have testified, the abrupt and untimely removal of Yovanovitch from her diplomatic post was bigger than simply the president wanting to appoint his own ambassador.
It was part of a multiyear effort to force Ukraine's government to announce investigations targeting Trump's political opponents, including former Vice President Joe Biden, and the Democratic National Committee.
The pressure campaign to get Ukraine to help Trump was led by Giuliani, who spent more than a year trying to dig up dirt on the Bidens and the DNC in Ukraine. After a surprise victory by a political newcomer in the country's presidential election last spring, Giuliani, along with a handpicked group of Trump administration appointees, ramped up their efforts to get the investigations Trump wanted announced.
This gradually increasing pressure campaign reached its pinnacle last summer when Trump ordered the Pentagon and the State Department to freeze nearly $400 million in foreign aid earmarked for Ukraine.
This decision to withhold aid, coupled with the pressure campaign, is at the heart of the impeachment case against Trump that Democrats approved late last year.
Trump's impeachment trial is underway in the Senate. He says he has done nothing wrong.
Yovanovitch testified as part of the House impeachment inquiry that she felt threatened by Trump and his allies, who had disparaged her even after she was removed from her post. Yovanovitch said that corrupt Ukrainian officials and Trump associates, including Giuliani, had orchestrated a "smear campaign" against her.
Parnas has been cooperating with Democratic investigators. Less than a week before the Senate trial proceedings began, Parnas and his lawyer handed over a trove of new evidence to Democrat-led House committee chairs. That evidence included text messages, phone records, handwritten notes and other materials.
Trump has claimed on multiple occasions that he is unfamiliar with Parnas. But Parnas and his attorney have claimed otherwise, and have shared multiple photos and videos of Parnas posing with a variety of White House officials, including Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.