Donald Trump can be heard in a taped 2018 conversation saying he wanted to get rid of the US ambassador to Ukraine, whose removal a year later has become an issue in the president’s ongoing impeachment trial.
The recording has been provided to congressional investigators by Lev Parnas, an associate of Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Mr Parnas was reportedly among a small group speaking with Mr Trump when the recording was made.
Mr Trump demanded the removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch at an April 2018 dinner at his hotel in Washington, according to ABC News.
The Associated Press reported on Friday night that the recording has now been given by Mr Parnas’s lawyer to the House Intelligence Committee. The House panel’s chairman, Democrat Representative Adam Schiff, is helping lead the impeachment proceedings against Trump.
The recording also appears to contradict the president’s statements that he did not know Mr Parnas, a key figure in the investigation.
ABC said a speaker who appears to be Mr 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.”
Mr Parnas and associate Igor Fruman worked with Mr Giuliani on a push to get Ukraine to announce it would investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
On the recording, the two men tell Mr Trump the US ambassador had 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.
Ms Yovanovitch, who was viewed as an obstacle to investigations into Mr Biden and his son Hunter, was not recalled from her position until April, 2019.
She said the decision was based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives” that she was disloyal to Mr Trump.
Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Parnas and Mr Giuliani to have Ms Yovanovitch removed from her post.
Mr Parnas and Mr 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 Mr 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 analyse that, not having looked at it,” Mr Schiff said.
Mr Parnas has conducted a series of interviews in recent days in which he has asserted Mr Trump was aware of the plan to remove Ms Yovanovitch.
Mr Trump has distanced himself from Mr Parnas, whose credibility and motives have been questioned by Trump supporters.
“I don’t know Parnas other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people,” Mr 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 Mr 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 US ally at war with its neighbour Russia.
The second article of impeachment accuses Mr Trump of obstructing Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe.
Republicans have defended Mr 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.