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Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, President Trump's nominee to become the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, testified during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that Rudy Giuliani was involved in the effort to oust former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

  • During an exchange with Sen. Robert Menendez, the Senate Foreign Relation Committee's ranking Democrat, Sullivan confirmed he told Yovanovitch that she was being pulled out early from her position as ambassador.
  • Yovanovitch told the House committees involved in the Trump impeachment inquiry earlier this month that she was accused by Giuliani of disparaging the president and trying to protect the interests of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
  • Yovanovitch called those allegations "fictitious."

The exchanges:

MENENDEZ: What did you know about a shadow Ukraine policy being carried out by Rudy Giuliani?
SULLIVAN: My knowledge in the spring and summer of this year about any involvement of Mr. Giuliani was in connection with a campaign against our ambassador to Ukraine.
...
MENENDEZ: You were aware that there were individuals and forces outside the State Department seeking to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch?
SULLIVAN: I was.
MENENDEZ: And seeking to remove her?
SULLIVAN: I was.
MENENDEZ: And that Mr. Giuliani was one of those people?
SULLIVAN: I believe he was. Yes.

Go deeper: Giuliani: Recalled Ukraine ambassador was viewed as obstacle to Biden probe

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

House cancels Thursday session as FBI, Homeland Security warn of threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says extremists have discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

2 hours ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).