WASHINGTON – As Marie Yovanovitch, ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified before the House Intelligence Committee Friday as part of the impeachment inquiry, she was attacked on Twitter by President Donald Trump.
The historic moment was labeled by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, as “witness intimidation in real-time.”
“Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,” Schiff said. He later told reporters Trump’s action was “part of a pattern to intimidate witnesses and it’s also part of a pattern to obstruct the investigation.”
Trump’s tweet read: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”
Asked by Schiff about the president’s tweet, Yovanovitch replied: “It’s very intimidating.”
Yovanovitch added she doesn’t think she has “such powers” to make things go badly in different countries.
“I and others have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I served in,” she said.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham released a statement saying the tweet was not witness intimidation.
“It was simply the President’s opinion, which he is entitled to,” the statement read.
Trump later told reporters at the White House he had been watching the proceedings Friday, saying of the impeachment hearing: “It’s a disgrace and it’s an embarrassment to our nation.”
He said he was not trying to intimidate Yovanovitch, insisting he had the right to freedom of speech.
In a highly compelling narrative detailed for a packed hearing room, Yovanovitch recounted being discredited by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani through a relentless “public smear campaign,” and then being abruptly told in April to return on the next plane home to the United States.
“After 33 years of service to our country, it was terrible,” Yovanovitch said of her ousting. “It’s not the way I wanted my career to end.”
Yovanovitch was the target of allegations that she gave Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s former prosecutor general, a “do-not prosecute” list, unsubstantiated claims, which she denies.
When she returned to Washington, Yovanovitch was told by her colleagues that the State Department had been under pressure to remove her since the summer of 2018.
Yovanovitch was the third witness to testify in the public impeachment hearings, following William Taylor and George Kent, top U.S. diplomats in Ukraine, on Wednesday.
Though the former ambassador couldn’t speak to the events that occurred over the past several months– attempts by Trump to make Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly announce an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden in exchange for military aid (as Taylor and Kent did in Wednesday’s hearing), she is one of the most significant witnesses to Trump’s “shadow diplomacy” in Ukraine.
“Our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want,” Yovanovitch said.
But, Republicans cast doubts that her testimony was relevant to the matter at hand.
The ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, said he didn’t have many questions for Yovanovitch because she didn’t have direct contact with the president, extending the point Republicans made Wednesday that none of the Democrats’ witnesses had firsthand knowledge of Trump’s decision to halt military aid.
“We understand you don’t have a lot of facts or information relating to the part of this that we are investigating,” the Republican legal counsel, Steve Castor, said when questioning Yovanovitch.
Yovanovitch was one of the subjects of the infamous July 25th phone call, in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news, and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news, so I just want to let you know that,” Trump said on the call. He later added, about Yovanovitch: “Well, she’s going to go through some things.”
Yovanovitch said she perceived the vague statement as a threat.
Trump tweeted throughout the hearing, despite a statement from Grisham Friday morning claiming that Trump would only watch Nunes’s opening statement, and the rest of the day would be “working hard for the American people.”
As the hearing began, the White House released another transcript of an April call that took place between Trump and Zelensky in which Trump congratulated the new Ukrainian leader on his recent election victory and invited him to visit the White House.
The released transcript is different from the White House’s own readout in April, which claimed Trump also talked about rooting out corruption in Ukraine. The actual transcript released Friday morning had no mention of it.
With Yovanovitch now teaching at Georgetown, Republicans seemed to make the point that her outcome wasn’t so bad after all, and asked her questions about her courses.
But Michael Quigley, D-Illinois, said it wasn’t a Hallmark movie ending like the Republicans made it out to be. He said it was a really, really bad reality television show, “coming from someone who knows a lot about reality TV.”
Yovanovitch said in the hearing that she wondered why Trump didn’t just appoint a new ambassador, rather than smearing her reputation.
“You have endured an orchestrated character assassination placed with enormous campaign contribution for the president’s reelection campaign,” Rep Jackie Speier, D- California, said.
“In this line of work, all we have is our reputation,” Yovanovitch said. “So this has been a very painful period.”
As the hearing passed six hours, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, said that the question isn’t how Yovanovitch was treated, it’s whether Trump has the authority to withhold congressionally-approved aid for political gain.
Republicans called out Schiff for not letting them hear directly from the anonymous whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry. They read headlines from news organizations into the record in which Schiff promised to bring in the whistleblower to testify behind closed doors.
On Wednesday, a motion to subpoena the whistleblower to testify failed to pass through committee. Democrats say they are committed to protecting the whistleblower’s anonymity.
Later Friday, lawmakers were scheduled to interview David Holmes, an aide to Taylor, behind closed doors. Saturday, they will interview Mark Sandy, an official from the Office of Management and Budget.
Next week, public hearings will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.