Ousted ambassador felt threat; Trump assails her anew

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is sworn in to testify to the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, during the second public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“These events should concern everyone in this room,” the diplomat testified in opening remarks.

Former U.S. Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch provided chilling detail in Trump impeachment hearings Friday of the threat she felt upon suddenly being ousted from her post and learning President Donald Trump had denounced her in his July phone call with Ukraine’s president. In that call, Trump assailed her as “bad news” and said she was “going to go through some things.”

In an extraordinary moment, even in an administration filled with them, Trump himself went after her again as she spoke, tweeting from the White House that everywhere she served had “turned bad.” He emphasized that as president he had the “absolute right” to appoint his own ambassadors.
Rather than distract from the career diplomat’s somber but powerful testimony, Trump’s interference could provide more evidence against him in the probe.

“It’s very intimidating,” Yovanovitch said when Trump’s new tweet was shown on a screen in the hearing room. “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidated.”

Democrats strongly agreed.

“I want you to know that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, Intelligence Committee chairman who displayed Trump’s attack.

During the second day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry, Yovanovitch described a “smear campaign” against her by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others, including the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., before her firing.

She told the lawmakers her sudden removal had played into the hands of “shady interests the world over” with dangerous intentions toward the United States.

She recalled that as she had read the White House’s rough transcript of Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, another person said, “The color drained from my face.”

She said quietly, “Even now words fail me.”

Her removal is one of several events at the center of the impeachment effort.

“These events should concern everyone in this room,” the diplomat testified in opening remarks. “Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want.”

The daughter of immigrants who fled the former Soviet Union and Nazi German, she described a 33-year career, including three tours as an ambassador to some of the world’s tougher postings, before arriving in Ukraine in 2016. She was forced out in May 2019.
She denied the accusations against her, including that she favored Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in the 2016 election and that she circulated a

“Do Not Prosecute” list to former top prosecutor in Ukraine, Sergiy Lutsenko, which she called a “fabrication.”

Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the panel, opened the day’s hearing saying she was “too tough on corruption for some, and her principled stance made her enemies.”

It became clear, he said, “President Trump wanted her gone.”

The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, bemoaned the hearings as a “daylong TV spectacle.”

Nunes complained that Democrats are relying on hearsay testimony from witnesses who only know of Trump’s actions second-hand. He also pressed to hear from the still anonymous government whistleblower who first alerted officials about President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukraine that is in question. “These hearings should not be occurring at all,” he said.

But one Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said Trump’s live tweeting at the ambassador was wrong. She said, “I don’t think the president should have done that.”

Just as the hearing was opening, the White House released its rough transcript of an earlier call Trump had with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that was largely congratulatory.

Nunes read that transcript aloud. In it, Trump mentioned his experience with the Miss Universe pageant in Ukraine and invited Zelenskiy to the White House. He closed with, “See you very soon.”

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, who has served both Republican and Democratic presidents, relayed her striking story of being told to “watch my back” and then being suddenly recalled by Trump in a swiftly developing series of events that sounded alarms about a White House shadow foreign policy.

In particular, Yovanovitch and others have described Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, as leading an “irregular channel” outside the diplomatic mainstream of U.S.-Ukraine relations. Asked during an earlier, closed-door deposition if anyone at the State Department who was alerted to Giuliani’s role tried to stop him, she testified, “I don’t think they felt they could.”

The White House has instructed officials not to comply with the probe, and most have been issued subpoenas to appear.

Later Friday, the panel in closed-door session will hear from David Holmes, a political adviser in Kyiv, who overheard Trump asking about the investigations the day after the July conversation with Zelenskiy. Holmes was at dinner with Gordon Sondland, when the Ambassador to the European Union called up Trump. The conversation was apparently loud enough to be heard.

Trump says he doesn’t know about that call. The AP has reported a second US Embassy official also overheard it.

Yovanovitch and other officials now testifying publicly are providing accounts that Democrats are relying on to make the case that the president’s behavior was impeachable.

With the start of a second day of hearings to consider removal of America’s 45th president, Democrats and Republicans were both hardening their messages to voters.

Americans are deeply entrenched in two camps over impeachment, resulting in a mounting political battle that will further test the nation in one of the most polarizing eras of modern times.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Trump’s actions toward Ukraine amount to “bribery.”

Trump repeatedly assails the proceedings as a “hoax” and a “sham” and says he did nothing wrong.

The impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump’s July phone call with Zelenskiy that first came to attention when an anonymous government whistleblower filed a complaint.

In the phone conversation, Trump asked for a “favor,” according to an account provided by the White House. He wanted an investigation of Democrats and 2020 rival Joe Biden. Later it was revealed that the administration was withholding military aid from Ukraine at the time.

—  Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press, Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Laurie Kellman, Jonathan Lemire, Andrew Taylor, Alan Fram and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

Associated Press