Nov 16, 2019

First casualty of impeachment war

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify

Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify yesterday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

An important human dimension gets obscured in the wider impeachment war: Former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is already a three-time victim of the Ukraine scandal and public hearings.

Why it matters: Maybe the only thing House Republicans and Democrats agree on is that Yovanovitch was a widely respected ambassador to Ukraine. Yet, she lost her job, endured a hit job by The Hill newspaper, and had her reputation vilified and sullied publicly by the president of the United States. 

The bigger picture: Yes, she still has a government job. But the toll on her was obvious during her testimony yesterday, which was riveting less for the facts and more because of her reaction to the pummeling from Trump and his allies.

The hearing began at 9:30 a.m. and Trump tweeted his attack on her at 10 a.m., blaming her for the dangerous conditions in Somalia, which has endured 30 years of "turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy," as the CIA puts it.

  • The staff of House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who was presiding, distributed printouts of the tweet to Democratic committee members, Axios' Alayna Treene reported from inside the hearing room.
  • Schiff called it "witness intimidation in real time."
  • The tweet was displayed on monitors as Yovanovitch continued testifying:
President Trump's tweet about Former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch
Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Republicans said Trump's mid-hearing attack sabotaged their strategy:

  • Republicans recognized going in that she's a highly respected career official, and planned to focus their questions on showing how she had little knowledge of what is being investigated.
  • After the tweet, Republicans went even further out of their way to praise her (even calling her "Your Excellency" at one point) — which just made her abrupt recall to Washington look even more puzzling.

Yovanovitch described what it was like when she learned Trump denigrated her as "bad news" in a conversation with Ukraine's president:

"I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner, where President Trump said that I was bad news to another world leader, and that I would be going through some things."
"So I was — it was a terrible moment. A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction."
"I think, you know, even now, words kind of fail me."

Between the lines: The circumstances of Yovanovitch's removal made her a sympathetic witness, even before Trump's tweet, Treene reports.

  • In April, Yovanovitch got a late-night call from the State Department saying she needed to leave for security reasons — on the same night she was honoring her friend, who had died a horrific death after an acid attack for working to root out corruption. The harrowing details highlighted the importance of the ambassador's work in Ukraine.

The bottom line: As the hearing adjourned, Yovanovitch got a standing ovation.

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