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Trump Accused of Witness Tampering When He Tweets About Yovanovitch as She's Testifying

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Trump Accused of Witness Tampering When He Tweets About Yovanovitch as She's Testifying

2019-11-15 17:57:141 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Marie Yovanovitch (Image source: Screenshot)

 

Friday was day two of the public impeachment hearing with the third witness, former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, testifying. There was little of shock value in her testimony, but what was startling was Donald Trump tweeting about her while she was testifying, and House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) reading the tweets aloud, then declaring it to be witness tampering.

 

Schiff opened the proceedings by discussing Trump speaking about Yovanovitch to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in their July 25 phone call. Trump referred to her as "the former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news" and said she was "going to go through some things." 

Schiff pointed out that she is a "woman known for fighting corruption ... the woman ruthlessly smeared and driven from her post, the president does nothing but disparage — or even worse, threaten," he charged, adding, "That tells you a lot about the president's priorities and intentions."

 

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, read the July 25 phone transcript aloud and complained that the Democrats are acting like "some kind of strange cult" trying to "fulfill their Watergate fantasies," adding that "it's unfortunate that today and for most of the next we will continue engaging in the Democrats' day-long TV spectacles instead of the problems we were all sent to Washington to address." 

Yovanovitch, a 33-year veteran diplomat under six United States presidents, said after she was removed from office after a smear campaign by Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, what happened to her should "concern everyone" because it will lead foreign officials to doubt American representatives.

 

"Our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests the world over had learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want," she said. "After these elements, what foreign official, corrupt or not, could be blamed for wondering whether the ambassador represents the president's views?" 

She is still perplexed on how this all came to be, explaining that "individuals, who apparently felt stymied by our efforts to promote stated U.S. policy against corruption — that is, to do the mission — were able to successfully conduct a campaign of disinformation against a sitting ambassador, using unofficial back channels."

 

Trump took this opportunity to attack Yovanovitch via Twitter after working with Giuliani on her ouster in May. "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," he tweeted. "It is a U.S. president's absolute right to appoint ambassadors." 

"The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding [sic] administrations," he continued. "It is called, quite simply, America First! With all of that, however, I have done FAR more for Ukraine than O."

 

This was being posted while the former ambassador was testifying that she found out she was being removed as ambassador while she was hosting an embassy event in honor of a Ukrainian anticorruption activist who was attacked with acid last year and died of her injuries. 

Yovanovitch received an urgent call in late April from State Department Director General Carol Z. Perez who shared "great concern" about her security. In a call late that night in Kyiv, she was instructed to get on the next flight to Washington. "I argued, 'This is extremely irregular,' " she said. "But in the end, I did get on the next plane home."

 

Back in the States, "there was a lot of back and forth, but ultimately he said the words that, you know, every foreign service officer understands: 'The president has lost confidence in you,' " she recalled. "And I said, 'Well, you know, I guess I have to go then.' But no real reason was offered as to why I had to leave and why it was being done in such a manner." 

Recalling the Trump-Zelensky July 25 call transcript, she testified that she hadn't learned that she was mentioned in the call until the transcript was released publicly in September. Trump has said regarding her, "Well, she's going to go through some things."

 

She testified that she "didn't know what to think, but I was very concerned." When asked what her concern was about, the former ambassador replied, "It didn't sound good. It sounded like a threat. ... It felt like a vague threat, so I wondered what that meant. ... It concerned me." 

After Schiff read Trump's tweets aloud, Yovanovitch said, "Well I, I don't think I have such powers. I actually think where I've served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. and the countries I served in."

 

"I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating," she told Schiff, who replied, "Some of us here take witness intimidation very seriously." 

Outside the hearing room during a recess, Schiff said that what happened that morning was "witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States," adding, "Once again, going after this dedicated and respected career public servant in an effort to not only to chill her but to chill others who may come forward." He said once again that they "take this kind of witness intimidation and an obstruction of the inquiry very seriously."

 

But it was just more of what Yovanovitch had already dealt with. She testified that the derogatory tweet by the president and his son, Donald Trump Jr., in March repeated falsehoods and attacks that leaders at the State Department knew to not be true. 

Asking for a statement of support from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, she was told to go to the seventh floor where his office is. The subject of the tweets was an article that appeared in The Hill, written by John Solomon, quoting Ukraine prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko.

 

Lutsenko suggested to the writer that Yovanovitch was speaking ill of Trump and that she cooperated with a plan to help Hillary Clinton and harm Trump's campaign. The ambassador felt those around Giuliani were promoting the articles. While she was testifying on Friday, Lutsenko was slamming her on Twitter. 

Majority counsel read Trump Jr.'s tweet aloud stating, "We need less of these jokers as ambassadors." Yovanovitch said she was worried after reading that, as "these attacks were, you know, being repeated by the president himself and his son." One derogatory Trump tweet even landed on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News.

 

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), a member of the Intelligence Committee, tweeted during the trial, "@POTUS tampering with and intimidating a witness in real time while testifying is shocking and beneath any office, let alone the Office of the President." Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) echoed these concerns in tweets as well. 

In what appeared to be a staged move, Nunes tried to hand off his remaining time to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Schiff shut her down as it was in violation of the rules, and she insisted he was denying the GOP their right to ask questions. What it also showed was the chairman not allowing a woman to speak.

 

However, Stefanik did have Yovanovitch confirm that the Obama administration's State Department prepped her for her confirmation by questioning her about Hunter Biden's position with Burisma. Stefanik then noted, "Obama's own State Department was so concerned that they raised it themselves while prepping this wonderful ambassador nominee for her confirmation." 

In the end, Yovanovitch provided the House Democrats with a good witness. As Schiff banged his gavel to close the hearing, he praised  her for her service and courage, while Nunes regarded the proceedings as a "show trial." As the witness stood up to leave the hearing room, applause and cheers broke out from those watching.

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