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5 takeaways from Yovanovitch's testimony at impeachment hearing

After the second open House impeachment hearing concluded, congressional members disagreed on whether the president's tweets amounted to witness intimidation. (Nov. 15) (Credit: POOL / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON — Marie Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer, testified Friday that she was ousted as ambassador to Ukraine by President Donald Trump after “a smear campaign” by Rudy Giuliani and others with “questionable motives.”

Despite attacks on her by Trump and official advice not to testify, Yovanovitch appeared at the impeachment inquiry’s second public hearing to protect her reputation, but also to lament that under the Trump administration the State Department is being “hollowed out.”

Here are takeaways from her long day answering questions.

Dismissal was bad for her and for U.S. policy

Yovanovitch said her unexpected and abrupt dismissal as ambassador to Ukraine damaged U.S. policy in Ukraine and all the post-Soviet republics struggling to curb corruption in government. “Perhaps it was not surprising that when our anticorruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old corrupt rules sought to remove me,” she said in her opening statement. “What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of the U.S. ambassador.” She said, “Such conduct undermines the U.S., exposes our friends, and widens the playing field for autocrats like President Putin. Our leadership depends on the power of our example and the consistency of our purpose. Both have now been opened to question.”

She felt “shocked, devastated” by Trump's July 25 phone call

As dismayed as Yovanovitch felt about being abruptly recalled as ambassador to Ukraine just weeks after being asked to stay on for another year, it paled in comparison to her reaction to reading the account of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump praised a Ukrainian prosecutor, who she said failed to fulfill his anti-corruption promises and joined the campaign to smear her. Then Trump attacked her as “bad news” and promised “she's going to go through some things.” Yovanovitch said “color drained from her face” when she read that. “I was shocked and devastated,” she said. And she said, “’She's going to go through some things.’ It didn't sound good. It sounded like a threat.”

Trump attacks by tweet

In an eyebrow-raising moment, President Donald Trump injected himself into the hearing by tweeting attacks on Yovanovitch as she testified. Schiff interrupted his counsel Daniel Goldman’s questioning to read the tweet: “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.” Schiff then asked Yovanovitch, who twice raised her eyebrows during the reading, if she wished respond. “I don’t think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu, Somalia, and other places,” she said. But citing Ukraine and its recent progress on curbing corruption, she added, “I actually think that where I served over the years I and others have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. as well as for the country I have served in.”

Schiff adds tweet to list of obstruction

Schiff indicated he would add Trump’s tweet attacking Yovanovitch to the obstruction of justice case he’s building against the president, should articles of impeachment be approved. He praised her for her courage to testify despite being discouraged from doing so by the State Department and hearing that “the president implicitly threatened you” in his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president. “The president in real time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses’ willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?” Schiff asked Yovanovitch. “Well, it’s very intimidating,” she said. Schiff asked if the attack was designed to intimidate. “I mean, I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating,” she said. Schiff said, “Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”

Republicans try to diminish Yovanovitch’s significance

Republicans dismissed Yovanovitch as an irrelevant witness. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the inquiry panel, did not even mention Yovanovitch in his opening statement. “I don't really have very many questions for you,” Nunes told Yovanovitch as he began his extended period of questioning. “You don't have any firsthand knowledge of the issues we're looking into.” He elicited her agreement that she had not talked with Trump or his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and was gone before the freeze on the aid to Ukraine and Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky. Trump retweeted comments by Republicans, including Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who said in a post that “the witness has no relevant information.”

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