5 Important Takeaways From Marie Yovanovitch's Testimony

The veteran foreign service officer shed light on what it was like to be on the receiving end of a political smear campaign.

President Donald Trump escalated his attacks on Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, on Friday as she testified before the House Intelligence Committee.

Before her testimony, Yovanovitch had already faced smears from Trump and his allies. During his infamous call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump said Yovanovitch was “bad news” and that she was “going to go through some things.”

Yovanovitch was recalled from her ambassadorship in May after conservative pundits promoted unfounded claims that she was part of a Ukrainian attempt to boost Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

The former ambassador, who has served as a foreign service officer for 33 years under six presidents, has denied that claim.

Here are five key moments from her hearing on Friday.

1. Trump publicly intimidated Yovanovitch during the hearing ― and she responded in real time.

As Yovanovitch testified, Trump launched an attack on her reputation in a pair of tweets. Shortly afterward, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) read the tweets to Yovanovitch and asked her to publicly respond to them.

Trump tweeted that “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” and denounced her work in both Somalia and Ukraine. Trump also said the president of Ukraine “spoke unfavorably” about her.

Yovanovitch appeared taken aback by the president’s remarks.

“It’s very intimidating,” she told Schiff. “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but the effect is to be intimidating.”

Asked was she thought about Trump’s suggestion that “everywhere [she] went turned bad,” Yovanovitch said, “I — I don’t think I have such powers.”

She continued to defend her career:

I 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 countries that I’ve served in.

Ukraine, for example where there are huge challenges, including on the issue we’re discussing today of corruption … they’ve made a lot of progress since 2014. The Ukrainian people get a lot of credit for that. Part of that also goes to the United States and to me, as the ambassador in Ukraine.

During a brief recess, Schiff slammed Trump’s attacks on Yovanovitch while speaking to reporters.

“We saw today witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States,” Schiff said.

2. Republicans distanced themselves from Trump after the tweets.

Republicans who have staunchly defended Trump as the impeachment inquiry unfolds couldn’t ignore the threatening tone of his tweets. Some concluded that the attacks on Yovanovitch were unhelpful.

During this week’s hearings, Republicans have steered clear of directly attacking the diplomats they were questioning.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), one of the most vocal Republicans during the hearings, told reporters, “I disagree with the tweet.”

“I think Ambassador Yovanovitch is a public servant like many of our public servants in the foreign service,” she said.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) also defended Yovanovitch’s career, saying the former ambassador is “clearly is somebody who’s been a public servant to the United States for decades.”

“I don’t think the president should have done that,” Cheney told The Associated Press.

Even as Republicans distanced themself from the feud, the White House stood behind Trump’s tweets.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham argued that Trump’s tweets were not “witness intimidation.”

“It was simply the President’s opinion, which he is entitled to. This is not a trial, it is a partisan political process,” she said in a statement.

3. Yovanovitch said Trump could’ve just recalled her without smearing her reputation. Instead, he set a new precedent for corruption.

During her hourslong testimony, Yovanovitch spoke in detail about a concerted effort to destroy her reputation as a U.S. diplomat.

“Individuals ... were able to successfully conduct a campaign of disinformation against a sitting ambassador, using unofficial back channels,” Yovanovitch said, adding that the State Department knew the allegations against her were false.

She noted that Trump could have just appointed another ambassador without attacking her reputation.

“The president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time, for any reason, but what I do wonder is why it was necessary to smear my reputation, falsely,” she said.

Yovanovitch is concerned that the way she was pushed out of her position could set a new precedent that other countries and private and foreign interests might exploit.

“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.

4. The staff attorney for Republicans accomplished mostly nothing with his line of questioning.

Stephen Castor, the GOP staff counsel, is tasked with cross-examining witnesses at the impeachment hearings, though his performance fell mostly flat on Friday.

Castor repeatedly prodded Yovanovitch over the theory embraced by Trump and right-wing pundits that Ukrainians were working to keep Trump from winning the 2016 election.

Yovanovitch’s answers did little to corroborate those allegations.

She told Castor that she was not aware of allegations that Ukrainians were trying to undermine Trump during her time as ambassador to the country.

When asked whether there were concerns that Ukrainians were “out to get Trump,” Yovanovitch replied, “There weren’t. We really didn’t see it that way.”

In another effort to get Yovanovitch to agree with his claims, Castro asked if tweets critical of Trump by a Ukranian official prove that there was a group that was “out to get him,” noting they said “some real nasty things.”

“Sometimes that happens on social media,” Yovanovitch replied, prompting laughter in the room in light of Trump’s public attacks on her.

5. The smear campaign against Yovanovitch has left the State Department in a “dangerous place.”

Yovanovitch emphasized on Friday that her ouster has shown how U.S. diplomats and U.S. policy are vulnerable to outside interference.

“I still find it difficult to comprehend that foreign and private interests were able to undermine U.S. interests in this way,” she said during the hearing.

“These events should concern everyone in this room,” Yovanovitch continued. “If our chief representative is kneecapped, it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States.”

During her testimony, Yovanovitch described the consequences of having Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and his associates spread false rumors about her alleged partisanship, eventually leading to her dismissal.

“As Foreign Service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is also being degraded. This will soon cause real harm, if it hasn’t already,” Yovanovitch said Friday. “The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage. This is not a time to undercut our diplomats.”

She also agreed that the entire situation has had a “chilling” effect on those who work at the State Department.

“I think it’s had a chilling effect, not only in the embassy in Kyiv, but throughout the State Department because people don’t know whether their efforts to pursue stated policy are going to be supported,” she said. “And that is a dangerous place to be.”

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