In a dramatic exchange with House impeachment investigators Friday, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch responded in real time to tweets President Donald Trump sent smearing her decadeslong tenure at the State Department.
Trump posted two tweets Friday morning blaming her for the circumstances of the countries she served in, then claimed the United States’ ability to enact foreign policy has improved since he took office and not “degraded” as Yovanovitch argued in her opening statement.
Yovanovitch served the U.S. for 33 years prior to her abrupt dismissal by Trump this May, including posts in regions like Mogadishu, Somalia, amid the civil war there; Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where she says the embassy building was sprayed with gunfire; and an attempted coup in Moscow in 1993, where she testified she was once literally “caught in crossfire between presidential and parliamentary forces.”
Regarding Trump’s claim that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “spoke unfavorably” about Yovanovitch, the rough transcript of their July 25 call shows Trump smearing her reputation to Zelensky, not the other way around.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) briefly interrupted his counsel’s questioning to give Yovanovitch time to respond to the tweets.
“I — I don’t think I have such powers,” a clearly baffled Yovanovitch said, responding to the accusation that “everywhere [she] went turned bad.”
“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,” she continued.
“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 taken for committee members to attend a vote, Schiff told the media that Trump’s tweets were an attempt at “witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States.”
Committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told reporters that the tweets “will be considered” as obstruction of justice when drafting potential articles of impeachment.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), another committee member, also said she disagreed with Trump’s tweets.
Later on Friday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham dismissed the argument that the president’s tweets amounted to witness intimidation.
“The tweet was not witness intimidation, it was simply the President’s opinion, which he is entitled to,” Grisham told reporters. “This is not a trial, it is a partisan political process ― or to put it more accurately, a totally illegitimate charade stacked against the President. There is less due process in this hearing than any such event in the history of our country. It’s a true disgrace.”
Earlier in her testimony, Yovanovitch said she had felt threatened by Trump in her efforts to help fight corruption in Ukraine. That was underscored by the rough transcript of the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call, in which Trump says of Yovanovitch, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.”
Asked to respond to Trump’s statement, Yovanovitch said, “I didn’t know what to think but I was very concerned. It didn’t sound good. It sounded like a threat.”
This story has been updated with additional information and comments from Schiff, Swalwell, Stefanik and Grisham.