Marie Yovanovitch received a standing ovation following her public testimony in Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry, in which the ousted ambassador to Ukraine was attacked by the president in a series of controversial tweets.
The audience stood and cheered for the career diplomat as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff ordered the meeting to a close, marking a rare moment in American politics. Citizens who sit in on congressional hearings are typically instructed to remain silent and respect decorum by abstaining from any audible outbursts.
Ms Yovanovitch testified for about five hours on Friday, telling investigators about her ouster in May at Mr Trump’s direction and how she felt as she found out that he had criticised her in a July phone call with Ukraine’s president.
As she spoke, Mr Trump tweeted: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”
“It is a US President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors”, he added.
Ms Yovanovitch was then asked in real time about the president’s tweets. She told Mr Schiff such attacks from the president were “intimidating” and that she did not understand why he would falsely smear her reputation.
Democrats are investigating Mr Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and a shadow foreign policy there led by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. They said that Ms Yovanovitch’s removal set the stage for the president’s appeals to Ukraine’s leader to investigate Democrats.
Besides the standing ovation, the crowd remained mostly silent throughout the lengthy hearing, save for a few moments that spurred laughter throughout the crowd,.
For example, the GOP’s counsel Steve Castor cited a 2016 report published in The Hill by Ukraine’s former ambassador to the US criticising Mr Trump for comments that appeared to suggest Russia’s annexation of Crimea was valid. Ukraine strongly opposes the annexation.
Mr Castor said the op-ed showed that Ukrainian officials supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign, and that the ambassador “said some nasty things” about Mr Trump in the op-ed and on Twitter.
Ms Yovanovitch replied, “Sometimes that happens on social media”.
The House Intelligence Committee will hear from eight more impeachment witnesses next week.
Mr Trump later defended his attacks against Ms Yovanovich by saying that he wasn’t trying to intimidate a witness, and that he’s entitled to speak his mind as the investigation plays out.
“It’s a political process, not a legal process”, the president said. “I’m allowed to speak up.”
Additional reporting by AP
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