Trump impeachment: Key moments from testimony of Marie Yovanovitch

From Stephen Castor to Donald Trump himself, Republicans fell apart spectacularly during this impeachment hearing

Calm, collected Marie Yovanovitch came across as much more professional — and much less self-interested — than the GOP members questioning her

Ahmed Baba
Washington DC
Friday 15 November 2019 22:15
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"That was a turning point in this hearing so far. She was already a sympathetic witness and the President’s tweet ripping her allowed Schiff to point it out real-time characterizing it as witness tampering or intimidation — adding an article of impeachment real-time."

"If you were not moved by the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch, you don't have a pulse... I think that the really dramatic moment is that this wasn't just testimony about the past, this played out in real time with the President attacking her... that does raise the possibility of witness intimidation and witness tampering as a new charge here."

Those are not quotes from Democrats or left-leaning pundits eager for the impeachment of President Trump. No, those quotes are from Fox News anchors Brett Baier and Chris Wallace respectively in the immediate aftermath of President Trump tweeting during Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony.

Today, we saw a sequence of events that could only be possible in the social media era: President Trump committed what many are calling witness intimidation on Twitter. But before we analyze that, let's dive into the substance of what Yovanovitch outlined to the American people.

The second public impeachment hearing of the Trump presidency featured former ambassador Yovanovitch. It served as a fitting sequel to Wednesday's hearing, which clearly outlined President Trump's alleged extortion plot of Ukraine. It brought into focus the smear campaign — and subsequent ousting of Yovanovitch from her role in Ukraine — led by surrogates of corrupt Ukrainians and Trump's allies. It baited President Trump, who is always his own worst enemy, into committing another potentially impeachable offense. And as Yovanovitch said in her testimony, it demonstrated that “the State Department is being hollowed out from within.”

In her opening statement, Yovanovitch discussed her 33-year career working in the American foreign service under four Republican presidents and two Democratic presidents, including ambassadors for President W Bush, President Obama, and President Trump. Yovanovitch discussed the dangers she faced in her various posts around the globe for presidents of both parties, which further showcased the fact she is a hardened, non-partisan diplomat.

Yovanovitch's testimony went on to highlight the campaign against her led by Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani and his now-indicted associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Many believe that campaign was amplified by Donald Trump Jr and right-wing media.

Yovanovitch stated that her colleagues tried to get a statement of support from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo amid the smear campaign, but were unsuccessful. It seems like the State Department undercut its own diplomat and capitulated.

This is where Yovanovitch's testimony turned into an unprecedented spectacle. Yovanovitch began speaking about how she was recalled from Ukraine without explanation after being told that there were concerns about her safety. In the very moment she was discussing this smear campaign and its effects, at 10:01 am ET, President Trump sent out a tweet:

Minutes later, Yovanovitch was asked about a previous attack on her from President Trump. In his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, Trump called Yovanovitch “bad news” and told Zelensky that the former ambassador would be “going to go through some things.” Yovanovitch said that the color drained from her face when she read that in the transcript memo. House Intelligence Committee counsel Daniel Goldman asked her about this. Yovanovitch replied: "'She’s going to go through some things.' It didn’t sound good. It sounded like — a threat."

Goldman asked, "Did you feel threatened?"

Yovanovitch said: "I did."

It was in this context that House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) read Trump's tweet to Yovanovitch and asked what effect that would have on other witnesses. She responded by saying, “It’s very intimidating... The effect is to be intimidating.”

Schiff replied, "Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.” They went to break, where even Fox News hosts expressed concern about what had just happened. Then, in a moment straight out of a political drama, Trump's longtime adviser Roger Stone was convicted on all seven counts against him — including witness tampering.

After the recess, on behalf of Republicans, counsel Stephen Castor asked if Yovanovitch could have done more to combat the right-wing smear campaign against her. That line of questioning came off as victim-blaming a victim of their own smear campaign. It was on-brand for the GOP. Republicans also pushed the Ukraine election-meddling conspiracy theory, which is apparently their only line of defense.

Yovanovitch made clear where she stands: ”I would just remind [you], again, that our own US intelligence community has conclusively determined that those who interfered in the [2016] election were in Russia."

Another counter-narrative from Republicans was that since Acting Ambassador Bill Taylor now holds her old role in Ukraine, the smear campaign against Marie Yovanovitch was not successful. Chairman Schiff shot this down, by highlighting the fact Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was also tasked with directly pressuring Ukrainian officials. This is a scheme, as we will see in his testimony next Thursday, that Sondland executed faithfully.

In a nutshell, aside from highlighting the alleged corrupt conduct of Trump and garnering more real-time impeachable offenses, today's and Wednesday's impeachment hearings have been blowing major holes in the GOP's “deep state” narratives. It's fairly easy to smear faceless bureaucrats. It's not as easy to smear honorable, well-spoken diplomats sitting right in front of you. These witnesses are showcasing in each hearing that unlike President Trump, they stand for America's national security interests, not their own personal interests.

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