Watch: Marie Yovanovitch Testifies In Public Trump Impeachment Hearing

Marie Yovanovitch, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2016 until May of this year, when she was recalled from her post, testified in a public impeachment hearing on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.

"PBS NewsHour"

Update at 7:57 a.m. PT — Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch warned Congress on Friday that the precedent set by her recall from Ukraine this year weakens Washington’s ability to work with developing nations around the world.

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OPB brings you live coverage of the public impeachment hearings Nov. 19-21 on the following platforms:

• OPB TV starting at 6 a.m. PT
• OPB Radio starting at 6 a.m. PT
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Yovanovitch told the House Intelligence Committee in its second impeachment hearing that the U.S. has set an example for developing countries seeking to build institutions and fight corruption — but her ouster showed that enemies in Ukraine could exploit American officials to get rid of someone they disliked.

“How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?” she asked.

Yovanovitch acknowledged that President Trump has the power to appoint and remove diplomats as he pleases — but she argued that if an American representative can be “kneecapped” for political reasons, it weakens U.S. power.

“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.

Smear campaign

Yovanovitch lost her post after a campaign led by Giuliani and associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, witnesses have told House investigators.

Those three worked with Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko to spread what Yovanovitch called lies about her, including that she was disloyal to Trump and that she had given Lutsenko a list of Ukrainians she didn’t want to be prosecuted.

That wasn’t so, Yovanovitch says, and she told investigators she suspected they spread those stories because they “were interested in having a different ambassador at post — I guess because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine, or different business dealings.”

Parnas and Fruman have been arrested and charged with violating U.S. campaign finance law; they have pleaded not guilty. An attorney for Parnas has told NPR he’s open to working with congressional impeachment investigators, but the outlines of that aren’t clear.

Yovanovitch already has talked with investigators; read her closed-door deposition here. Her opening statement Friday is available here.

“I saw it as a threat”

Although some State Department officials have said they objected to what they saw happening, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to end Yovanovitch’s tenure early and spurned requests to defend her in public, witnesses have said.

Pompeo’s adviser, Michael McKinley, faulted what he called Pompeo’s willingness to sell out a career diplomat and resigned.

Yovanovitch said Friday that she lamented that Pompeo has declined to acknowledge that attacks on the foreign service are “dangerously wrong” and damage America’s ability to work its will overseas.

Political attacks are leading to a “crisis in the State Department,” Yovanovitch warned, one that could have strategic implications around the world.

She also was asked what she made of the account released by the White House in which Trump is described as telling Ukraine’s president that “things were going to happen to her.”

“I saw it as a threat,” Yovanovitch said.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on Friday that Yovanovitch’s ouster was a necessary prologue to the main story about Ukraine — Trump and Giuliani had to get her out of the way to put in place the avenue of communication they wanted outside of officialdom.

“Getting rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch helped set the stage for an irregular channel that could pursue the two investigations that mattered so much to the president: the 2016 conspiracy theory, and most important, an investigation into the 2020 political opponent he apparently feared most, Joe Biden,” Schiff said.

Case for the defense

Republicans emphasize Yovanovitch’s tangential involvement in the central narrative and repeat that Trump has broad powers to replace any ambassador — and many other officials — within the administration.

Plus these impeachment proceedings are about pure political animus toward Trump, they argue.

Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., mocked Democrats’ desire to “fulfill their Watergate fantasies” and called the first hearing, on Wednesday, a “farce” based on hearsay and “rumors.”

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney earlier argued that the impeachment case boils down to complaints by the foreign policy establishment about Trump.

But the administration works for the president, foreign policy is necessarily political, and, Mulvaney said, critics need to “get over it.”

Trump chimed in on Twitter during the hearing with a post that linked Yovanovitch with the troubled nations in which she had been posted during her foreign service career.

Trump also restated that he has broad power to appoint and remove ambassadors.

Schiff asked Yovanovitch about Trump’s tweets during her questioning in the hearing. What did she make of the charge, for example, that she was responsible for the problems in Somalia?

“I don’t think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu, Somalia, and not other places,” she said.

But Yovanovitch also said she believed that her work and the work of other diplomats “have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. as well as for other countries.”

Schiff asked the ambassador whether she felt Trump was trying to intimidate her or other witnesses in the impeachment inquiry. Yovanovitch said she couldn’t speak to Trump’s intentions.

But Schiff told reporters during a break in the hearing that “what we saw was witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States.”

The chairman called it an effort not only to “chill” testimony by Yovanovitch, but also to keep others from cooperating, and Schiff said we take this kind of thing “very seriously.”

Afternoon deposition

Also Friday, investigators are scheduled to hear behind closed doors from foreign service official David Holmes, a comparative newcomer in the Ukraine drama who could prove an important witness.

Holmes is understood to have been with a top diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant when Sondland got a call from Trump on his cellphone.

Holmes overheard Trump on that call ask Sondland about investigations he expected from Ukraine, according to testimony on Wednesday by another diplomat, Ambassador William Taylor.

Investigators want to hear from Holmes directly, and another question in the Ukraine affair is whether he might appear and tell his story in a public hearing.

The Associated Press reported that a second State Department staffer also was with Holmes and Sondland on the day of Trump’s call, but details about that hadn’t been confirmed by the Intelligence Committee and it wasn’t clear when or if investigators might hear from that person — or when the public might. [Copyright 2019 NPR]