When Marie Yovanovitch learned that President Donald Trump had called her “bad news” during his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, her reaction was visceral.
“I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner," Yovanovitch, who was ousted this year as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told lawmakers Friday during an impeachment inquiry hearing.
“It was a terrible moment," Yovanovitch said, holding her hands up to her face. "A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction. I think — even now, words kind of fail me.”
And even as Yovanovitch was telling her story, the president aimed at her anew.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," Trump said in a Twitter post he fired off during her televised testimony. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”
And so the temperature in Washington got hotter during the second day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s conduct with Ukraine. A day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of bribery, Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee chairman leading the impeachment inquiry, said Trump’s tweet added witness intimidation to the mix.
“You saw today witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States,” Schiff told reporters during a break in the hearing.
Responding later to Schiff, Trump again dismissed the inquiry as a “disgrace."
“I’m allowed to speak up,” Trump said.
Yovanovitch was the third witness to testify publicly in the inquiry, following weeks of closed-door depositions. She was abruptly recalled from her post in May, following a public campaign against her by Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who painted her without evidence as insufficiently loyal to Trump.
A couple of months after her ouster came Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, during which Trump pressed him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as a discredited conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. An anonymous whistle-blower complaint stemming from that phone call eventually sparked House Democrats to open their impeachment inquiry.
They are seeking to build a public case that Trump abused his power by withholding congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine while pushing for the investigations. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and Republicans in Congress have dismissed the impeachment inquiry as illegitimate.
During hours of testimony and questioning Friday, Yovanovitch described a smear campaign by Giuliani that led to her ouster. And she warned that the circumstances of her removal undermined American credibility in its diplomacy efforts abroad.
“Our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want,” she said. “After these events, what foreign official, corrupt or not, could be blamed for wondering whether the U.S. ambassador represents the president’s views?”
Yovanovitch, a Foreign Service officer for decades under presidents from both parties, emphasized repeatedly throughout her testimony that she and other diplomats serve in a nonpartisan fashion to carry out official American policy.
“While I don’t dispute the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador,” Yovanovitch said at one point, “what I don’t understand is why it was necessary to smear my reputation.”
Republicans continued to emphasize Friday that the witnesses being brought by Democrats don’t have firsthand knowledge of Trump’s actions, painting them as pawns in a long-running campaign to oust the president. The White House has blocked officials who would have firsthand knowledge of such matters from testifying.
In several flare-ups Friday, minority members of the Intelligence Committee sparred with Schiff over procedural issues and sought to portray him as running roughshod over Republicans.
Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the lone female Republican on the committee, was cut short several times by Schiff.
“Clearly you’re going to interrupt us throughout the hearing,” she said at one point. “What is the interruption for this time?” she asked at another point.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the committee’s ranking Republican, accused the chairman of “gagging” Stefanik’s attempts to speak.
Schiff brought the focus back to Trump again and again.
“This is a story about an effort to coerce, condition, or bribe a foreign country into doing the dirty work of the president,” he said in his closing remarks. “The fact that they failed in this solicitation of bribery doesn’t make it any less bribery, doesn’t make it any less immoral or corrupt. It just means it was unsuccessful.”