The ousted former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified Friday at the congressional impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump that she was “shocked and devastated” over remarks Trump made about her during a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“I didn’t know what to think, but I was very concerned,” she told the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. “It felt like a threat.”
Her testimony was consistent with her closed-door testimony last month when she said she felt “threatened” and worried about her safety after Trump said “she’s going to go through some things.”
A career diplomat, Yovanovitch was unceremoniously recalled to Washington after Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, and his allies waged what her colleagues and Democrats have described as a smear campaign against her. Two Giuliani associates recently arrested for campaign finance violations are accused of lobbying former Republican House member Pete Sessions of Texas for her ouster.
Yovanovitch was mentioned in Trump's July 25 call with Zelenskiy that triggered the impeachment probe after a whistleblower filed a complaint. According to the White House summary of the call, Trump said Yovanovitch was "bad news."
An unusual exchange occurred during the hearing that began when Trump took to Twitter to again criticize Yovanovitch. He tweeted, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”
Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. 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.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
....They call it “serving at the pleasure of the President.” The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First! With all of that, however, I have done FAR more for Ukraine than O.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
Democratic committee chairman Adam Schiff interrupted the proceedings to read the tweet and asked her to respond. Yovanovitch paused before saying, “It’s very intimidating” and added: "I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but the effect is to be intimidating.”
Schiff responded that, “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”
Trump's Twitter attack drew the ire of Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House.
She said Trump "was wrong" and that Yovanovitch "clearly is somebody who's been a public servant to the United States for decades, and I don't think the president should have done that."
The White House later issued a statement denying accusations of intimidation.
"The tweet was not witness intimidation, it was simply the president's opinion, which he is entitled to," the statement said. "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."
Yovanovitch also told lawmakers that she was the target of a “campaign of disinformation” during which “unofficial back channels” were used to oust her.
Yovanovitch said repeated attacks from “corrupt interests” have created a “crisis in the State Department,” which she said “is being hallowed out within a competitive and complex time on the world stage.”
The veteran diplomat said that senior officials at the State Department, right up to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, failed to defend her from attacks from Trump and his allies, including Guiliani.
Yovanovitch, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from July 2016 to May 2019, also testified last month that U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland had recommended she praise Trump on Twitter if she wanted to save her job.
During opening remarks, Schiff said Yovanovitch was “smeared and cast aside” by Trump because she was viewed as an obstacle to Trump’s political and personal agenda.
Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, described the hearings as nothing more than “spectacles” for Democrats to “advance their operation to topple a duly elected president."
Republicans, led by Nunes and their lead counsel, Steve Castor, tried to portray Yovanovitch as immaterial to the impeachment inquiry.
Nunes suggested that Yovanovitch's complaints were a personnel matter that was "more appropriate for the subcommittee on human resources on Foreign Affairs" and declared she was "not a material fact witness."
Castor peppered Yovanovitch with questions aimed at proving her irrelevance, including whether she was involved in preparations for the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy or plans for a White House meeting between the two leaders. She answered in the negative to all the questions.
Nunes also read a rough transcript of an April call Trump had with newly elected Zelenskiy that showed Zelenskiy was eager to have Trump attend his inauguration in Ukraine. The White House released the transcript just minutes after the hearing began.
“I know how busy you are, but if it’s possible for you to come to the inauguration ceremony, that would be a great, great thing for you to do to be with us on that day.”
Trump vowed to have a “great representative” attend the event if he was unable to.
The U.S. delegation to inauguration was led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry after Vice President Mike Pence canceled the trip.
Yovanovitch’s removal sent shockwaves through the foreign service, with more than 50 former female U.S. ambassadors writing a letter to Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to protect foreign service officers from political retaliation.
William Taylor, acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official in charge of U.S. policy toward Ukraine, testified on Wednesday during the first day of the historic televised hearings that could lead to a House vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year.
All three diplomats have previously testified behind closed doors about Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden's son, Hunter, and to probe a discredited conspiracy theory regarding the 2016 president election.
Democrats say the open hearings will allow the public to assess the credibility of the witnesses and their testimonies. Republicans hope to discredit the impeachment proceedings and poke holes in the witnesses' testimony.
Also Friday, David Holmes, a staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine is scheduled to appear before House investigators for closed-door testimony. Holmes overheard Trump ask Sondland about the status of “investigations” during a phone call after Trump’s July 25 conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart.
Next week, the House panel will hold public hearings again. The schedule for testimony includes:
Tuesday: Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, former director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, Ambassador Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine; and Tim Morrison, a White House aide with the National Security Council focusing on Europe and Russia policy.
Wednesday: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union; Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs; and David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs.
Thursday: Fiona Hill, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia.