Intimidation among key takeaways from the Trump impeachment hearing with Marie Yovanovitch

WASHINGTON – Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified Friday in the second public hearing of the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure the East European country to investigate his political rivals.

Democrats consider Yovanovitch a key victim of the administration’s pressure campaign, someone who was removed from her post in May because she was perceived as someone working to undermine the Trump agenda – a criticism she firmly denies.

The inquiry is based on a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky where Trump discussed military assistance for Ukraine in exchange for a “favor” to investigate his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Here are some key takeaways from the testimony of the 33-year veteran State Department diplomat:

Yovanovitch: ‘I had no agenda’

During her testimony, the ambassador tried to portray herself as a straight shooter whose top priority was carrying out U.S. priorities.

“I entered the Foreign Service understanding that my job was to implement the foreign policy interests of this nation, as defined by the President and Congress, and to do so regardless of which person or party was in power,” she told lawmakers. “I had no agenda other than to pursue our stated foreign policy goals.”

Former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testifies before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Nov.. 15, 2019 in a public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into allegations President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

Later under questioning, Yovanovitch said she was “shocked, appalled, devastated” when she learned in September that Trump in a July 25 call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky described her as “bad news.”

She said she found the charge startling because she did nothing to undermine U.S. interests under Trump.

Trump’s tweets became a moment

Trump has tweeted his criticism of the inquiry dozens of times since the impeachment process began several weeks ago. But his scorching tweets during Yovanovitch’s testimony took center stage at one point.

A little more than an hour into the testimony, Democratic staff displayed two of the tweets on large screens in the hearing room as Schiff read them aloud:

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.

….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.

“I don’t think I have such powers,” Yovanovitch said when Schiff asked for her reaction to the tweets. “It’s very intimidating.”

“I want you to know that some of us here take witness intimidation very very seriously,” Schiff responded.

Democrats emphasized her integrity

Much like they did with Wednesday’s witnesses, Bill Taylor and George Kent, Democrats made a point of stressing the integrity of Yovanovitch, a career diplomat whose Ukraine posting was her third stint as an ambassador.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., praised Yovanovitch during her 33 years in the State Department for earning a reputation for fighting corruption and naming names. She had arrived in the United States after her parents fled the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Schiff said. But Yovanovitch was recalled in April, despite being offered an extension of her tour by the State Department, and told President Donald Trump had lost confidence in her, Schiff said.

First hearing: New revelations, steady witnesses, Trump tweets: takeaways from the first public hearing on impeachment

“It was a stunning turn of events for this highly regarded career diplomat, who had been doing such a remarkable job fighting corruption in Ukraine that a short time earlier she had been asked by the State Department to extend her tour,” Schiff said.

“All Americans are deeply in your debt,” Schiff later told her.

Republicans: inquiry elbowing out priorities

Echoing a familiar mantra, Republicans said the impeachment inquiry is stymieing Congress’ work on a range of issues including trade agreements and avoiding a government shutdown.

“It’s unfortunate that today and for most of next week we will continue engaging in the Democrats’ day-long TV spectacles instead of solving the problems we were all sent to Washington to address,” California Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, said.

“We now have a major trade agreement with Canada and Mexico ready for approval, a deal that would create jobs and boost our economy,” he continued. “Meanwhile, we have not yet approved funding for the government, which expires next week. along with funding for our men and women in uniform. Instead, the Democrats have convened us once again to advance their operation to topple a duly elected president.”

Democrats who control the House say the criticism is hollow considering the House has passed – and keeps passing – important legislation, such as bills to help veterans, that the GOP-run Senate refuses to take up.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the impeachment inquiry isn’t stopping the House from working on trade agreements, prescription drug prices and efforts to keep the government open.

“So as I say, we legislate.  We investigate … But we litigate,” she told reporters Thursday.

Contributing: Bart Jansen, Nicholas Wu, Jeanine Santucci

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