WASHINGTON (CN) – Six months after her unceremonious ouster, former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch received a standing ovation Friday in Congress after testifying for six hours about the harrowing intimidation campaign she faced from President Donald Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
For Yovanovitch, the end of her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was so intense that she declined to state publicly how it affected her family. What her testimony did reveal, however, was a stunning series of assertions about corruption – the very thing she fought against as a career foreign service official for 33 years – unfolding within the highest levels of her own government.
The testimony began with Yovanovitch recounting her physical reaction of shock and devastation upon learning that Trump told his Ukrainian counterpart that she was “going to go through some things.”
“The color drained from my face,” Yovanovitch said. “I even had a physical reaction. Even now, words kind of fail me.”
Pressed on her reaction by an attorney for the Democrats, Yovanovitch said she had been “shocked, appalled, devastated” that the president of the United States would talk about “any ambassador like that.”
“And it was me,” she emphasized.
On Twitter as Yovanovitch testified, President Trump continued his longstanding attacks on the ousted ambassador.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Trump said. “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 the U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”
Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, gave Yovanovitch the opportunity to respond to that tweet in the middle of her testimony.
“I don’t think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu, Somalia and other places,” she said, defending her record for having “demonstrably made things better” in Ukraine.
Asked about the president’s continuing attacks on her, Yovanovitch called Trump’s message “very intimidating,”
Schiff responded: “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”
Part of the applause: pic.twitter.com/EzAyxdoGZg
— Brandi Buchman (@BBuchman_CNS) November 15, 2019
During a break in testimony Friday, Representative Eric Swalwell told reporters that Trump’s attack against Yovanovitch on Twitter will be considered “obstruction” in articles of impeachment.
Yovanovitch began her testimony by taking an opportunity to address what she described as smears against her by Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
“The Obama administration did not ask me to help the Clinton campaign or harm the Trump campaign,” Yovanovitch said, adding that she never met Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice president.
The ex-ambassador said later: “What I can say is that Mr. Giuliani should have known that those claims were suspect.” She also noted that she met the former New York City mayor a total of three times.
Schiff opened his remarks by noting that Yovanovitch’s anti-corruption efforts made her enemies.
“She is known as an anti-corruption champion whose tour in Kiev was viewed as very successful,” Schiff said. “She named names, and that’s sometimes controversial out there.”
Schiff noted that this practice rankled corrupt Ukrainian and Americans alike, including Giuliani and his now-indicted associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
Introducing Yovanovitch, Schiff described her as a career public servant who fled the Nazis and the Soviet Union.
“I had no agenda other than to pursue our stated foreign policy goals,” Yovanovitch said, adding later: “My parents did not have the good fortune to come of age in a free society.”
On Wednesday, Republican Representative Devin Nunes described the impeachment inquiry as empty theatrics designed by the Democrats to oust the president. The congressman echoed those themes on Friday, denouncing what he described as “daylong TV spectacles” aimed at Trump’s “overthrow.”
“The American people may be seeing these absurdities for the first time, but Republicans on this dais are used to them,” Nunes said.
Every witness who provided closed-door testimony over the past several weeks has corroborated the view of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities and their allies: that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Nunes and many of his House Republican colleagues have sought to replace those findings with the unfounded theory the meddling instead came from Ukraine, a longtime U.S. ally.
No deposition witness has corroborated that narrative and several have contradicted it.
Daniel Goldman, the lawyer for the Democrats questioning Yovanovitch today, noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin put out the same theory of Ukrainian interference two years ago. Yovanovitch said this narrative could muddy the thinking on Russia’s active measures, which have overwhelmingly been confirmed by the United States and its allies.
“Classic for an intelligence officer to try to throw off the scent and put forward an alternative narrative,” Yovanovitch said of Putin.
Throughout her testimony, Yonavitch’s examination today explored how the smear campaign she faced compromised U.S. diplomats’ morale and raised questions about policy and procedure integrity. “”The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage,” Yovanovitch said in one searing moment.
The implications of the former ambassador’s testimony are writ blindingly large. The Democrats tie the undermining of Yovanovitch to an extortion scheme that they say threatened U.S. national security as well as the security of its ally Ukraine both in the immediate future and potentially for the long term.
“We see the potential in Ukraine,” Yovanovitch said. “Russia, by contrast, sees the risk.”
Ukraine, with its sprawling land mass and large population, is a “battleground” for great powers to compete, the career foreign service official explained, adding that the country is actively engaged in a “hot war” for the control of its own territory.
The Trump administration’s ultimate distribution of anti-tank missiles strengthened U.S. policy toward Ukraine, Yovanovitch conceded. But armaments or no, the integrity of Ukraine’s government is under constant threat from corrupt influence that dates back years.
It’s a “Soviet legacy” that makes Ukraine’s leaders vulnerable to Russia, Yovanovitch said. The nation launched a “Revolution of Dignity” in 2014 demanding to live under well-established rule of law.
“A level playing field in this strategically located country bordering four NATO allies, creates an environment in which U.S. business can more easily trade, invest and profit,” the ambassador said.
But keeping trade channels flowing is only one part of the equation.
“If our chief representative is kneecapped, it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States,” Yovanovitch said. “This is especially important now, when the international landscape is more complicated and more competitive than it has been since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.”
The ex-ambassador warned that the implications of this campaign will far outlast the current scandal.
“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,” Yovanovitch said. “After these events, what foreign official, corrupt or not, could be blamed for wondering whether the ambassador represents the president’s views? And what U.S ambassador could be blamed for harboring the fear that they cannot count on our government to support them as they implement stated U.S. policy and defend U.S. interests?”
As the hearing concluded on Friday, Chairman Schiff pushed back against Republican lawmakers’ claims that the inquiry was a circus and unjust attempt to penalize President Trump for delaying military aid that was eventually delivered.
“Sometimes you are disparaged as the deep state but what you are is what holds this country together, what holds our foreign policy together, what makes this work,” he said. “The fact that they failed in this solicitation of bribery doesn’t make it any more or less corrupt. It just means it was unsuccessful.”