- Marie Yovanovitch, the US’s former ambassador to Ukraine, is the third official to testify in the public impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump.
- Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled from her position in May after what she characterised as a smear campaign against her by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
- She vividly detailed the shadow campaign Giuliani conducted to strong-arm Ukraine into acceding to Trump’s demands for politically motivated investigations. She also took aim at top brass at the State Department for failing to shield her from Trump and Giuliani’s pressure campaign.
- Scroll down to watch the hearing.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The public on Friday heard from one of the most significant witnesses to President Donald Trump’s shadow foreign policy campaign in Ukraine.
Marie Yovanovitch served as the US ambassador to Ukraine until she was abruptly recalled in May following what she has characterised as a smear campaign against her based on “false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
Yovanovitch’s testimony threw the spotlight on Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who is accused of engineering her ouster.
Yovanovitch arrived to testify to the House Intelligence Committee as part of its public impeachment hearings beginning at 9 a.m. ET on Friday. The hearing lasted over six hours and concluded shortly before 3:30 p.m. ET.
You can watch the hearing here and scroll down for the biggest moments:
Republicans go to bat for Trump but still hold their fire on Yovanovitch
One overarching theme during the hearing so far is that while Republicans, like Ohio congressman Jim Jordan and Texas congressman John Ratcliffe, took up the mantle to defend Trump, they still struck a somewhat conciliatory tone toward Yovanovitch.
With some notable exceptions – like Turner – the majority of GOP lawmakers made it a point to highlight Yovanovitch’s record and thank her for her decades of public service.
Even Jordan, who has largely established himself as the president’s main attack dog in these hearings, refrained from attacking Yovanovitch directly and instead tried to get her to acknowledge the Ukrainian government was opposed to Trump.
The Ohio congressman built that line of questioning to lay a foundation to once again push the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.
Some Republicans specifically praised Yovanovitch for the things Trump attacked her for on Twitter. Rep. Elise Stefanik, for instance, complimented Yovanovitch’s work in Somalia after the president mentioned her time in the country and said “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”
The Republican strategy was particularly interesting because it came amid allegations that Trump’s attacks on Yovanovitch – sent while she was detailing how she felt personally threatened by the president – amounted to witness intimidation.
Yovanovitch: Trump has the right to recall an ambassador at any time, but ‘what I don’t understand is why it was necessary to smear my reputation’
GOP Rep. Mike Turner refuses to let Yovanovitch answer his questions: ‘Not on my time. You’re done.’
Some Republican lawmakers, like Rep. Mike Turner, struck a more hostile tone when questioning the witness.
Turner asked Yovanovitch a series of questions but refused to let her answer. When Schiff cut in to allow Yovanovitch to respond, Turner shot back, pointing at Yovanovitch, “Not on my time. You’re done. OK?”
Yovanovitch raised her eyebrows in response.
Republicans embark on a bizarre line of questioning about Yovanovitch’s life after being ousted
Several Republican lawmakers asked Yovanovitch about her life after she was recalled as ambassador to Ukraine.
GOP Rep. Mike Conaway opened by saying that instead of focusing on the events that led to her ouster, he wanted to focus on her life since then.
Yovanovitch detailed how, after arriving back in the US, she asked whether she could take on a fellowship at Georgetown University.
“Was that your only choice?” Conaway asked.
“I’m not sure, we didn’t really discuss other options,” Yovanovitch replied.
Conaway went on to ask Yovanovitch about how many classes she teaches, the attendance per class, and whether her compensation at the State Department has been negatively affected since she was recalled.
“No, it has not,” Yovanovitch said of her earnings.
The Republican lawmaker also asked Yovanovitch about whether she faced retaliation from fellow employees at the State Department, and Yovanovitch replied she instead received “an outpouring of support from my colleagues.”
“OK, so, the folks that you respect the most still respect you and appear to hold you in high regard and high affection,” Conaway said.
The congressman’s line of questioning appeared to be geared toward establishing that because Yovanovitch didn’t face financial or emotional retaliation after being recalled, her ouster may not have been that bad.
It all goes back to Gordon Sondland
When Castor’s 45 minutes were up, the hearing’s format shifted to allow each lawmaker on the panel five minutes to question the witness.
Schiff was up first and embarked on an interesting line of questioning in which he alluded to Gordon Sondland, the US’s ambassador to the European Union.
“In pushing you out of the way, ultimately, Ambassador Taylor got appointed,” Schiff said, referring to Bill Taylor, a longtime career diplomat who took over as the US’s chief envoy in Ukraine after Yovanovitch’s ouster.
Taylor is a decorated veteran and foreign service officer. He, as well as multiple other career officials, forcefully defended Yovanovitch when he testified in the impeachment inquiry.
“Is Ambassador Taylor the kind of person that would further Giuliani’s aims?” Schiff asked. “I think we can all agree that Ambassador Taylor is a remarkable public servant.”
“Absolutely,” Yovanovitch said.
“But what if the president could put someone else in place that wasn’t a career diplomat? What if he could put in place, say, a substantial donor to his inaugural?” Schiff said. Here, he appeared to be referencing Sondland, a hotel executive who donated $US1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
“What if he could put in place someone with no diplomatic experience at all? What if he could put in place someone whose portfolio doesn’t even include Ukraine? Might that person be willing to work with Rudy Giuliani in pursuit of these investigations?” Schiff asked.
“Yeah, maybe,” Yovanovitch said.
“That’s exactly what happened, wasn’t it?” the California Democrat said.
Yovanovitch nodded and replied, “Yes.”
Sondland was one of several officials who were in charge of what Taylor described as the “irregular” foreign policy channel in Ukraine. This channel involved carrying out Trump’s orders to pressure Ukrainian officials to publicly commit to launching the investigations Trump wanted while holding up military aid and a White House meeting.
Of all the people involved – Giuliani, Sondland, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, former Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and outgoing energy secretary Rick Perry – Sondland and Giuliani had the largest roles in conducting the shadow foreign policy campaign.
Yovanovitch refuses to take Republicans’ bait
Steve Castor, the Republican counsel, was then recognised to begin questioning Yovanovich. He repeated Nunes’ argument that Yovanovich doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.
Castor dove into a series of questions concerning Yovanovich’s claim that Giuliani’s associates tried to get her removed. The attorney appeared to be attempting to imply that Yovanovich didn’t do enough to “push back” against the “concerted campaign” against her.
Yovanovich insisted that the State Department, including Secretary Mike Pompeo, were well aware of Giuliani and his associates’ “smear campaign” against her.
Castor then brought up Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that Hunter Biden sat on the baord of. Yovanovich said she was aware of the “perception” issues surrounding Biden’s work for the Ukrainian company, but she never met or spoke with the vice president’s son.
Next, Castor began building a line of questioning that appeared to imply that there was a Ukrainian effort to advocate against then-candidate Trump.
He repeatedly asked Yovanovitch about the decision by a Ukrainian investigative journalist to publish a series of “black ledgers,” which showed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russia Party of Regions engaging in billions of dollars of illicit business dealings. The ledgers also implicated Paul Manafort, who at the time was the chairman of Trump’s campaign.
Castor asked Yovanovitch to acknowledge several times that the publication of the black ledgers meant “elements of the Ukrainian establishment” were anti-Trump.
Yovanovitch refused to take the bait.
Following the break, Republicans took control of questioning Yovanovich.
Nunes began the questioning and used his time to argue that Yovanovich shouldn’t be testifying in the impeachment proceedings.
“You admitted in your opening statement that you don’t have any firsthand knowledge of any of the issues we’re looking into,” Nunes told Yovanovich.
Nunes yielded the remainder of his time to Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican of New York. But Schiff denied Nunes the ability to yield his time to Stefanik, citing rules that govern who the ranking minority committeemember can yield his time to.
Schiff hits back at Trump for tweeting attacks on Yovanovitch while she testified: ‘Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously’
Trump took to Twitter to lob attacks at Yovanovitch while she testified on Friday.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he tweeted. “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.”
He continued: “….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 [Obama].”
Schiff weighed in on the president’s tweets in a notable fashion, saying, “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”
Yovanovitch: ‘I was shocked, absolutely shocked, and devastated’ by what Trump said in July 25 call with Ukraine’s president
Yovanovitch vividly detailed her reaction when she read a White House summary of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
During that conversation, Trump repeatedly pressured Zelensky to pursue politically motivated investigations that would benefit his reelection campaign.
Trump also mentioned Yovanovitch and said she was “bad news,” adding that “she’s going to go through some things.”
Testifying on Friday, Yovanovitch said she was “shocked, absolutely shocked, and devastated, frankly,” by what Trump said about her.
“I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner where President Trump said that I was bad news to another world leader, and that I would be going through some things,” the former ambassador said. “It was a terrible moment.”
She continued, saying that a person who saw her reading the memo of the call said “the colour drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction. Even now, words fail me.”
Daniel Goldman, a veteran former federal prosecutor who is leading Democrats’ questioning in the impeachment hearings, asked Yovanovitch if she felt threatened by Trump’s words.
“I did,” she replied.
Yovanovitch said she was giving an award to the father of a deceased anticorruption activist when she was abruptly recalled
In a stunning exchange, Yovanovitch testified that she was recalled in May while she was in the middle of hosting an event honouring an anti-corruption activist in Ukraine who died last month.
“She died because she was attacked by acid and died a painful death,” Yovanovitch said of the activist, Kateryna Handziuk. “We thought it was important that justice be done, for her and for others who fight corruption in Ukraine. It’s not a table-top exercise there, lives are in the balance. So we wanted to bring attention to this, and we gave her father that [Woman of Courage] award.”
Yovanovitch went on to say that Carol Perez, the director general of the State Department, called her around 8 p.m. that day and told her there were issues with her staying on as ambassador. Five hours later, around 1 a.m., Perez called Yovanovitch again and said “there were great concerns” about her from the White House and that she “needed to come home immediately and get on the next plane.”
Yovanovitch takes aim at State Department leadership for allowing corrupt interests to ‘hijack’ Ukraine policy
Yovanovitch also slammed State Department leadership amid what she described as the “degradation” of US foreign service.
She took aim at the department’s top brass for failing “to push back as foreign and corrupt interests apparently hijacked our Ukraine policy.”
“I remain disappointed that the department’s leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong,” she said.
Yovanovitch makes a powerful opening statement: ‘How could our system fail like this?’
Yovanovitch began by highlighting her record as a career foreign service officer. She, like other witnesses, emphasised the importance of continued US support for Ukraine as it fends of Russian aggression at its eastern border.
The former US ambassador went on to detail efforts by corrupt Ukrainian interests to engineer her removal.
“What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them, and working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a US ambassador,” Yovanovitch said.
“How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests can manipulate our government?” she added. “Which country’s interests are served when the very corrupt behaviour we have been criticising is allowed to prevail?”
Yovanovitch said that such conduct “undermines the US, exposes our friends, and widens the playing field for autocrats like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
“Our leadership depends on the power of our example, on the consistency of our purpose,” she continued. “Both have now been opened to questions.”
Ranking member Devin Nunes called Democrats a ‘basement cult,’ accused them of orchestrating a coup against Trump, and pushed conspiracy theories
Nunes made an opening statement that carried many of the same undertones as his performance on Wednesday.
- The California Republican went to bat for the president.
- He accused Democrats of being a “basement cult.”
- He repeated a bizarre allegation that Democrats tried to get nude photos of Trump.
- Nunes suggested again, as he has many times before, that the real issue is Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
- He also name-dropped Alexandra Chalupa, a DNC worker whom Republicans have painted as the key link between Democrats and Ukraine.
There is no evidence that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff describes Yovanovitch as a straight shooter and principled public servant
Schiff said in his opening statement that Yovanovitch is a “highly regarded career diplomat” who was doing “a remarkable job fighting corruption in Ukraine” before she was recalled earlier this year.
“She is an exemplary officer, who is widely praised and respected by her colleagues. She is known as an anti-corruption champion whose tour in Kyiv was viewed as very successful,” Schiff added.
The California Democrat went on to detail the smear campaign that Giuliani and his Ukrainian associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, carried out against her. Schiff also said Giuliani worked with Yuriy Lutsenko to oust Yovanovitch. Lutsenko is Ukraine’s former prosecutor general whom Yovanovitch and the majority of other western nations have accused of being corrupt.
At the time that the smear campaign was happening, Schiff said, “there was an effort [at the State Department] to push back, to obtain a statement of support from Secretary Pompeo, but those efforts failed, when it became clear that President Trump wanted her gone.”
Ultimately, Schiff added, Yovanovitch was “smeared and driven from her post” because she refused to help the president strongarm Ukraine into delivering politically motivated investigations that would aid Trump’s reelection effort.
What Yovanovitch told Congress behind closed doors
Yovanovitch testified behind closed doors that Trump and Giuliani wanted her removed since the summer of 2018 because she refused to let Giuliani use the US Embassy in Ukraine in his efforts to obtain political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
She said she felt “shocked” and “threatened” by the attacks leveled against her.
Yovanovitch also told Congress a top State Department official confirmed to her that her recall in May came despite her having “done nothing wrong.”
Multiple witnesses, including Bill Taylor, now the US’s chief envoy in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official, have corroborated Yovanovitch’s claims.
Yovanovitch raised concerns with senior State Department officials about Giuliani before her ouster, but despite having their own concerns, they didn’t think they could stop him. After Yovanovitch was recalled, the acting assistant secretary of state, Philip T. Reeker, told her Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “was no longer able” to protect her from Trump.
Michael McKinley, who served as a top deputy to Pompeo, quit a few days before his testimony to Congress because of the State Department’s unwillingness to issue a statement supporting Yovanovitch. He also testified that several department employees had their careers derailed for political reasons.
Several government officials, including Taylor and Kent, have already testified to Congress behind closed doors, and their revelations paint a damaging portrait of a concerted effort across the administration to leverage US foreign policy to pressure Ukraine into acceding to Trump’s demands.
Specifically, the president wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to make a public statement committing to investigate the Bidens and a bogus conspiracy theory suggesting it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election.
Officials also outlined the lengths White House officials went to in order to conceal records of a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky.
Witnesses have testified that five men were part of an effort to condition security assistance to Ukraine and a White House meeting on Zelensky publicly announcing the investigations Trump wanted.
The men are Giuliani; the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland; the special representative to Ukraine at the time, Kurt Volker; the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney; and the outgoing energy secretary, Rick Perry.
The president’s defenders have said he did nothing wrong and that this is a normal part of how diplomacy and foreign policy are conducted.
But national security veterans, legal scholars, and at times Trump’s own officials who have testified have suggested his actions open him up to a variety of charges including abuse of power, bribery, extortion, misappropriation of taxpayer funds, and soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election.
Eight more diplomats and national security officials are expected to testify publicly in the next week. Here’s the latest impeachment hearings schedule.
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