We were treated to an introductory rant from Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) even more bizarre than the one we heard on Wednesday, suggesting we will see an escalation each day in Republican crackpottery. For reasons that were entirely unclear, Nunes also chose to read the rough transcript of a perfunctory call in April between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Once again, Schiff swiftly shut down Republicans’ rerun of preliminary objections and interruptions, and in the process, made clear that despite their different styles, there is no difference in mind-set that animates a Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and a Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). After their temper tantrums, Yovanovitch began her opening statement. She reviewed her family’s flight from European totalitarians, her own service — including in hardship positions — and the danger of infiltration of U.S. foreign policy by corrupt interests.
She continued, “Unfortunately … not all Ukrainians embraced our anti-corruption work. Thus, perhaps, it was not surprising, that when our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me.” In powerful, well-moderated tones, she inquired, “How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?” She explained, “Our leadership depends on the power of our example and the consistency of our purpose. Both have now been opened to question.”
She continued, “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 implicitly swiped at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for not standing up for her and for allowing his department to be “hollowed out.” She concluded with an impassioned defense of Foreign Service officers, listing the names of officials slain in Libya. “We take our oath of office seriously, the same oath that each one of you take, ‘to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic’ and to ‘bear true faith and allegiance to the same,’” Yovanovitch said. “I count myself lucky to be a Foreign Service Officer, fortunate to serve with the best America has to offer, blessed to serve the American people for the last 33 years.” This was perhaps the most inspiring and effective testimony we have a heard, a virtual seminar in American values and statecraft.
Once more, we see that our career civil servants, some not born in this country, have a far better understanding of America’s role in the world, the principles of democratic governance and the importance of our anti-corruption efforts abroad.
She added some vivid detail to the story of how our foreign policy was hijacked by Trump’s web of corrupt cronies. We learned that her tenure was extended in March, only to find herself recalled in April, apparently at the behest of the Giuliani plotters. We also heard that she received the call to recall her while attending an event to celebrate the bravery of an anti-corruption activist who was murdered in an acid attack. She was worried not only about Ukraine policy but also about the impact on the State Department, Ukrainians and others around the world when an anti-corruption fighter is ousted by corrupt forces.
As she testified, Trump launched a tweet-by smear, inadvertently underscoring how morally vacuous and dismissive of reality he is: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Trump wrote. “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.” Actually, Zelensky did not speak badly of her; Trump did. In real time, Trump displayed the grotesque behavior we have come to expect from him: the proclivity to attack American patriots, to throw his lot (and the lot of the American government) in with corrupt thugs and to support efforts that inevitably redound to the benefit of Russia.
Schiff asked Yovanovitch to respond to the attack. She responded that she and others who served had worked to make things better. Rather than reply emotionally and bitterly, she graciously praised her colleagues who have worked to further American interests. She called the tweet “intimidating.” Schiff replied, “We take witness intimidation very seriously.” It was a stunning rebuke to the Trump-Giuliani school of thuggish personal destruction.
Yovanovitch spoke with dignity but also with obvious emotion of her horror at reading the July 25 transcript in which Trump smeared and threatened her but praised the corrupt Lutsenko. “I didn’t know what to think but I was very concerned. It didn’t sound good. It sounded like a threat,” she said about Trump’s remark that “she’s going to go through some things.”
In his concluding questions, Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman read Yovanovitch a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin directly and falsely accusing Ukraine of meddling in the 2016 election. She called this typical behavior for a former KGB officer to throw investigators “off the scent” and create an alternate narrative. And Trump swallowed it whole.
As other witnesses did, Yovanovitch confirmed that former vice president Joe Biden acted in keeping with U.S. policy and the policy of the West more generally to fight corruption. She reaffirmed that the intent to investigate Biden was not part of any official U.S. policy.
Yovanovitch’s presence, as much as her words, provided a sobering reminder that she and career civil servants are the heroes in this tale of corruption and abuse of power. Trump and his allies behave like movie-style villains in ways that should infuriate all decent Americans.