On Friday, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is testifying publicly in the impeachment inquiry about why she was ousted from her job right around the time President Trump officials started pushing Ukraine to investigate Democrats.
Who she is
She’s the former ambassador to Ukraine with 30 years of experience in the Foreign Service. She’s the Canadian-born daughter of Russians who fled the Soviet Union. She was installed in Ukraine during the Obama administration and remained there under the Trump administration — until Trump had her removed from her job May, alleging she wasn’t loyal to him.
How she lost her job
She was the target of allegations, which are unsubstantiated and which she denies, that she tried to protect Americans in Ukraine by giving Ukrainian officials a “do-not prosecute” list. She testified that list was fake and that it was Ukrainians threatened by her anti-corruption efforts who wanted her out. She says they worked with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to smear her, and it seems the allegations made their way to Trump. In April, she was told by a State Department colleague to fly home on “the next plane.” She said she felt threatened at times through this process, sometimes by Trump himself.
Here’s how she testified about learning she would lose her position:
So the Deputy Secretary [of State John Sullivan] said he was sorry this was all happening, that the president had lost confidence, and I would need to department my post. I said ‘What have I done wrong?’ And he said ‘You’ve done nothing wrong.’ And he said that he had had to speak to ambassadors who had been recalled for cause before and this was not that. ... I was upset. I wanted an explanation because this is rather unusual. But he could not offer one beyond the fact that the president had made a decision.
Shane Harris on Post Reports: “There was a sense going in that Yovanovitch was going to be the Democrats’ witness to play the victim. And while she did that, she also went to great lengths to broaden out why this was a problem.”
Why she matters
Her dismissal seemed to raise alarm bells for other State Department officials that something unusual was happening with regard to U.S.-Ukraine policy, and that some people in Trump’s orbit may have had shared goals with Ukrainian private interests, rather than helping further U.S. policy goals. Democratic impeachment investigators see her ouster as the starting point for Trump pushing his agenda in Ukraine. She was also the first State Department official (she remained employed there after she was called back from Kyiv) to testify in the inquiry despite a blanket ban by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on department employees testifying in this investigation. She opened the door for others to come forward.
What we learned from her testimony so far
She testified that she lost her job because of “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives” and points the finger at Giuliani. He worked with Ukrainians who had a grudge against Yovanovitch to spread unsubstantiated allegations about her loyalty. She testified that she thought Giuliani’s business associates feared her anti-corruption efforts would hurt them financially. These associates are now indicted in the United States on campaign finance charges, including that they funneled foreign money to make campaign donations as they lobbied to get her removed from her job.
Key quote from Yovanovitch’s private testimony
“Did you feel threatened?” “Yes.”
That’s Yovanovitch in response to a question from investigators about how she felt when the White House publicly released a rough transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president. Even though she had been out of the job for months at that point, Trump brought her up, calling her “bad news” and said: “She’s going to go through some things.” She also described being called by officials in Washington, while she was serving as ambassador, to come home right away because of her “security.”
What she doesn’t say in her private testimony
Yovanovitch was out of her job when Trump administration officials were actively pressuring Ukrainian officials to investigate Democrats over the summer, so she may not have much to add there. (She did testify that at least one Ukrainian official told her he was worried they would be forced to choose sides between Democrats and Republicans under the Trump administration.)
What to watch for in her public testimony
Yovanovitch and her colleagues believe she is a victim of politicization of the State Department. Can she cut a sympathetic figure?