November 18, 2019

Yovanovitch Testifies

“President Donald Trump launched a Twitter attack on a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine on Friday while she was testifying to an impeachment hearing in Congress… Trump’s tweet about former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch during her testimony on Friday drew a furious response from Democrats who accused him of witness intimidation.” Reuters

During Yavanovitch’s testimony Trump tweeted, “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.” Twitter

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From the Left

The left criticizes Trump’s firing of Yovanovitch, arguing that it was detrimental to US foreign policy interests, and contends that the tweet was highly inappropriate.

“As Yovanovitch herself affirmed numerous times over the course of her testimony, US ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president. But it can also be newsworthy if the president removes an ambassador because he’s been duped by a campaign of lies being pushed by corrupt foreign officials — which is what Yovanovitch’s defenders (and Yovanovitch herself) believe happened.”
Andrew Prokop and Alex Ward, Vox

“President Trump and his defenders have been arguing, weakly, that his actions toward Ukraine, including demands for the investigation of his political opponents, were somehow consistent with U.S. national interests. There is no way to make that case about his treatment of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. In compelling testimony during the House’s impeachment inquiry on Friday, she described how the president’s firing of her was orchestrated by corrupt Ukrainian actors whom the United States had been trying to neutralize — and how that reversal damaged U.S. diplomacy around the world.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Despite Republican efforts to throw up a smokescreen, despite their complaints that they are being muzzled even as they pose questions, it is clear that the president was putting his own political interests — looking for dirt on Hillary and the Bidens — above national security and using shady henchmen to do it…Reagan would be stunned to find Republican members of the House at war with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A.— all to bolster Trump’s tender ego.”
Maureen Dowd, New York Times

“Never before, in our experience or frankly in the history of US foreign policy, has a President publicly sought to intimidate a career public civil servant… Friday's testimony by former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and President Donald Trump's threatening tweets -- sent while she was testifying -- provide a devastating window into the administration's preternaturally destructive campaign to politicize the Department of State, undermine US diplomacy, and smear the reputations of career State Department officers for upholding the oath they take to defend the Constitution and American national interests…

“Three career foreign service officers have now testified before Congress in public impeachment inquiry hearings -- in direct defiance of both the White House and the Department of State. They are alone and exposed. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has failed to discharge his duty to support, protect and defend the Department or these dedicated professionals.”
Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, CNN

“Whether this is technically witness tampering, it’s undeniably appalling. Even on Fox News, Ken Starr called Trump’s attack on Yovanovitch during her testimony ‘extraordinarily poor judgment.’ What it shows — as does all of the former ambassador’s testimony, along with lots of other evidence we have seen — is that Trump has been running a thugocracy, one in which the president talks and acts like a Mafioso and so do the people who have the greatest influence over him…

There’s an irony here, which is that Yovanovitch’s story is tangential to the case for impeachment. Trump’s firing of her was disturbing, undermined U.S. interests and was despicable in many ways, but it wasn’t in and of itself impeachable. It doesn’t bear directly on the pressure campaign to strong-arm Ukraine into helping Trump’s reelection by launching a sham ‘investigation’ of Joe and Hunter Biden.”
Paul Waldman, Washington Post

“This kind of petty and nasty attack put [Republicans] in a position of defending the indefensible… [and] undermined the big talking point that the White House had pushed and Republicans had repeated on Wednesday, the claim that the hearings were boring. Providing supporters with safe ground is important to Trump’s future. Most politicians are willing to go pretty far out on rhetorical limbs to advance what they see as their political interest. What they don’t like is to be exposed as fools soon after doing so. The real importance of the ‘smoking gun’ tape that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency was that it discredited his supporters for repeating what turned out to be lies, and convinced them that Nixon would go on doing that to them as long as they were willing to stick with him…

“Trump is repeatedly giving Republicans that same choice. So far, they've been willing to go along. But each time he pushes them, it makes it a little more likely they’ll eventually make the same choice that Republicans made in August 1974.”
Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg

From the Right

The right dismisses Yovanovitch’s testimony as irrelevant to the issue at hand, and argues that Trump’s tweet was counterproductive but not intimidation.

The right dismisses Yovanovitch’s testimony as irrelevant to the issue at hand, and argues that Trump’s tweet was counterproductive but not intimidation.

“Yovanovitch was not the ambassador to Ukraine during the period when the Trump administration withheld military aid. She has no knowledge as to why the aid was held up. That’s the only issue of relevance to the impeachment proceedings. The proceedings aren’t about whether Yovanovitch should have been removed as ambassador. Schiff’s committee isn’t a human resources body or a personnel review board…

“Democrats may say that Yovanovitch’s removal is relevant because it was the first step in making U.S. policy towards Ukraine subservient to Trump’s political interests. It set the stage, so to speak. But this argument collapses the moment one remembers that Yovanovitch was replaced by Bill Taylor (officially, he’s the chargé d’affaires, but he acts as ambassador). If there’s one thing on which Democrats and Republicans on Schiff’s committee agree, it’s that Taylor is an exemplary diplomat.”
Paul Mirengoff, Power Line Blog

Some are critical of firing Yovanovitch. “Trump was given bad advice, and unfortunately, he listened. It’s not clear exactly why Trump chose to recall Yovanovitch, but it’s likely his decision was influenced by Giuliani and others in Ukraine who wanted Yovanovitch gone. Now let’s be clear: As president, Trump has every right to recall a foreign diplomat for any reason he sees fit. Yovanovitch, as she’s admitted, served at the pleasure of the president. But as of yet, no one has offered a good reason for why Yovanovitch should have been removed, defaulting instead to a political ‘because I said so.’ Trump should not have listened to Giuliani, whose sole concern while meddling in Ukrainian affairs was self-advancement.”
Kaylee McGhee, Washington Examiner

Others contend, “For any readers persuaded by former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s congressional testimony today that she was the key to a free and independent Ukraine free of corruption, it’s worth noting [that]… the Obama administration helped [Yovanovitch] prepare to field questions at her Senate confirmation hearing in June of 2016 about Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The company was then under investigation in Ukraine…

“[But after her confirmation] even though the Bidens have been unable to explain what exactly Hunter Biden was doing for his lucrative compensation and have pledged never to do such deals again, it seems that the vaunted anti-corruption champion Ms. Yovanovitch didn’t think it was worth pursuing. In her earlier House deposition she said it ‘wasn’t a front burner issue at the time.’”
James Freeman, Wall Street Journal

Regarding Trump’s tweet, “Trump is angry over the hearings and their lack of due process. The tweet was not intended as intimidation and obviously had no such effect. It was, instead, an impulsive attempt to influence public opinion — this being, first and foremost, a political controversy. The real problem is that the tweet’s effect, if any, was the opposite of what Trump intended: The public saw Yovanovitch, not the president, as the victim of an unfair attack…

“[Impeachment] has always been a political stratagem. The Democrats’ real objective is to render the president so battered and bruised that his reelection becomes inconceivable. Those who say Yovanovitch’s testimony did not ‘move the needle’ on impeachment are entirely correct… But if you see this as I do, not as an impeachment gambit but as a 2020 campaign strategy, the Democrats had a pretty good day.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

Trump's tacky tweets don't constitute witness intimidation, not by any true legal standard and certainly not by any metric the public cares about. For starters, the entire nation has known for the better part of a year that Trump disdained Yovanovitch. He berated her publicly for months before pulling her from her post in Ukraine, and Trump going on an incoherent rant is obviously not a threat…

“Democrats have an actual case to prove to the public on their hands, and instead of maintaining laser focus on the central question (Did Trump abuse the powers of the presidency to extort a foreign government into harming his domestic political foe?), they're wasting a precious day of public testimony fulminating about a fake process crime. Republicans should care if the president committed an impeachable abuse of power. But with Democrats melting down over yet another one of Trump's tacky tweets, can you blame them for being a bit cynical about this clown show?”
Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

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