Impeachment Briefing: What Happened Today

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Marie Yovanovitch was the American ambassador to Ukraine until May, when she was removed by President Trump after a smear campaign orchestrated by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. In a July 25 phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, Mr. Trump described Ms. Yovanovitch as “bad news,” adding, “She’s going to go through some things.”

Investigators have explored whether the president recalled her because she was an impediment to the shadow foreign policy promoted by Mr. Giuliani and other American officials. That “second channel” of diplomacy, as some witnesses have called it, pressured Ukraine to open investigations that would have benefited Mr. Trump politically.

  • Ms. Yovanovitch described how it felt to be bad-mouthed by Mr. Trump on the July 25 call: “shocked, appalled, devastated that the president of the United States would talk about any ambassador like that to a foreign head of state. And it was me. I mean, I couldn’t believe it.” A person who saw her reading the transcript told her that the color drained from her face, she said. Asked what the words “going to go through some things” sounded like to her, she said, “It sounded like a threat.”

  • As Ms. Yovanovitch testified, Mr. Trump posted a tweet attacking her record as a diplomat in many troubled regions of the world, saying that “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.” Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the committee holding the hearings, read the tweet back to her in real time. “It’s very intimidating,” she said. “The effect is to be intimidating.” Our television critic wrote that it was a “remarkable fourth-wall-breaking moment” and a “real-time meta-confrontation.”

  • Ms. Yovanovitch was unsparing in her criticism of the Trump administration. “Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me,” she said. “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 U.S. ambassador.” She went on: “How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?

Here’s a quick video recap of some of the biggest moments. Here’s our new podcast, The Latest, on today’s testimony. And if you want to go deeper, here’s our full story on the day’s events, some more key takeaways and Ms. Yovanovitch’s opening statement.

The audience at the hearing gave Ms. Yovanovitch a standing ovation. I asked my colleague Lara Jakes, who wrote recently about Ms. Yovanovitch’s influence at the State Department, why she drew such a response.

Lara, first off: Why was Ms. Yovanovitch such a striking and important witness?

In a way, this entire inquiry started when she was removed from the embassy in Kiev, which first raised red flags about Mr. Trump’s relationship to Ukraine. We heard personally, in her own words, and very publicly, how this all went down, which helps people understand how we got here.

We saw Mr. Trump attack Ms. Yovanovitch again today, after he said on July 25 that she was “going to go through some things.”

Ms. Yovanovitch interpreted that as a threat from the very president she was representing in Kiev, to the very people she had been representing his administration’s policy. That’s not just unusual. It’s practically unheard-of. Today he was throwing her under the bus yet again.

Grace Kennan Warnecke, the daughter of the famous American diplomat George Kennan, sat directly behind Ms. Yovanovitch — a public show of the support she has within the Foreign Service. Why is her testimony such a big deal in the State Department?

She is revered particularly among female Foreign Service officers. She has mentored many of them. These career diplomats who have testified in the impeachment inquiry have collectively said much of what most active Foreign Service officers cannot say publicly, for fear of career suicide.

Ms. Yovanovitch ended her opening statement by honoring her colleagues, the “public servants who by vocation and training pursue the policies of the president, regardless of who holds that office or what party they affiliate with.” Yet there have been a record number of retirements by Foreign Service officers during the Trump administration. What’s going on?

People have said to me that if they feel like they can no longer be effective in that mission, then they might as well leave. It’s the State Department’s job to carry out the policy set by the White House. In this case it wasn’t even a formal policy. The diplomats say that it’s an irregular approach that is precisely what they encourage other governments not to do. When it’s their own government, they feel hypocritical if they don’t object — so many choose to leave.

  • David Holmes, a U.S. embassy official in Kiev, told investigators today about a July 26 call he overheard between Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, and Mr. Trump. Mr. Sondland allegedly told Mr. Trump that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine “loves your ass,” and would conduct investigations into Mr. Trump’s rivals and “anything you ask him to.”

  • Mr. Holmes said that on the call, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Sondland: “So, he’s gonna do the investigation?” Mr. Sondland replied, “He’s gonna do it.” After the call ended, Mr. Holmes asked Mr. Sondland if was true that the president did not care about Ukraine. The ambassador replied that Mr. Trump cared only about the “big stuff,” like investigations that Mr. Giuliani was pushing for, because they affected him personally.

  • Mr. Trump released a memorandum of an April telephone conversation he had with Mr. Zelensky that differed from a summary of the call released by the White House months ago.

  • On the April night she took a phone call instructing her to take the next plane back to Washington, Ms. Yovanovitch hosted an event to honor a young anticorruption activist who had been murdered in horrific fashion. She talked about the activist in her testimony today.

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