Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees

Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday called for legislation to protect diplomats and career foreign service officers and said it should be named in honor of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchJim Jordan requests documents from Pompeo regarding Hunter Biden, Burisma  Trump taps new ambassador to Ukraine America's diplomats deserve our respect MORE

“Congress must pass a Marie Yovanovitch act to better protect diplomats and career public servants in the face of an administration that fails to defend them, and even openly attacks them,” Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezGovernment watchdog: 'No evidence' Pompeo violated Hatch Act with Kansas trips No time to be selling arms to the Philippines Senate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation MORE (D-N.J.) said in remarks to the Brookings Institution.

Menendez’s announcement comes as Yovanovitch herself lamented the lack of protection for State Department employees in their ability to speak up about concerns with administration policies.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Right now, the State Department is in trouble,” Yovanovitch said during an event hosted by Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy on Wednesday.

“Senior leaders lack policy vision, moral clarity, leadership," she said. "The policy process has been replaced by decisions emanating from the top with little discussion, vacancies go unfilled and our officers are increasingly wondering whether it is safe to express concerns about policies even behind closed doors.”

Yovanovitch was a central figure in the impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' MORE and whether he sought a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election and withheld military aid as leverage.

Her removal from her post in Kyiv was described as a coordinated attack by Trump associates to clear the way to pressure the Ukrainian government to launch investigations seen as politically beneficial to the president.

Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in May, months before her tenure was expected to end and under pressure from a smear campaign by close associates of Trump.

Trump was acquitted last week on impeachment articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSchumer slams Trump's Rose Garden briefing on China as 'pathetic' Britain mulls pathway to citizenship for more than 3M inhabitants of Hong Kong Overnight Defense: Democrats expand probe into State IG's firing | House schedules late June votes with defense bill on deck | New Navy secretary sworn in MORE has been criticized for failing to speak out in defense of Yovanovitch. The secretary has refused to answer questions over her dismissal.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approval to move forward an ambassador’s nomination for a post, and the full Senate must vote on confirmation. But their oversight is limited when it comes to an ambassador’s dismissal.

Last week, Trump dismissed Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandTop Democrat slams Trump's new EU envoy: Not 'a political donor's part-time job' Trump names new EU envoy, filling post left vacant by impeachment witness Sondland Ocasio-Cortez: Republicans are prioritizing big chains in coronavirus relief  MORE from his appointment as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, a move viewed as retaliation for his testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

Menendez said Congress must have more oversight on the dismissal of senior diplomats and deputies.

“It is time the State Department tells us before it removes a career diplomat why it is doing so,” he said.

“This also should extend to the second in command at embassies, the deputy chiefs of mission. Too many of them have been unjustifiably landing on the chopping block.”

William Taylor, who ran the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv following Yovanovitch’s departure and testified twice in the impeachment inquiry, left his post in January. He declined to comment on whether he was asked to leave before Pompeo visited the Ukrainian capital, CNN reported at the time.

Menendez said he will continue an investigation into the details surrounding Yovanovitch’s dismissal and the smear campaign around her.

“I will not rest until we have an accounting of everything the State Department knew about foreign disinformation against her and why its leadership failed to protect her,” he said.

The package of bills previewed by Menendez on Thursday call for more protections for State Department employees from being fired or transferred. 

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.