Live coverage: Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies in public impeachment hearing
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is slated to appear Friday morning in Democrats’ second public impeachment hearing, where she is expected to testify that a shadowy smear campaign led by Rudy Giuliani and other associates ultimately led to her removal earlier this year.
House Democrats believe Yovanovitch will help them build their case for impeaching President Trump by describing to the American people in personal terms how private interests succeeded in ousting a career diplomat after teaming up with corrupt Ukrainian representatives and disreputable media figures.
The high-stakes House Intelligence Committee hearing, led by Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is set to begin at 9 a.m.
Trump campaign dismisses Yovanovitch hearing as a waste of time
The Trump campaign responded to Friday’s hearing by dismissing Yovanovitch’s testimony as demonstrating she had “no personal knowledge” of the events at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
Campaign spokesman Kayleigh McEnany also emphasized that U.S. ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, highlighting that Trump was within his authority to recall Yovanovitch from her post in Ukraine.
“This has been a complete waste of everyone’s time and a disservice to the taxpayers,” McEnany said in a statement.
Conaway’s mic turned off as he tries to comment at the end of the hearing
Rep. Mike Conaway’s (R-Texas) microphone was turned off as he tried to interject after Schiff gaveled the hearing closed, with Conaway citing the need to push back against comments from the chairman against the Republicans.
As Schiff gaveled out, Conaway requested recognition, telling him that “you disparaged members on this side of the aisle, we should have a chance to respond to your remarks.”
Schiff did not respond to Conaway, while Conaway continued to say “Mr. Chairman” multiple times to get his attention until Conaway’s microphone was turned off.
Conaway’s comments were also partially drowned out by clapping int the room for Yovanovitch, with many attendees, including committee Democrats, giving her a standing ovation for her testimony.
Schiff praises Yovanovitch for her willingness to testify
Schiff in his closing statement lauded Yovanovitch for coming forward to testify, arguing that she and other government officials who voiced concerns about the president’s actions toward Ukraine helped thwart “corrupt” actions.
“The fact that they failed in this solicitation of bribery doesn’t make it any less bribery. Doesn’t make it any less immoral, or corrupt. It just means it was unsuccessful,” Schiff said in his closing statement.
He said Yovanovitch’s testimony helped establish “the beginning of the story” in which Trump’s allies sought to “get you out of the way” because “they felt you were an impediment to these investigations the president so genuinely wanted.”
“We not only grieve for what you went through but what damage is being done to the State Department to career foreign service officers all over the country,” Schiff said.
He praised the work of Yovanovitch and other career foreign service officials, adding that her willingness to testify helped shed more light on their importance.
“What you are is what holds this country together, what holds our foreign policy together,” he said. “And I’m glad America gets to see that.”
Nunes says in closing remarks that TV ratings “must be plummeting right now”
Nunes said during his closing remarks at Friday’s impeachment hearing that television ratings “must be plummeting right now,” and described the hearing as a “show trial.”
“I hate to break it to my colleagues, if there is anyone else out there watching television ratings, but they must be plummeting right now, and I suggest we get back to the work of the Intelligence Committee,” Nunes said.
He called the impeachment inquiry process an “embarrassment,” and lamented the fact that the committee would immediately go into closed session to hear testimony from Daniel Holmes, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine whom a previous witness testified overheard Trump talking to Sondland about Ukrainian issues.
“We are headed down now to the basement of the Capitol to go until I don’t know when, we will be down there again behind closed doors, interviewing more witnesses that you may or may not be able to see in the public,” Nunes said.
Jordan tells Schiff Republican “indulgence” with him “wore out a long time ago”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Schiff that Republican “indulgence” with him “wore out a long time ago” when Schiff asked Jordan to come to the point on rephrasing a question to Yovanovitch.
Jordan’s comments came after Yovanovitch asked him to rephrase a question about potential Ukrainian interference against President Trump’s 2016 campaign and Schiff allowed him extra time to do so.
As Jordan engaged in a lengthy introduction to the question, Schiff interrupted to tell him that “I have indulged you with extra time, but my indulgence is wearing out, is there a question here?”
Jordan responded to Schiff that he “appreciated that,” adding that “our indulgence with you wore out a long time ago Mr. Chairman, I’ll tell you that.”
Schiff warned Jordan that he would “gavel him down” if he did not come to the point.
Once Yovanovitch answered Jordan’s initial question, he began to ask her another one, at which point Schiff interrupted and told Jordan his time had expired.
Trump weighs in on hearing during drug pricing speech
Heck offers powerful defense of Yovanovitch over circumstances of her removal
Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) offered a powerful defense of Yovanovitch, using much of the five minutes allocated to him to question the diplomat to instead express his anger at the circumstances of her removal.
Heck questioned how it was that the “most powerful person on the face of the earth would remove you from office after your stellar service and somehow feel compelled to characterize you as ‘bad news’ and then to ominously threaten that you’re going to go through some things.”
“So I am angry, but I’m not surprised,” he continued.
He also went on to describe her years of service, stating that he “cannot think of anybody else I would rather have representing us in a foreign capital than you.”
Yovanovitch agrees with ‘appearance of a conflict of interest’ on Biden-Burisma
Under questioning from Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Yovanovitch said she agreed with the assessment of State Department official George Kent that Hunter Biden’s acceptance of a position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the time his father, Joe Biden, was vice president created the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“I think that it could raise the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Yovanovitch said. She said she never discussed the issue with Kent.
At the same time, Yovanovitch pushed back on accusations from President Trump’s allies that Biden pushed for the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in order to prevent an investigation into the gas company, Burisma.
“The view that Mr. Shokin was not a good prosecutor general fighting corruption, I don’t think it had anything to do with the Burisma case,” Yovanovitch said.
Yovanovitch says she would have refused to investigate Biden if Trump had asked
Yovanovitch told Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) that if Trump had asked her to help in investigate someone such as former Vice President Joe Biden, she would have refused.
“With what I know today, I would have said no,” Yovanovitch said in response to a question from Castro over investigating Biden.
Castro then asked her if she considered investigating Biden for the reasons Trump is alleged to have had an “unlawful act.”
Yovanovitch responded that she did not know if it was “unlawful per se,” but added that “there are channels for conducting proper investigations and that would have been the best way to handle something like this.”
When Castro then asked if it was “bizarre” for Trump to ask a foreign government to investigate an American citizen, Yovanovitch said it was “very unusual.”
Swalwell: ‘A lot has changed since the whistleblower came forward’
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) defended the lack of in-person testimony from the whistleblower, noting that “a lot has changed since the whistleblower came forward.”
“First, most of what the whistleblower has alleged has been corroborated by the witnesses that we have heard from,” he said.
“Second, the president, who my colleagues so shamelessly continue to defend, continued to pressure and threaten” the whistleblower, he added, entering into the record Trump’s suggestions that the whistleblower was guilty of treason and that his sources should be executed.
“The whistleblower has an absolute right to anonymity, I wish my colleagues would join me in protecting the whistleblower’s right to anonymity,” Swalwell added.
Swalwell went on to question Yovanovitch on whether she believed “it would be improper for a lawyer to go outside any directive that a client gives” and citing a quote from 11 days before Yovanovitch was removed in which Giuliani, announcing his intention to visit Ukraine, said “we’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation.”
“He doesn’t say ‘I’m not meddling in an election,’ he doesn’t say ‘I’m not meddling in an investigation [sic],’” added Swalwell. “He says ‘we.’ He’s speaking for himself and his client.”
Quigley: Yovanovitch’s ouster not ‘the end of a Hallmark movie, it’s the end of a really bad reality TV show’
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) dismissed implications by Republicans that Yovanovitch securing a fellowship at Georgetown “like a Hallmark movie” meant “this is all okay.”
“It is not the end of a Hallmark movie, it’s the end of a really bad reality TV show,” he said, receiving laughs when he added that this is “brought to you by someone who knows a lot about that.”
Quigley also questioned Yovanovitch on her earlier testimony that Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland advised her to tweet in praise of Trump to preserve her job.
Yovanovitch said she sought Sondland’s advice because of a feeling that “this was so political … the State Department was not in a position to manage the issue, it didn’t appear to me, and so I asked Ambassador Sondland.”
Sondland, she said, advised her to “go big or go home” and “send out a tweet or praise the president, that sort of thing.”
“My reaction was that I’m sure he meant well but it was not advice that I could really follow,” she said.
It felt partisan, it felt political, that was not something I felt was in keeping with my role as ambassador and a foreign service officer,” she added.
Turner attempts to cut off Yovanovitch answer on Sondland involvement in Ukraine
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) told Yovanovitch that she was “done” answering a question on the responsibilities of U.S. Ambassador the European Union Gordon Sondland, with Schiff forced to step in to allow Yovanovitch to complete her answer.
Turner initially asked Yovanovitch whether if Ukraine was in Sondland’s “portfolio,” to which Yovanovitch answered that she would “agree,” before being cut off by Turner as he tried to move to a different question.
Schiff intervened, telling Turner to “suspend” and telling Yovanovitch to “finish your answer.”
Turner pushed back against this, responding “not on my time,” and telling Yovanovitch “you’re done.”
After Schiff again intervened, Yovanovitch finished her answer, noting that “I would say that all EU ambassadors deal with other countries including aspiring countries, but it is unusual to name the U.S. ambassador to the EU to be responsible for all aspects of Ukraine.”
Turner said in response to this longer comment that “I’ll take your initial answer, it’s still in his portfolio, which was my question.”
Yovanovitch’s longer answer echoed that of William Taylor’s, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, during the previous impeachment hearing on Wednesday. He said it was “unusual” for Sondland to be involved in Ukrainian policymaking.
White House pushes back on witness tampering claims
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham pushed back against allegations that Trump’s tweet attacking Yovanovitch amounted to witness intimidation, arguing it was merely the president expressing an opinion.
“The tweet was not witness intimidation, it was simply the President’s opinion, which he is entitled to,” she tweeted. “This is not a trial, it is a partisan political process – or to put it more accurately, a totally illegitimate, charade stacked against the President.”
The president’s tweet asserting that “everywhere” Yovanovitch went “turned bad” as she testified before lawmakers drew intense scrutiny, particularly after the ambassador responded to it by calling it “very intimidating.”
Democratic lawmakers indicated during a break in the hearing that witness tampering could be considered as an article of impeachment.
Conaway enters Pelosi Dear Colleague record into the record
Stefanik, in contrast to Trump’s earlier tweets, praised Yovanovitch’s diplomatic service after Nunes yielded his time to her.
“Before I was interrupted, I wanted to thank you for your 30 years in public service, from Mogadishu to Ottawa to Moscow to London to Kyiv,” Stefanik told Yovanovitch.
“I also wanted to thank you for hosting the numerous bipartisan delegations. I led one of those delegations in Ukraine,” she added, before explaining that her questioning would focus on the president’s power to appoint ambassadors, political corruption in Ukraine and U.S. aid to Ukraine.
“Georgetown students are lucky to have you [and] we are lucky to have you in public service,” Stefanik said as she began her questioning.
Trump earlier on Friday had tweeted criticism of Yovanovitch while she testified, asserting that “everywhere” Yovanovitch served “turned bad.”
Member questioning rounds begin
Yovanovitch emphasizes that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in 2016 election
Yovanovitch pushed back against claims by GOP Counsel Steve Castor that Ukraine tried to undermine Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, instead pointing to interference efforts by Russia that have been confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Castor asked Yovanovitch whether she thought potential efforts by various individuals in Ukraine form “a reasonable basis to wonder whether there are influential elements of the Ukrainian establishment that were out to get the president.”
Yovanovitch responded that the “elements” Castor brought up “don’t seem to me to be a plan or a plot of the Ukrainian government to work against President Trump or anyone else,” adding that she saw the incidents as “isolated.”
“People are critical, and that does not mean that someone is, or a government is, undermining a campaign or interfering in elections, and I would just remind again that our own U.S. Intelligence Community has conclusively determined that those who interfered in the election were in Russia,” Yovonovitch said.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee, alongside the U.S. Intelligence Community, all came to the conclusion that Russia attempted to interfere in the lead up to the 2016 elections through both hacking operations and a social media disinformation campaign.
Schiff blocks Stefanik from questioning witness, citing violation of hearing rules
Schiff blocked Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) from questioning Yovanovitch as the hearing resumed after a recess, citing a violation of committee rules surrounding the hearing.
Nunes and the GOP counsel were given 45 minutes to question Yovanovitch as the hearing resumed, but when Nunes yielded time to Stefanik to ask questions, Schiff used the gavel to block her questions.
“The gentlewoman will suspend you are not recognized,” Schiff told Stefanik as she began to ask questions, telling Nunes that “under House Resolution 660 you are not allowed to yield time except to minority counsel.”
According to a memo on impeachment hearing rules sent by Schiff to the committee earlier this week, “as specified in H. Res. 660, the Chair and Ranking Member may not yield time to other Members during these extended question periods, though either may yield time to Majority and Minority Committee Counsels, respectively.”
Both Nunes and Stefanik strongly objected to Schiff’s actions, with Stefanik saying, “this is the fifth time you have interrupted members of Congress.”
Nunes said that “we control the time” and added that “if we have members of Congress that have a few questions, it seems appropriate that we would be able to let Ms. Stefanik ask her question.”
Schiff refused, saying only Nunes or GOP counsel Steve Castor would be recognized to question Yovanovitch.
According to the hearing schedule, following 45 minute of questioning time for Nunes or minority counsel, all members of the committee will be given five minutes to question the witness, alternating between Democrats and Republicans in order of seniority on the committee.
Schiff gaveled the hearing back in after an almost two-hour recess.
Trump defends widespread vacancies after Yovanovitch describes ‘crisis’ at State
Trump defended the extensive vacancies across his government in an apparent response to Yovanovitch’s testimony outlining a “crisis” at the State Department because of unfilled positions.
“We have vacancies in various departments because we do not want or need as many people as past administrations (and save great cost), and also, the Democrats delay the approval process to levels unprecedented in the history of our Country!” Trump tweeted.
We have vacancies in various departments because we do not want or need as many people as past administrations (and save great cost), and also, the Democrats delay the approval process to levels unprecedented in the history of our Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
The Trump administration is rife with unfilled positions and leadership posts filled in an acting capacity. There are numerous vacant ambassador posts in the State Department and most of the top positions at the Department of Homeland Security are either unfilled or filled on an acting basis.
Yovanovitch testified in her opening statement that she was the subject of a smear campaign by Trump and his allies that led to her eventual removal. She worried that those attacks and the swath of vacancies are hurting U.S. diplomacy.
“The attacks are leading to a crisis in the State Department as the policy process is visibly unravelling, leadership vacancies go unfilled, and senior and mid-level officers ponder an uncertain future and head for the doors,” she said.
The White House claimed earlier Friday that Trump would not watch Yovanovitch’s testimony beyond opening statements, but he has tweeted about the proceedings multiple times.
Jackson Lee says Trump’s tweet is “nearing the run of the mill witness intimidation”
Democrats broke the hearing for a recess so members could attend votes.
Yovanovitch rebuts Trump’s claims about Biden
Yovanovitch testified that former Vice President Joe Biden did not brag about stopping a prosecution in Ukraine, undercutting an allegation from Trump and some of his backers.
Trump told the Ukrainian president on their July 25 phone call that there was talk the former vice president “went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution” related to his son, Hunter Biden. But Yovanovitch told lawmakers that was not the case.
She added that Biden’s push for the removal of the former prosecutor-general in Ukraine was in accordance with the policy of the U.S. and its allies.
“Official U.S. policy that was endorsed and was the policy of a number of other international stakeholders,” Yovanovitch said. “Other countries, other monetary institutions. Financial institutions.”
Yovanovitch: Putin promoted Ukraine interference conspiracy theories to ‘throw off the scent’
Yovanovitch said Russian President Vladimir Putin deliberately promoted conspiracy theories about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election to sow confusion, a move she said was “classic for an intelligence officer.”
While she said there have been “rumors out there” about such interference, she agreed with Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman that there was “nothing based in fact” to support them.
Goldman showed Yovanovitch a February 2017 quote in which Putin claimed the Ukrainian government, as well as “certain oligarchs,” adopted a “unilateral position” in favor of Hillary Clinton.
Asked how it would serve Putin’s interests to promote the idea of Ukrainian interference, Yovanovitch responded that “President Putin was aware there were concerns in the U.S. about Russian meddling in the 2016 election … classic for an intelligence officer to try to throw off the scent and create an alternative narrative that might get picked up and get some credence.”
Asked about Putin’s reference to oligarchs, Goldman asked if it was the same unnamed wealthy Ukrainian Trump mentions in the July 25 call.
“Maybe,” Yovanovitch responded.
Schiff on Trump tweets: ‘Some of us’ take ‘witness intimidation very, very seriously’
Schiff suggested Trump’s tweets attacking Yovanovitch during the hearing could themselves be considered witness intimidation.
“As we sit here testifying, the president is attacking you on Twitter,” Schiff said, reading the tweets out loud.
“Ambassador, you’ve shown the courage to come forward today and testify, notwithstanding the fact that you were encouraged by the White House and the State Department not to, notwithstanding the fact that as you testified earlier the president implicitly threatened you in that call record, and now the president in real time is attacking you,” Schiff continued.
“What effect do you think that has on other witnesses’ willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?” he asked.
When Yovanovitch called it “very intimidating,” Schiff responded “it’s designed to be intimidating, is it not?” Yovanovitch said she could not speak to its intent, but that intimidation was the “effect.”
“I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,” Schiff replied.
Yovanovitch says effect of Trump’s tweets against her is to intimidate
Yovanovitch said tweets posted by Trump on Friday were meant to intimidate her.
Committee chairman Schiff read the tweets in which Trump harshly criticized Yovanovitch’s tenure at State and asked Yovanovitch for her reaction.
“It’s very intimidating,” Yovanovitch responded. “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.”
Trump tweeted shortly before Yovanovitch’s comments that “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”
Schiff gave Yovanovitch the chance to respond directly to that tweet, and Yovanovitch pushed back against Trump’s narrative.
“I don’t think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu, Somalia, and not in other places,” Yovanovitch said. “I actually think that where I have served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better, for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I’ve served in.”
Yovanovitch added that Ukraine has made “a lot of progress since 2014, including in the years that I was there, and I think in part the Ukrainian people get the most credit for that – but a part of that credit goes to the work of the United States and to me as the ambassador in Ukraine.”
Yovanovitch: ‘Color drained from my face’ at mention in call record
Yovanovitch said the “color drained from my face” when she learned she had been mentioned in Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky.
“I was shocked, absolutely shocked, and devastated frankly,” she told the Democratic counsel. “I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner, where President Trump said that I was ‘bad news’ to another head of state.”
“A person who saw me reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face, I think I even had a physical reaction,” she added. “Even now words kind of fail me.”
The counsel went on to ask Yovanovitch how she reacted specifically to Trump’s description of her as “bad news.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” Yovanovitch said, adding that she was “appalled” the president would talk that way about any ambassador.
When Trump told Zelensky she was “going to go through some things,” Yovanovitch said, she “didn’t know what to think” but was “very concerned,” saying it “sounded like a threat.”
Asked how specifically she felt threatened, she responded she “didn’t know exactly, it’s not a very precise phrase…I really don’t know how to answer the question any further except to say that it kind felt like a vague threat, so I wondered what that meant, it concerned me.”
Trump criticizes Yovanovitch in tweets as she testifies
Trump harshly criticized Yovanovitch’s tenure at State and emphasized he had the right to remove her from the post.
Trump asserted in tweets while Yovanovitch testified that “everywhere” she served “turned bad,” and noted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke negatively of her during their July 25 phone call.
“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,” Trump tweeted.
“They call it ‘serving at the pleasure of the President.’ The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First!” Trump continued.
Trump then claimed he has done “FAR more” for Ukraine than President Obama.
….They call it “serving at the pleasure of the President.” The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First! With all of that, however, I have done FAR more for Ukraine than O.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
Read more about Trump’s tweets here.
Yovanovitch says she was removed without explanation
Yovanovitch said that she had been removed from her post as ambassador to Ukraine without explanation.
She said Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan “told me I needed to leave.”
“He said the words that every foreign service officer understands, ‘the president has lost confidence in you,'” she said.
“No real reason was offered as to why I had to leave and why it was being done in such a way,” Yovanovitch added.
She said she did not have any indication that the State Department lost confidence in her and was not given a reason why Trump had lost confidence in her.
Yovanovitch says leaving her post negatively impacted “morale” at State Department, U.S. embassies
Yovanovitch said Friday that the way she was forced to resign as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was “a big hit to morale” at both the State Department and U.S. embassies worldwide.
“It’s been I think a big hit for morale, both at U.S. Embassy Kyiv, but also more broadly at the State Department,” Yovanovitch said.
She made these comments in response to a line of questioning from Schiff, who asked whether Yovanovitch had concerns about the message sent by the effort to “smear” her out of her post as ambassador.
Schiff followed up this question by asking if it was “fair to say that other ambassadors and others of lesser rank that serve the United States and embassies around the world might look at this and think, if I take on corrupt people in these countries, this could happen to me?”
Yovanovitch responded that she thought this was “a fair statement, yes.”
Yovanovitch: I ‘apparently’ angered corrupt elements in Ukrainian government
Questioned by Schiff on whether fighting corruption in Ukraine was “a key element of U.S. policy and one on which you placed the highest priority,” Yovanovitch answered in the affirmative.
“It was important because corruption was undermining the integrity of the governance system in Ukraine,” Yovanovitch said.
“Countries that have leaders that are honest and trustworthy make better partners for us. Countries where there is a level playing field for U.S. business makes it easier for us to do business there, to trade and to profit in those countries,” she added.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, she added, “corrupt interests were undermining not only the governance but also the economy of the Ukraine.”
“We see enormous potential in Ukraine and would like to have a more trustworthy partner there,” she added.
Referencing Kent’s statement Wednesday that one cannot oppose corruption “without pissing off corrupt people,” Schiff asked whether former Ukrainian Prosecutors General Yuriy Lutsenko and Viktor Shokin were “pissed off” at her.
Yovanich answered in the affirmative in both cases, saying in the case of Shokin “apparently so, although I’ve never met him.”
Yovanovitch describes “crisis” at State Department in opening statement
Yovanovitch in her opening remarks described a “crisis” at the State Department, pointing to the agency’s failure to protect foreign service officials who faced attacks for their work overseas.
“The attacks are leading to a crisis in the State Department as the policy process is visibly unravelling, leadership vacancies going unfilled, and senior and mid-level officers ponder an uncertain future and head for the doors,” Yovanovitch testified, adding that this “is not a time to undercut our diplomats.”
Yovanovitch also painted her removal as a “dangerously wrong” precedent that will also affect other U.S. officials carrying out U.S. policy overseas.
“I remain disappointed that the department’s leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong,” she read in her opening remarks.
“This is about far more than me or a couple of individuals. As Foreign Service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is also being degraded. This will soon cause real harm, if it hasn’t already,” she said.
Yovanovitch also expressed dismay that corrupt Ukrainians, who were upset about her anti-corruption efforts, could find Americans willing to work with them to facilitate her removal.
“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.”
“How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government,” Yovanovitch testified, adding that this played into the hands of “autocrats” like Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Stefanik asks for testimony from Hunter Biden, whistleblower
After the two top Intelligence Committee leaders read their opening statements, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) raised a point of order about Democrats blocking witnesses from whom they have sought to receive public testimony during their open impeachment hearings.
Schiff has batted down requests to have the whistleblower, Hunter Biden, and other witnesses testify, stating that they will not allow these public hearings to “serve as vehicles for any member to carry out the same sham investigations into the Bidens or debunked conspiracies about the 2016 U.S. election interference that President Trump pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit.”
Stefanik had made the same point of order during the Taylor hearing.
Trump spokeswoman says he will watch only Nunes opening statement
“The President will be watching Congressman Nunes’ opening statement, but the rest of the day he will be working hard for the American people,” Grisham said.
Today’s hearing is sure to center on the former ambassador’s removal from Kyiv in May. Yet it’s not the removal, per se, that lawmakers will be focusing on, but the reasons behind it.
All sides agree that ambassadors serve at the pleasure of presidents, who have every right to replace them. A number of career State Department officials have already testified to that point. And Trump’s Republican defenders are sure to focus on that presidential prerogative.
Yet Yovanovitch, a 33-year veteran of the foreign service who has served under administrations of both parties, had previously testified that her recall was a political hit job based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.” She was referring, in particular, to Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.
Those motives are where Democrats are sure to place their emphasis Friday.
“The Republicans have a defense, which is that the president has powers that he can exercise,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a member of the Intelligence Committee.
“That is a faulty defense, because power can be exercised in improper ways, and that’s what happened here,” Himes said. “The president could withhold Ukraine aid, but he can’t do it to further his political interests. The president can fire an ambassador, but he can’t do it to forward his own political interests.”
Nunes says Democrats threatened Republicans with ethics investigation if they reveal whistleblower’s identity
Nunes noted in his opening remarks on Friday that committee Democrats sent a letter to Republicans this week threatening to bring ethics investigations against any Republican members who revealed the identity of the anonymous whistleblower.
“Just when you thought the spectacle could not get more bizarre, committee Republicans received a memo from committee Democrats threatening ethics referrals if we out the whistleblower,” Nunes said.
Nunes criticized committee chairman Schiff for not allowing questions around the whistleblower’s identity, saying that, “Republicans on this committee are left wondering how it is even possible for the chairman to block questions about a person whose identity he claims not to know.”
Schiff emphasized during Wednesday’s hearing that he had never met with the anonymous whistleblower, and earlier this week refused a Republican request for the whistleblower to testify, citing further information gathered that made this person testifying unnecessary.
Nunes also took time to read an excerpt from the transcript of the April phone call, released Friday morning, between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, highlighting portions when Trump congratulated Zelensky on his election victory and when he invited Zelensky to visit the White House.
“Now the American people know the very first call that President Trump had with Zelensky,” he said.
The impeachment inquiry is based on a second conversation Trump later had with Zelensky at the end of July.
Nunes also repeated his call from Wednesday that the hearings should be halted until Republicans had answers to questions around Hunter Biden’s connections with Ukrainian company Burisma, interactions between committee Democrats with the whistleblower, and the “full extent” of Ukrainian meddling with the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
Schiff in opening remarks claims Yovanovitch was ousted to clear path to press for politically motivated probes
Schiff claimed that the ouster of Yovanovitch by Trump and his associates was directly tied to the emergence of a shadowy foreign policy that sought to pressure Ukraine to open two politically motivated investigations.
Schiff said this “scheme” to get Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and interference in the 2016 election may have worked if William Taylor, who replaced Yovanovitch as the top diplomat to Ukraine, did not begin pushing back on such efforts to pull a foreign leader into U.S. domestic elections.
“Getting rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch helped set stage for an irregular channel that could pursue the two investigations that mattered so much to the President, the 2016 conspiracy theory, and most important, an investigation into the 2020 political opponent he apparently feared most, Joe Biden.”
“And the President’s scheme might have worked but for the fact that the man who would succeed Ambassador Yovanovitch, whom we heard from on Wednesday, acting Ambassador Taylor, would eventually discover the effort to press Ukraine into conducting these investigations and would push back hard, but for the fact that someone blew the whistle,” he continued.
Schiff, who praised Yovanovitch for doing a “remarkable job fighting corruption in Ukraine,” said she was “smeared and cast aside” because she was considered an obstacle to the furtherance of the President’s personal and political agenda.”
“The question before us is not whether Donald Trump could recall an American ambassador with a stellar reputation for fighting corruption in Ukraine, but why would he want to?” Schiff added.
Yovanovitch quietly took her seat as a clamor of cameras clicked to capture her arrival.
Shortly after she was settled, Schiff gaveled in the hearing.
There is a full front row of members of Congress, both R and D, who have come to watched the Yovanovitch hearing. pic.twitter.com/2FNwtSRHcW
— Olivia Beavers (@Olivia_Beavers) November 15, 2019
White House releases transcript of another Trump-Zelensky call
Just as the hearing was scheduled to get underway, the White House released a transcript of Trump’s first phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Trump teased over the weekend that he would likely release a transcript of the April phone call, which came before the now-infamous July 25 conversation between the two leaders that is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry in the House.
The 16-minute call is largely congratulatory and genial, as it took place on April 21, the day Zelensky won his election. The Ukrainian president invites Trump to attend his inauguration, while Trump raises the possibility of a White House visit for Zelensky.
“When you’re settled and ready, I’d like to invite you to the White House,” Trump tells Zelensky. “We’ll have lots of things to talk about, but we’re with you all the way.”
“Well, thank you for the invitation. We accept the invitation and look forward to the visit,” Zelensky replies. Trump then tells him that’s “very good.”
The conversation is likely to serve as a favorable talking point for Trump and his allies as they seek to distance the president from allegations that he pressured Zelensky to investigate a domestic political rival.
Read more about the transcript here.
Trump rails against Pelosi minutes before second impeachment hearing starts
President Trump railed against House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of wasting her time on a “witch hunt” and demanding she return to her district, which he described as a “disgusting slum.”
Trump lashed out at Pelosi in a series of early morning tweets sent minutes before House Democrats would hear from the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in the second open hearing stemming from the impeachment inquiry.
“Nervous Nancy Pelosi, who should be home cleaning up the dangerous & disgusting Slum she is making of her District in San Francisco, where even the … filth pouring into the Pacific Ocean is rapidly becoming an environmental hazard, is getting NOTHING DONE,” Trump tweeted.
“She is a Do Nothing Democrat as Speaker, and will hopefully not be in that position very long. Approve USMCA, which has been sitting on her desk for months!” Trump continued, suggesting Pelosi was delaying approving the newUnited States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
……filth pouring into the Pacific Ocean is rapidly becoming an environmental hazard, is getting NOTHING DONE. She is a Do Nothing Democrat as Speaker, and will hopefully not be in that position very long. Approve USMCA, which has been sitting on her desk for months!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
Read more about this here.
Catch up on previous coverage
The second public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump is set to get underway in two hours. Will new information come to light? Will there be any drama? Check out five things we’ll be watching for during the hearing.
If you still have time, catch up with our coverage of Wednesday’s hearing with William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a top State Department official.