Democrats say Trump tweet is 'witness intimidation,' fuels impeachment push

House Democrats wasted no time Friday saying President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE’s real-time Twitter attack on a top U.S. diplomat — as she was testifying on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — was more evidence of presidential misconduct as they charge ahead with their impeachment probe. 

“The president in real time is engaging in witness intimidation and witness tampering,” an exasperated Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierAir Force documents acknowledged 'persistent' racial bias in justice system HHS watchdog says actions should be free from political interference Five factors influencing when the House returns MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters during a break in the hearing with 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, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was removed abruptly in May.

“I don’t know how much more egregious it has to get before the American people are going to recognize we have someone in the White House who conducts himself in a criminal manner on a day-to-day basis.”

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Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyDemocrats call for probe into ouster of State Dept. watchdog Bipartisan lawmakers call for global 'wet markets' ban amid coronavirus crisis EPA defends suspension of pollution monitoring in letter to Congress MORE (D-Ill.), another member of the Intelligence Committee, described the tweet as "real-time intimidation" and suggested it could become a part of articles of impeachment against Trump.

“I think it speaks for itself,” he said. “Everything the president does, from obstruction to intimidation, becomes part of the record. And we’ll decide later — or not — whether it’s part of the articles.”

Other Intelligence Committee Democrats said Trump’s intimidation tactics are simply evidence of his guilt. 

“Innocent people don’t intimidate witnesses. Guilty people do,” Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellGloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California Grenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump visits a ventilator plant in a battleground state MORE (D-Calif.), a member of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE’s (D-Calif.) leadership team. “It should be considered for obstruction. It’s evidence of more obstruction, intimidating the witness, tampering with the witness’s testimony.

“But it really goes to his guilt ...  Innocent people just don’t do this.”

Yovanovitch is the third witness to appear publicly this week before the Intelligence Committee, which is investigating whether Trump abused his office by pressing foreign leaders in Kyiv to find dirt on his domestic political adversaries.

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Roughly an hour into her testimony, Trump took to Twitter to portray the respected 33-year veteran of the foreign service as ineffective and incompetent. The president appeared to suggest Yovanovitch was responsible for the 1993 botched military raid in Mogadishu, Somalia, that killed 19 American soldiers. 

The ambassador was in Somalia during her first tour abroad in the mid-1980s, Yovanovitch testified Friday, but she was in Moscow in 1993.

“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,” Trump tweeted. 

“It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, read the tweet aloud during the hearing, then asked Yovanovitch for her reaction to the claims. 

It was, she said, “very intimidating.”

Schiff then suggested Democrats would keep the episode in mind as they weigh whether to draft impeachment articles. 

“I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,” he said. 

Even some Republicans on the Intelligence panel expressed uneasiness about the president’s real-time attacks on Yovanovitch.

Asked if the tweets amounted to witness intimidation, Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLive coverage: Democrats, Republicans seek to win PR battle in final House impeachment hearing Laughter erupts at hearing after Democrat fires back: Trump 'has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis' Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill: “I am not a lawyer. It’s not something I would do.”

A reporter for The Hill asked Conaway if he would advise the president to stop tweeting about Yovanovitch.

“Again, he does not take a lot of advice from me, but it’s not something I would do,” Conaway replied.

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But Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate MORE (R-Ohio) defended Trump, saying the president was only venting justified frustrations in response to Democratic attacks he deemed inherently unfair.  

"Look, the president has been frustrated with this relentless attack on him by the Democrats that started even before he was president," he said. "So I think the American people can relate to the frustration of Democrats starting in July of 2016 with their crazy investigation, and now they move into this."

Jordan also said Trump's tweets attacking Yovanovitch could not constitute witness intimidation since she was testifying at the time and couldn't possibly have seen the message. 

"The witness is testifying, she wouldn't even know about the [tweet]," Jordan said.

Democrats viewed the interaction very differently, noting that Yovanovitch, though recalled to Washington, is still employed by Trump’s State Department. 

“He’s still her boss,” said Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesDemocrats debate how and when to get House back in action Democrats get assurances from Cuccinelli on immigrants, coronavirus care Gaetz wears gas mask on House floor during vote on bill to fight coronavirus MORE (D-Conn.), another Intelligence Committee member. “So it’s clear witness intimidation.”