Yovanovitch impeachment testimony gives burst of momentum to Democrats

Democrats’ impeachment inquiry received a boost of momentum from the Friday testimony of Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchNunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records Inventing the 'Deep State' and draining the real one Washington state Democrat announces retirement MORE, who faced public attacks by President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE as she detailed in personal terms how a shadowy smear campaign successfully led to her removal as the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine.

In a moment that would’ve been perfect for television split screens, Yovanovitch was in the midst of describing the “terrible” feeling of learning she was being abruptly recalled from Kyiv when Trump issued a tweet attacking her diplomatic record, describing her as having a reverse-Midas touch when it came to foreign policy.

“Honestly, after 33 years to our country — it was terrible, it was not the way I wanted my career to end,” Yovanovitch testified during the second public impeachment inquiry, shaking her head and closing her eyes as she recalled the moment. 

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The president’s jab that “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad” not only added to the sympathy that a career foreign officer was being bullied by the most powerful leader of the free world, but it also sparked claims among Democrats that Trump was seeking to intimidate the witness.

Shortly after the tweet was issued, House Intelligence Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Top Republican: Democrats' weekend document dump shows impeachment inquiry is a 'farce' Nunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records MORE (D-Calif.) offered Yovanovitch the opportunity to respond.

“It’s very intimidating,” Yovanovitch said in response. “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.”

Trump, who later denied seeking to intimidate her, challenged her 33 years in public service.

“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.

He later defended his free speech right to criticize the former ambassador.

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While soft-spoken, Yovanovitch offered her own defense to GOP lawmakers who said Trump had a right to pick his own ambassadors.

“I obviously don't dispute that the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time for any reason, but I do wonder why it was necessary to smear my reputation also,” Yovanovitch said.

The public attack incensed Democrats, who railed over how Yovanovitch was not only dismissed unceremoniously, but also publicly degraded.

Rep. Denny HeckDennis (Denny) Lynn HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE (D-Wash.) 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.”

“I am angry, but I'm not surprised,” he said.

The attacks gave Democrats fresh ammunition in their impeachment inquiry, touching off claims that they amounted to witness intimidation. 

“I would counsel the president's counsel to provide him with the advice that he is nearing the run of the mill witness intimidation,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death MORE (D-Texas), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. "As a lawyer and a former municipal court judge, it left me speechless.”

Still, while Democrats harnessed the moment, the testimony did not advance their allegations that the president abused his power by pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open two investigations that would benefit him politically.

Some Democrats did argue that Trump and his associates viewed Yovanovitch as an obstacle they needed to remove in order to pave the way for Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiNunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records Meadows: 'I don't see a single Republican defecting on impeachment' Inventing the 'Deep State' and draining the real one MORE’s push for investigations by Kyiv, but this line of questioning was not heavily pursued on Wednesday. Others described this as the start of a shadowy Ukraine foreign policy. 

Republicans and the White House cast Yovanovitch’s testimony as irrelevant, saying she had no information to offer about the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky at the center of the impeachment inquiry, which happened the same day she was dismissed.

“This is to me almost completely irrelevant,” said GOP Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryBillboards calling on House Republicans to 'do their job' follow members home for Thanksgiving Yovanovitch impeachment testimony gives burst of momentum to Democrats House Republicans prepare for public impeachment proceedings with mock hearing MORE (Pa.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who took part in the private depositions. 

“There is a narrative that [Democrats] want to proffer here and she is being used for that,” said Perry, who attended the hearing. He did say that Yovanovitch “presents a very professional case.”

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The career official, who simultaneously came off as both composed and hurt by Trump’s actions, made the previously fact-focused impeachment hearings feel personal.

When asked how she felt after reading the July 25 phone call, in which Trump described her career as “bad news” to a foreign leader, Yovanovitch said the “color drained from my face.”

“I think I even had a physical reaction,” she testified, adding that “even now words kind of fail me.”

“I was shocked, absolutely shocked, and devastated frankly,” Yovanovitch told the Democratic counsel. 

She also described dismay that Giuliani, associates of the president, corrupt Ukrainian representatives and disreputable media figures could join together and successfully remove an American ambassador because they do not like, as she testified, her anti-corruption efforts.

“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,” Yovanovitch said in her opening remarks. “How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?”

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Yovanovitch’s testimony also came after Democrats were riding the rush from the public testimonies of William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine who replaced Yovanovitch, and senior State Department official George Kent.

Taylor laid out new details on Wednesday that tied Trump closer to an alleged effort to leverage security assistance and a White House meeting to press Ukraine for politically motivated investigations. 

Kent, whose testimony supported those of Taylor and Yovanovitch, told House investigators last month that the president’s personal lawyer carried out a “campaign of lies” in order to oust Yovanovitch.

Trump has denied there was any quid pro quo in his interactions with Ukraine, and on Thursday and Friday highlighted reported comments from Ukraine’s foreign minister that Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandSchiff: Impeachment testimony shows Trump 'doesn't give a shit' about what's good for the country The Memo: Will impeachment hurt Democrats or Trump? Trump vs. 130 years of civil service MORE, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, did not explicitly link military aid to Ukraine investigations into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: Buttigieg 'doesn't have significant black support even in his own city' Biden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE and interference in the 2016 elections.

But House Democrats are hoping to unravel such claims. They face high stakes next week, as the House Intelligence Committee prepares to question eight witnesses over the course of three days. 

They include Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanImpeachment sets up Ukrainian Americans for 2020 political role Director of National Intelligence Maguire should stand for the whistleblower Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings MORE, a first-hand witness to Trump’s July call with Zelensky, and Sondland, who will face lawmakers for the first time since correcting his testimony to acknowledge that he “presumed” aid to Ukraine had been conditioned on Kyiv making a public statement about investigations. 

Sondland will also be asked to address new allegations furnished by Taylor on Wednesday about a phone call he had with Trump a day after the Zelensky call during which the president asked about “investigations.” Trump, however, has denied knowledge of the call and sought to distance himself from Sondland.