Impeachment witnesses come under threats, harassment
Two weeks of public testimony has revealed new, damaging details of the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine, but witnesses who come before Congress and the American people have had to pay a price.
Witnesses have endured harassment, threats and attacks on their personal character as they are suddenly thrust into public view.
Those who’ve given testimony have described such incidents in both closed and open hearings during the impeachment inquiry detailing their experiences related to the Ukraine scandal.
President Trump himself has tweeted negatively about some of the witnesses, calling them “Never Trumpers,” knocking the quality of their service and questioning their loyalty.
Notably, he tweeted about former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom he removed from her post in May, while she testified.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” he wrote. “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.”
Yovanovitch described the tweet as “very intimidating,” saying, “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.”
Democrats accused Trump of engaging in witness intimidation with the tweet, and it’s possible his comments could be used in an article of impeachment.
Trump has defended the tweet, saying, “I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech just like other people do.”
Yovanovitch is not the only witness who has come under criticism from the White House.
The White House also tweeted a quote questioning the judgment and loyalty of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council Ukraine specialist, during his public testimony, and Trump previously called Vindman a “Never Trumper witness” on the day of his closed-door testimony.
An aide to Vice President Pence, Jennifer Williams, was also called a “Never Trumper” by the president. She and Vindman both pushed back.
Williams testified that while she did not know the “official definition” of a “Never Trumper,” she would not describe herself that way and “was not expecting to be called out by that name.”
Attacks from the president on Twitter have raised alarms and criticism in the past from people who say they can put the subjects he is targeting in danger.
The Army has taken steps to keep Vindman safe, an official told The Wall Street Journal. Officials told the paper the Army is ready to move him and his family onto a military base if they are in danger.
Former White House national security official Fiona Hill testified that she is facing online harassment and doxxing amid the widely tweeted hearings.
“We’re constantly having to block Twitter posts of my name and address on the internet. We’ve been doing this over the last couple days,” Hill testified Thursday.
“We have to find ways of combating this, and, again, this gets back, sadly, to things that our adversaries can also exploit,” she added.
Hill also testified that she and other officials have been the target of conspiracy theories, some of which are anti-semitic, involving philanthropist George Soros.
While Hill said she’d been the subject of such abuse before the impeachment hearings, she made it clear things have gotten worse.
“My entire first year of my tenure at the National Security Council was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories, which has started again, frankly, as it ‘s been announced that I’ve been giving this deposition, accusing me of being a Soros mole in the White House, of colluding with all kinds of enemies of the President and, you know, of various improprieties,” she said during her closed-door testimony.
Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a prominent GOP donor who gave $1 million for Trump’s inauguration, has become a central figure in the impeachment probe. In some of the most stunning testimony to date, Sondland and other witnesses have discussed a July 26 call he took from the president in which Trump pressed for investigations by Ukraine of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Sondland has come under criticism from the right and the left as he’s been in headlines about impeachment.
Asked during his testimony this week whether he or his businesses had received any threats or reprisals due to his sudden prominence, Sondland testified that there were “many.”
“We have countless emails apparently to my wife. Our properties are being picketed and boycotted,” he said.
His hotels have also been targeted through online reviews. One Yelp user wrote about a Boston property, “If you’re looking for a hotel owned by a Trump supporter who gave the campaign a million dollars in exchange for an ambassadorship that he’s unqualified for so he can extort foreign leaders into attacking fellow Americans, look no further,” according to The Daily Beast.
The current and former officials have testified as part of the impeachment inquiry after an anonymous whistleblower raised alarms about a call in which President Trump asked Ukraine’s president to look into the Bidens.
The whistleblower’s attorney Mark Zaid has warned that his client’s anonymity should be protected and criticized some some members of Congress who he said have sought to “intimidate” and “harm” his client, in part by making the whistleblower’s name public.
Trump himself encouraged the media to name the person, saying earlier this month that it would be “doing the public a service.”
“I watched today’s hearing & repeatedly heard Members criticize & belittle significance of hearsay info. Yet same Members pushed to subpoena #whistleblower who they complain only has second hand info. #hypocrisy,” Zaid tweeted this month.
“Only reason is to intimidate & harm,” he added.