Overnight Defense: Ex-Ukraine ambassador offers dramatic day of testimony | Talks of 'crisis' at State Department | Trump tweets criticism of envoy during hearing | Dems warn against 'witness intimidation' | Trump defends his 'freedom of speech'

Overnight Defense: Ex-Ukraine ambassador offers dramatic day of testimony | Talks of 'crisis' at State Department | Trump tweets criticism of envoy during hearing | Dems warn against 'witness intimidation' | Trump defends his 'freedom of speech'
© Aaron Schwartz

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchSenate confirms Trump's Russia ambassador The State Department: Nonpartisan service on behalf of America Nunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records MORE testified Friday at the second of the House's public hearings for the impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE.

The Hill again kept a live blog, so catch up on the entire hearing here.

And here are some of Friday's highlights...

Yovanovitch's opening: In her opening statement, Yovanovitch described a "crisis" at the State Department, voicing concern that the agency's failure to protect foreign service officials who faced attacks for their work overseas put U.S. interests at risk.

Yovanovitch, who privately testified to House investigators last month, described a smear campaign led by Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiDOJ releases memos backing Trump immunity claims ahead of impeachment vote Giuliani to Trump after Ukraine trip: I got 'more than you can imagine' Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' MORE, corrupt Ukrainian officials and disreputable media figures who successfully facilitated her removal as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May.

"[T]he 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.

"This not a time to undercut our diplomats," she emphasized.

Yovanovitch also painted her removal as a "dangerously wrong" precedent in which private interests can remove an American diplomat is who seeking to faithfully carry out U.S. foreign policy.

"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."

Trump attack: While the hearing was underway, Trump tweeted out harsh criticism of the former ambassador.

Trump asserted that "everywhere" Yovanovitch served "turned bad," adding 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 later defended sending out the tweet after Democrats and Yovanovitch called it intimidating.

"I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech just like other people do," Trump told reporters at the White House after making remarks on a health care initiative, adding that he's "allowed to speak up" if others are speaking about him.

Pressed whether his words can be intimidating, Trump said no.

"I don't think so at all," he said.

Yovanovitch's response: Minutes after Trump sent out the tweet, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSupreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote McConnell, White House lawyer huddle on impeachment strategy MORE (D-Calif.) gave Yovanovitch the opportunity to respond during the hearing.

"It's very intimidating," Yovanovitch said. "I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating."

In her remarks, Yovanovitch, who spoke in a calm, measured tone throughout her testimony, said the president was prescribing powers to her that she did not realize she had.

"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."

Democratic response: House Democrats wasted no time Friday saying Trump's real-time Twitter attack on Yovanovitch was more evidence of presidential misconduct.

"The president in real time is engaging in witness intimidation and witness tampering," an exasperated Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierPelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers Speier to call on IG investigation into Navy chief's firing Nunes faces potential ethics review over alleged meeting with Ukrainian official MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters during a break in the hearing with Marie Yovanovitch, 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."

Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyDemocrats vow court victories won't slow impeachment timeline Most US birds are facing extinction unless we take action Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' 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 SwalwellLive coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Lawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests MORE (D-Calif.), a member of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Sherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Turf war derails push on surprise medical bills | Bill would tax e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaign | .5M ad blitz backs vulnerable Dems on drug prices 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."

Long day: After about six hours – including an hour or so break for votes – Yovanovitch's hearing wrapped up. Audience members and some Democratic lawmakers broke into applause, as she wrapped up her testimony.

After the hearing, lawmakers had a closed-door deposition scheduled with David Holmes, the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

William Taylor, the chargé d'affaires for Ukraine, testified Wednesday that a staffer since identified as Holmes overheard Trump asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandConservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' Democrat suggests Republicans took acting classes based on ability to 'suspend disbelief' Gaetz: We didn't impeach Obama even though 'a lot of constituents' think he abused his power MORE about "investigations" former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Media organization fights Trump administration over Ukraine documents FOIA Buttigieg releases list of campaign bundlers MORE and his son in a July phone call.

 

Click here for six memorable moments from Ex-Ukraine ambassador Yovanovitch's public testimony.

 

MEANWHILE IN KOREA: Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week Top Pentagon official announces resignation, second within week Hillicon Valley: Pentagon pushes back on Amazon lawsuit | Lawmakers dismiss Chinese threat to US tech companies | YouTube unveils new anti-harassment policy | Agencies get annual IT grades MORE was in South Korea on Friday as part of his swing through Asia.

There, he pressed the administration's case for South Korea to pay a larger share of the cost the basing U.S. troops there.

"This is a very strong alliance we have, but Korea is a wealthy country and could and should pay more to help offset the cost of defense," Esper said at a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart.

The United States has about 28,500 troops in South Korea. The so-called Special Measures Agreement, signed at the beginning of the year, sees South Korea paying $920 million. That's less than Trump originally wanted for the current deal, but in exchange, the agreement was only for one year instead of the typical five years.

How much more?: Esper told reporters on the plane ride to South Korea the administration has asked for a "significant increase" in the amount South Korea pays, but wouldn't specify a number.

CNN, citing a congressional aide and an administration official, said Trump has asked for a nearly 400 percent increase to $4.7 billion in the new cost-sharing deal.

North Korea vs. Biden: North Korea been angsty about joint U.S.-South Korean military drills even though the United States already scaled them in an effort to make space for diplomacy.

On Friday, North Korea's ire also turned toward Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The official Korean Central News Agency called the former vice president a "rabid dog" that should be put down.

KCNA hit Biden over his age, saying the 76-year-old is in "the final stage of dementia" and that the "time has come for him to depart his life."

"It was the last-ditch efforts of the rabid dog expediting his death," KCNA said in a commentary. "Rabid dogs like Baiden [sic] can hurt lots of people if they are allowed to run about. They must be beaten to death with a stick, before it is too late."

Biden responded by saying he will wear insults from North Korea "as a badge of honor."

"It seems that murderous dictator Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnDemocrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Protesters destroy portraits of US ambassador in South Korea North Korea accuses US of 'hostile provocation' in missile test criticism MORE doesn't like me. Add him to the list of autocrats who don't want me to be president -- right next to Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinSenate confirms Trump's Russia ambassador Trump is right to shake up NATO Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? MORE," Biden said in a statement released by his campaign. "I wear their insults as a badge of honor."

 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

Gen. John Raymond, commander of U.S. Space Command, will speak at 8:30 a.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://bit.ly/2QnvgLi

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Esper: Pentagon contract fairly awarded to Microsoft over Amazon

-- The Hill: Yovanovitch says John Solomon's columns were used to push false allegations

-- Associated Press: Ukraine feels abandoned amid US impeachment drama

-- CNN: Trump asked the Pentagon to explore trench on the border, Pentagon advised against it

-- The Wall Street Journal: U.S. threatens Egypt with sanctions over Russian arms deal