WASHINGTON – Marie Yovanovitch told lawmakers she had only U.S. interests in mind while serving as ambassador to Ukraine at an impeachment inquiry hearing Friday during which President Donald Trump tweeted insults at her.
Yovanovitch, 61, also tried to dismiss debunked GOP claims that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections, and agreed that the military aid the Trump administration endorsed – and is now at the heart of the investigation – has benefited the Eastern European country in its war against Russia.
Yovanovitch, recalled as ambassador in May after falling out of Trump’s favor, is a key witness in the House impeachment inquiry into the president’s efforts to pressure the East European country to investigate his political rivals.
Not long after the hearing began, Trump began tweeting critically about Yovanovitch as she was testifying about the “smear” campaign administration officials had waged that led to her ouster in May.
The hearing lasted about five hours with Democrats trying to show that Trump removed Yovanovitch to make it easier for his allies to pursue political goals and Republicans saying U.S. policy toward Ukraine improved after Trump became president.
Here are several takeaways from Friday’s hearing:
Yovanovitch: ‘I had no agenda’
During her testimony, the ambassador tried to portray herself as a straight shooter whose top priority was carrying out U.S. priorities.
“I entered the Foreign Service understanding that my job was to implement the foreign policy interests of this nation, as defined by the President and Congress, and to do so regardless of which person or party was in power,” she told lawmakers. “I had no agenda other than to pursue our stated foreign policy goals.”
Later under questioning, Yovanovitch said she was “shocked, appalled, devastated” when she learned in September that Trump in a July 25 call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky described her as “bad news.”
She said she found the charge startling because she did nothing to undermine U.S. interests under Trump.
Trump’s tweets intimidated her
Trump has tweeted his criticism of the inquiry dozens of times since the impeachment process began several weeks ago. But his scorching tweets during Yovanovitch’s testimony took center stage at one point.
A little more than an hour into the testimony, Democratic staff displayed two of the tweets on large screens in the hearing room as Schiff read them aloud:
“I don’t think I have such powers,” Yovanovitch said when Schiff asked for her reaction to the tweets. “It’s very intimidating.”
“I want you to know that some of us here take witness intimidation very very seriously,” Schiff responded.
Lethal aid under Trump helped Ukraine
Yovanovitch described as “really positive” and “really generous” that, at the urging of the Trump administration, Congress approved hundreds of millions in military assistance.
Much of that money was for Javelins, portable anti-tank missiles.
“So if the war with Russia all of a sudden accelerated in some way and tanks come over the horizon, javelins are a very serious weapon to deal with that,” she told lawmakers when asked by Republican Counsel Steve Castor about the importance of the aid. “But really the more important issue is the symbolism of it, that the United States is providing javelins to Ukraine and that makes Ukraine’s adversaries think twice.”
The delivery of lethal aid, rejected under Obama, has been a steady talking point from Republicans who said Trump acted to help the Eastern European country in its war with Russia when the previous administration wouldn’t.
But Yovanovitch also criticized the mixed signals sent by the Trump administration’s hold-up of the aid, a 55-day period earlier this year that stretched from July 18 to Sept. 11.
“When there are questions as to whether or not our security assistance is going to go through, that kind of undermines that strong message of support,” she said.
Democrats emphasized her integrity
Much like they did with Wednesday’s witnesses, Bill Taylor and George Kent, Democrats made a point of stressing the integrity of Yovanovitch, a career diplomat whose Ukraine posting was her third stint as an ambassador.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., praised Yovanovitch during her 33 years in the State Department for earning a reputation for fighting corruption and naming names. She had arrived in the United States after her parents fled the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Schiff said. But Yovanovitch was recalled in April, despite being offered an extension of her tour by the State Department, and told President Donald Trump had lost confidence in her, Schiff said.
“It was a stunning turn of events for this highly regarded career diplomat, who had been doing such a remarkable job fighting corruption in Ukraine that a short time earlier she had been asked by the State Department to extend her tour,” Schiff said.
“All Americans are deeply in your debt,” Schiff later told her.
No evidence Ukraine meddled in 2016 elections
Yovanovitch also tried to swat down claims by Republicans that Ukraine was at the heart of a foreign interference campaign in the 2016 election aimed at hurting Trump’s election.
“Our own U.S. Intelligence Community has conclusively determined that those who interfered in the (2016) election were in Russia,” she told lawmakers.
Russia’s aggressive meddling, including its efforts to help – not hurt – Trump, was well documented in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election meddling that came out earlier this year.
Yovanovitch said that Ukrainian officials who criticized Trump during the 2016 election did not constitute a “plan or a plot” against him.
“They’re isolated incidents,” Yovanovitch said.
Republicans: inquiry elbowing out priorities
Echoing a familiar mantra, Republicans said the impeachment inquiry is stymieing Congress’ work on a range of issues including trade agreements and avoiding a government shutdown.
“It’s unfortunate that today and for most of next week we will continue engaging in the Democrats’ day-long TV spectacles instead of solving the problems we were all sent to Washington to address,” California Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, said.
“We now have a major trade agreement with Canada and Mexico ready for approval, a deal that would create jobs and boost our economy,” he continued. “Meanwhile, we have not yet approved funding for the government, which expires next week. along with funding for our men and women in uniform. Instead, the Democrats have convened us once again to advance their operation to topple a duly elected president.”
Democrats who control the House say the criticism is hollow considering the House has passed – and keeps passing – important legislation, such as bills to help veterans, that the GOP-run Senate refuses to take up.
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the impeachment inquiry isn’t stopping the House from working on trade agreements, prescription drug prices and efforts to keep the government open.
“So as I say, we legislate. We investigate … But we litigate,” she told reporters Thursday.
U.S. foreign to Ukraine improved under Trump
Contributing: Bart Jansen, Nicholas Wu, Jeanine Santucci, Courtney Subramanian