It’s fun to speculate how Marie Yovanovitch’s House impeachment testimony would have played out had President Trump not trash-tweeted the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine during the hearing.
My guess is that Republicans would still have been unable to counter her poised account of how she was ousted because of a smear campaign instigated by Trump’s lawyer and television pitchman Rudolph W. Giuliani.
They still would have had to contend with the fact that there is no innocuous explanation for the way this experienced diplomat was treated. Certainly, as she made clear, she wasn’t a dissenter from the Trump administration’s official policy of shoring up Ukraine’s defenses against Russian aggression and infiltration.
The Republicans would have harped, as they did anyway, on the trivial truth that — as Yovanovitch conceded — the president has the right to recall and replace any ambassador. And we probably still would have heard from Republicans that the Trump administration provided lethal aid to Ukraine that the Obama administration had refused to approve, that corruption is endemic in Ukraine and that Hunter Biden created an appearances problem when he served on the board of a controversial Ukrainian energy firm at a time when his father was vice president.
Finally, Rep. Jim Jordan, the pit-bull Republican from Ohio, still would have gotten his shirtsleeves in a twist about how various Ukrainian officials had criticized candidate Donald Trump — presumably to show that Trump had good reason to believe that it was Ukrainians, not Russians, who interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Because Trump would never criticize any other country’s politicians! Oh, wait.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” the president said. “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.”
With one tweet, Trump guaranteed that Republicans at the hearing would be playing defense — and would be obliged to heap praise on Yovanovitch’s service to the country even if they didn’t mean it.
This was a gift for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who presided over the hearing. He solemnly informed Yovanovitch that the president who sacked her was defaming her as she was doing her duty to testify before Congress. Then Schiff sententiously said: “We saw today witness intimidation in real time.”
It may be a reach to argue that Trump’s thuggish tweet violated the federal witness-tampering statute. But it certainly can be considered by the House when it gets around to drawing up articles of impeachment.
As evidence, Yovanovitch’s testimony may be less relevant to a potential impeachment case than that of other witnesses, such as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who reportedly told a U.S. embassy staffer that Trump cared more about the “investigations of Biden” than he did about U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
Still, Yovanovitch’s testimony raised doubts about Trump’s character and motives that were hugely amplified by Trump’s thuggish tweet. Nice work, Mr. President.