Key takeaways from Day 2 of impeachment hearings
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch walks into the hearing room following a break as she testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in the second public impeachment hearing of U.S. President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
WASHINGTON -- Day Two of the House impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald Trump featured a career diplomat with a soft voice and a powerful story.
Marie Yovanovitch, under questioning from the Democrats, said she felt threatened by the president as she detailed the story of being abruptly recalled from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Some key takeaways from Yovanovitch's testimony:
POLITICAL IS PERSONAL
This was no staid, bureaucratic tale told by a distant and removed narrator.
Yovanovitch's account was, instead, deeply personal, colored with outrage over having been "knee-capped" by lies and her abrupt recall from a country about whose fate she cared deeply. After a "smear campaign" she said involved Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and was amplified by cable news hosts and the president's oldest son, Donald, Jr., she was directed in April 2019 to come back to Washington on the next plane because she no longer had the confidence of the president.
"I remain disappointed that the (State) Department's leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong," Yovanovitch said.
She said professional public servants serve U.S. interests regardless of who occupies the White House, and she invoked the diplomats who were killed in the 2012 Benghazi attacks, tortured in captivity in Iran, and injured in mysterious attacks in Cuba.
"We honour these individuals. They represent each one of you here -- and every American. These courageous individuals were attacked because they symbolized America," she said.
Yovanovitch left no doubt that she interpreted some of the Trump's cryptic comments about her -- "she's going to go through some things," among them -- in the most chilling way.
"It didn't sound good," she said. "It sounded like a threat."
The effect of the president's comments, she said, "is very intimidating" and not just for her but for others who might be inclined to publicly attack corruption.
To which Democrat Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, responded: "Well, I want to let you know, Ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously."
TRUMP SMEARS THE WITNESS
He would be too busy to watch, said the White House.
He'd tune into an opening statement delivered by the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes, but spend the rest of the day "working hard for the American people," Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
Instead, Trump responded to the hearing in real time, castigating Yovanovitch by tweet as she testified about her poor treatment by Trump and his administration.
"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," tweeted Trump, pointing to the time she spent in war-torn Somalia and in Ukraine, where Trump said "the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavourably about her."
He also defended his decision to pull her from her post, arguing the U.S. president has an "absolute right to appoint ambassadors" who serve "at the pleasure of the President."
Schiff read Trump's tweet to Yovanovitch and suggested it was part of a campaign of "witness intimidation."
Yovanovitch described the president's attacks as "very intimidating."
`WERE YOU INVOLVED?'
Republicans avoided impugning her character. They mostly steered clear, too, of challenging her decades-long career in diplomacy.
Instead, the questioning from Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, and Steve Castor, the GOP chief investigative counsel, appeared aimed at blunting the impact of her testimony by getting her to concede the key events and discussions she was not part of -- including the fact that she had not spoken to Trump for all of 2019.
Were you involved, Nunes asked at one point, in the July 25th phone call between Trump and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy or in the preparations for it? No, I was not, Yovanovitch replied.
How about, he asked, the deliberations over the "pause" in military aid to Ukraine as the U.S. reviewed the new president's "commitment to corruption reforms?" Were you involved in that?
"For the delay?" she asked
"For the pause," Nunes pointedly replied
"No," Yovanovitch, conceded, "I was not."