WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch opened the second day of Trump impeachment hearings Friday declaring that her abrupt removal by President Donald Trump’s administration played into the hands of “shady interests the world over” with dangerous intentions toward the United States.
Yovanovitch told the House Intelligence Committee of a concerted “smear” campaign against her by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others. Her removal is one of several events at the centre of the impeachment effort.
“These events should concern everyone in this room,” the career diplomat testified in opening remarks. “Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want.”
The daughter of immigrants who fled the former Soviet Union and Nazi German, she described a 33-year career, including three tours as an ambassador to some of the world’s tougher postings, before arriving in Ukraine in 2016. She was forced out in April 2019.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the panel, opened day’s hearing praising Yovanovitch, saying she was “too tough on corruption for some, and her principled stance made her enemies.”
It became clear, he said, “President Trump wanted her gone.”
The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, bemoaned the hearings as a “daylong TV spectacle.”
Nunes complained that Democrats are relying on hearsay testimony from witnesses who only know of Trump’s actions second-hand. He also pressed to hear from the still anonymous government whistleblower who first alerted officials about President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukraine that is in question. “These hearings should not be occurring at all,” he said.
Just as the hearing was opening, the White House released its rough transcript of an earlier call Trump had with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that was largely congratulatory.
Nunes read that transcript aloud. In it, Trump mentioned his experience with the Miss Universe pageant in Ukraine and invited Zelenskiy to the White House. He closed with, “See you very soon.”
Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, who has served both Republican and Democratic presidents, relayed her striking story of being told to “watch my back” and then being suddenly recalled by Trump in a swiftly developing series of events that sounded alarms about a White House shadow foreign policy.
In particular, Yovanovitch and others have described Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, as leading an “irregular channel” outside the diplomatic mainstream of U.S.-Ukraine relations. Asked during an earlier, closed-door deposition if anyone at the State Department who was alerted to Giuliani’s role tried to stop him, she testified, “I don’t think they felt they could.”
The White House has instructed officials not to comply with the probe, and most have been issued subpoenas to appear.
She and other officials now testifying publicly are providing accounts that Democrats are relying on to make the case that the president’s behaviour was impeachable.
With the start of a second day of hearings to consider removal of America’s 45th president, Democrats and Republicans were both hardening their messages to voters.
Americans are deeply entrenched in two camps over impeachment, resulting in a mounting political battle that will further test the nation in one of the most polarizing eras of modern times.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Trump’s actions toward Ukraine amount to “bribery.”
Trump repeatedly assails the proceedings as a “hoax” and a “sham” and says he did nothing wrong.
Get more of the Star in your inbox
Never miss the latest news from the Star. Sign up for our newsletters to get today’s top stories, your favourite columnists and lots more in your inbox
The impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump’s July phone call with Zelenskiy that first came to attention when an anonymous government whistleblower filed a complaint.
In the phone conversation, Trump asked for a “favour,” according to an account provided by the White House. He wanted an investigation of Democrats and 2020 rival Joe Biden. Later it was revealed that the administration was withholding military aid from Ukraine at the time.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Laurie Kellman, Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.