Trump Engages in Witness Intimidation as Yovanovitch Testifies

Perhaps fortuitously or perhaps by design, the House of Representatives scheduled votes on Friday morning that were timed perfectly to allow the Democrats to question former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and then make the Republicans wait to offer their counter-examination. This added power to Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony as the initial news coverage wasn’t balanced by right-wing talking points or rebuttals.  It seems that Nancy Pelosi is a master conductor.

The single most riveting moment of the morning was the discussion of Donald Trump’s July 25 call with President Zelensky in which he said that Ms. Yovanovitch was a bad person who was surrounded by bad people and that some presumably bad “things” were going to happen to her.

Trump in the call suggested the ambassador was bad at her job and said, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.”

“I didn’t know what to think, but I was very concerned,” Yovanovitch said.

“What were you concerned about?” asked a Democratic attorney.

“It didn’t sound good. It sounded like a threat,” she said.

“Did you feel threatened?” asked the attorney.

“I did,” she said, later adding: “It felt like a vague threat, so I wondered what that meant. … It concerned me.”

But Trump did himself no good by making the decision to trash Yovanovitch on Twitter even as she was testifying.

This wasn’t received well even on Fox News:

In fact, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff paused the hearing to read Ms. Yovanovitch the content of this tweet and get her reaction.

Yovanovitch listened, her face stoic, as Schiff read the president’s words blaming her for things going badly in places where she served.

“Well I, I don’t think I have such powers,” she said. “I actually think where I’ve served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. and the countries I served in.”

Yovanovitch said when the president tweets about her, it’s “very intimidating.”

Schiff responded, “It’s designed to intimidate.”

“I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating,” she said.
“Some of us here take witness intimidation very seriously,” Schiff said.

The result was that Trump effectively interjected himself as a witness for the prosecution, although the House proceeding is technically still in the investigatory phase. As Chairman Schiff noted, the tweet could arguably be considered witness tampering or intimidation and form the basis for another article of impeachment. This is why Kenneth Starr, the prosector who went after Bill Clinton for Whitewater only to settle for a packet of smut about furtive trysts with an intern, told Fox News viewers that Trump had made a very bad mistake.

Even if none of this had happened on Friday morning, Yovanovitch’s testimony would have served as a powerful rationale for removing the president.

The circumstances of her removal, the smearing of her good name, the president’s private assessment of her in a call with the Ukrainian president, and the precedent it set for other foreign service officers were all discussed in way that demanded strong disapproval of Trump’s actions.

It was not a good morning for the president or his supporters.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com