President Trump injected himself into the House impeachment hearing on Friday, tweeting an attack on ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch mid-hearing — prompting House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D – Calif.) to suggest that the tweet amounted to “witness tampering.”
Asked about the president’s tweets — including the unsubstantiated statement that “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad” — Yovanovitch told Schiff that she found the statements “very intimidating.”
Schiff had read her the tweets aloud during her testimony, noting, “As we sit here testifying, the president is attacking you on Twitter and I’d like to give you a chance to respond.” He read parts of this tweet: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. 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.”
Asked about her three decades of service as a diplomat for five presidents, Yovanovitch said she didn’t think she had “such powers” and added that she felt she had improved the situation in every country where she had served. “I actually think that where I’ve served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better, for the U.S., as well as for the countries that I’ve served in,” she said.
The former ambassador admitted the tweets are “very intimidating,” to which Schiff, himself a frequent recipient of Trump’s Twitter ire, responded, “It’s designed to intimidate, is it not?”
She demurred, noting she couldn’t speak to the president’s intentions, only the effects of his actions.
“Well,” said Schiff, “I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”
Republicans seemed blindsided by Trump’s intrusion into the hearing. Former federal prosecutor and Fox News commentator Ken Starr called Trump’s tweet “extraordinary poor judgment,” adding, “The president exacerbated the situation with his unwise interjection.”
During her testimony, Yovanovitch also described what she called a “smear campaign” against her by allies of Trump, including his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, that went on during the spring before her abrupt removal as ambassador. She said that the State Department had been primed to release a statement in her defense, but never did out of fear of reprisal via a tweet from the president.
“So let me see if I get this right,” Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman said. “You were one of the most senior diplomats in the State Department. You’ve been there for 33 years. You’ve won numerous awards. You’ve been appointed as an ambassador three times, by both Republican and Democratic presidents. And the State Department would not issue a statement in support of you against false allegations because they were concerned about a tweet from the President of the United States?”
“That’s my understanding,” she agreed.