Friday 6 December 2019

Trump launches Twitter attack on witness as she's giving testimony

Donald Trump tweeted during Ms Yovanovitch’s testimony. Picture: Reuters
Donald Trump tweeted during Ms Yovanovitch’s testimony. Picture: Reuters

Susan Cornwell

US President Donald Trump launched a Twitter attack on a former US ambassador to Ukraine yesterday while she was testifying to an impeachment hearing in Congress, in an extraordinary moment that Democrats said amounts to witness intimidation.

Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, was explaining to the second day of televised impeachment hearings how she fought corruption in Ukraine and how the Trump administration pulled her back to Washington abruptly earlier this year.

Democrats say her removal was aimed at clearing the way for Trump allies to persuade Ukraine to launch corruption investigations into Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

As Ms Yovanovitch testified, Mr Trump fired off his criticism on Twitter, a move Democrats labelled "real-time" witness intimidation.

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"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?" Mr Trump asked.

In the most dramatic moment of the impeachment hearings that began on Wednesday, Adam Schiff, the Democrat chairing the hearing in the House Intelligence Committee, asked Ms Yovanovitch for her reaction to the tweet. She said it was "very intimidating". "I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating," she said.

Mr Schiff replied: "Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously."

Ms Yovanovitch told the impeachment hearing of the "big threat" she felt upon being ousted from her post and learning that Mr Trump had denounced her in a phone call with Ukraine's president.

The hearing before the House Intelligence Committee heard that in the call in July, Mr Trump criticised Ms Yovanovitch as "bad news" and said she was "going to go through some things".

Ms Yovanovitch claimed there was a "smear campaign" against her by Mr Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others, including the president's son, Donald Trump Jr, before she was fired. She told the politicians her sudden removal had played into the hands of "shady interests the world over" with dangerous intentions towards the US.

She recalled that as she had read the White House's rough transcript of Mr Trump's conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, another person said "the colour drained from my face".

Her removal is one of several events at the centre of the impeachment effort. "These events should concern everyone in this room," the 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."

She denied the accusations against her, including that she favoured Democrat Hillary Clinton over Mr Trump in the 2016 election and that she circulated a "Do Not Prosecute" list to the former top prosecutor in Ukraine.

Mr Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the panel, opened the day's hearing 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".

Irish Independent

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