The White House fired back at House Democrats on Friday after President Trump’s tweets about former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch were called “witness intimidation” by Democratic members of the lower chamber during the impeachment inquiry.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” the president tweeted in the morning in response to the former ambassador’s testimony before Congress.
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. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
....They call it “serving at the pleasure of the President.” The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First! With all of that, however, I have done FAR more for Ukraine than O.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
The tweets provoked outrage from Democrats.
“Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,” said House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-CA).
“Witness intimidation is a crime,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“It’s very intimidating,” Yovanovitch herself said of the tweets.
But the White house pushed back against the intimidation accusations in a statement by Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham:
The tweet was not witness intimidation, it was simply the President’s opinion, which he is entitled to. This is not a trial, it is a partisan political process — or to put it more accurately, a totally illegitimate, charade stacked against the President. There is less due process in this hearing than any such event in the history of our country. It’s a true disgrace.
Yovanovitch was a longtime State Department official who served as ambassador to Krygzstan and Armenia before becoming ambassador to Ukraine under President Obama in 2016.
In a transcript of the phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, the American president called Yovanovitch “bad news.”
“It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%,” Zelensky concurred during the call. “Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.”
Democrats’ case for impeachment hinges on the accusation that President Trump asked Zelensky to “interfere in an American election” by requesting that he investigate the dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter with the corrupt Ukrainian firm Burisma.
Democrats have accused the president of quid pro quo for allegedly tying military aid to Ukraine to Zelensky’s compliance with the Biden investigation.
However, the transcript does not show that President Trump pressured the foreign leader in the way the anonymous whistleblower that began the impeachment proceedings claims. Zelensky has said “no one pushed [him]” about the issue.
A transcript of an April, 2019 phone call between the two heads of state released by the White House on Friday was also free of fuel for Democrats’ accusations. It largely contains pleasantries, with President Trump assuring Zelensky that he would send a representative of the U.S. to the Ukrainian leader’s inauguration.
“Give us the date and, at a very minimum, we’ll have a great representative,” said President Trump. Or more than one from the United States will be with you on that great day. So, we will have somebody, at a minimum, at a very, very high level, and they will be with you. Really, an incredible day for an incredible achievement.”
Democrats are now shifting their characterization of President Trump’s alleged crime from “quid pro quo” to “bribery” in response to feedback from focus groups.
“It’s perfectly wrong. It’s bribery.” Pelosi said on Thursday regarding the president’s call with Zelensky.
Yovanovitch’s testimony has not established that such bribery took place. She testified that she was “incredulous” to be removed from her post based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
According to the ousted ambassador, her removal was due to “significant tension between those who seek to transform the country and those who wish to continue profiting from the old ways.” She lamented an “unfortunate alliance between Ukrainians who continue to operate within a corrupt system, and Americans who either did not understand that corrupt system, or who may have chosen, for their own purposes, to ignore it.”
Yovanovitch described the Trump State Department as “attacked and hollowed out from within.”
Democrats’ continued insistence that Yovanovitch’s testimony gives basis to their impeachment push, despite her lack of corroboration of the whistleblower’s claims, suggests that the impeachment effort is less about any real high crimes on the president’s part, and more about an unelected foreign policy establishment that balks at the notion of serving at the president’s pleasure instead of the other way around.
Photo of Amb. Marie Yovanovitch: AP Images