Trump impeachment probe: Democrats condemn real-time ′witness intimidation′ | News | DW | 15.11.2019
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Trump impeachment probe: Democrats condemn real-time 'witness intimidation'

President Trump tweeted about the ex-US ambassador to Ukraine during her impeachment testimony, sparking cries of intimidation. Marie Yovanovitch told lawmakers she felt a "big threat" as she was fired from the post.

Watch video 00:35

Marie Yovanovitch: 'It sounded like a threat'

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified about being suddenly removed from her post during the second day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry against US President Donald Trump on Friday.

During her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Trump was on Twitter attacking the career diplomat and her record.

"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?" he wrote, adding: "It is a US President's absolute right to appoint ambassadors."

The Democratic chairman of the committee, Adam Schiff, read Trump's remarks out to Yovanovitch during the hearing, asking for her response.

"I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating," she said.

Trump's tweet prompted swift criticism, with Democrats saying it was a possible act of witness intimidation.

"This is witness intimidation in real time. And we won't stand for it," Schiff told reporters. 

Watch video 00:33

"Intimidating": Marie Yovanovitch's reaction on Trump tweets

Why is Yovanovitch testifying?

Yovanovitch, who is known for her anti-corruption record, was posted to Ukraine in 2016 where she served as US ambassador until being forced out in May 2019.

Committee chairman Schiff said that her ouster "helped set the stage for an irregular channel" of conducting Ukraine policy that was used by Trump and his allies to push Kyiv to investigate the president's political rivals.

"You were viewed as an obstacle that had to go," Schiff told Yovanovitch in his closing remarks. "There is no camouflaging that corrupt intent."

Watch video 00:52

'Individuals were able to conduct a campaign of disinformation'

Key takeaways from the testimony:

  • Earlier this year, Yovanovitch became aware of a "smear campaign" against her led by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the president's son Donald Trump Jr.
  • Shortly afterwards, she was told to come back to the US because she "no longer had the confidence of the president."
  • Her removal played into the hands of "shady interests the world over" who have learned how to remove a US ambassador "who does not give them what they want."
  • Yovanovitch said the US State Department was being "hollowed out from within" and criticized the department's leadership for not acknowledging that the attacks against her and other US diplomats "are dangerously wrong."
  • In a phone call with the Ukrainian president, Trump said Yovanovitch is "going to go through some things" — the former ambassador said the remark "sounded like a threat."

Impeachment inquiry intensifies

Yovanovitch was abruptly removed as the US ambassador to Ukraine in May this year, an event that is one of several areas of interest at the center of the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

The Democrats accuse Trump of using his office to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to help him politically — threatening to withhold military aid amid Ukraine's domestic conflict during a phone call in July.

Watch video 00:32

Adam Schiff: 'The powers of the presidency are not absolute'

According to abridged call transcripts released by the White House, Trump asked Zelenskiy for a "favor" in investigating a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 US election, as well as asking him to investigate Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden's son.

Trump has described the call as "perfect" and said that there was no explicit "quid pro quo."

Tying US aid to certain conditions is not uncommon, but tying it to such overtly domestic party political issues is rarer, with the Democrats seeking to demonstrate it's not legal in this case.

Yovanovitch's testimony and Trump's comments happened to coincide with the conviction on Friday of Trump's friend and ally Roger Stone on charges including witness tampering.

David Holmes, political counselor at the US Embassy in Kyiv, has also said he overheard Trump discussing investigations in Ukraine with Ambassador Gordon Sondland.

According to a person familiar with testimony given in closed-door proceedings, Holmes told investigators that Trump spoke so loudly in a phone call with Sondland that the ambassador had to hold the phone away from his ear.

Holmes and two other people eating lunch with Sondland were then able to overhear a conversation about "investigations."

rs,kp/msh  (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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Watch video 02:53

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