It was Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) who questioned why Marie Yovanovitch had been called to publicly testify before the House Intelligence Committee on November 15. The real reason was clear, of course, but the ranking member had a point: The former United States Ambassador to Ukraine had nothing substantive to add to the impeachment investigation. Having been removed from her post before the pivotal Trump-Zelensky phone call, she was not a fact witness. The hearing did have a few highlights, but Yovanovitch was, in reality, nothing more than a prop for Democrat posturing.
Yovanovitch did not seem very comfortable with the experience. She was asked a lot of questions – by both Democrats and Republicans – that called for answers that would have been either politically loaded or detailed with facts she either did not know or was unwilling to disclose.
The Fictitious Plot Against Former Ukraine Ambassador
For the most part, the hearing dealt with an alleged smear campaign waged against her by President Trump’s attorney, Rudi Giuliani, and a Ukrainian prosecutor. The Democrats have attempted to develop the narrative that Giuliani – presumably at Trump’s urging – embarked upon a campaign to get rid of the supposedly fearless anti-corruption ambassador so that she might be replaced with someone more likely to facilitate some grand but nefarious scheme to advance Trump’s personal interests in Ukraine.
There are a few holes in this narrative, though. First, while Yovanovitch has had an unquestionably impressive career as a foreign service officer, she has no reputation as a fighter against corruption. Indeed, it is not even the job of a diplomat to engage in such affairs. The idea that Yovanovitch was removed from her position because she represented some threat or obstacle to an imagined, vast Trump-Giuliani get-rich-quick scheme in Ukraine is nothing short of laughable.
Moreover, a sitting United States president does not need to orchestrate a “smear campaign” against a U.S. ambassador in order to justify his or her removal. Ambassadors – like FBI directors – serve at the pleasure of the president and can be replaced at any time and for any reason.
More likely, Giuliani’s problem with Yovanovitch stemmed from her alleged bias against not only Donald Trump but also against the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. That apparent bias was acknowledged by Zelensky himself during his second telephone conversation with Trump. The former ambassador denies any such political preference, but the rumors of Yovanovitch’s political activity are a matter of some speculation – though it is fair to say, perhaps, that they have been neither proven nor disproven.
During her testimony, Yovanovitch was singled out by the U.S. president in a tweet and, to be sure, Trump probably did himself no favors by saying of the ambassador:
“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.”
Trump may not necessarily be wrong, but posting such a tweet during Yovanovitch’s hearing could only serve to provide his opponents with ammunition to use against him.
Adam Schiff Keeps His Thumb on the Scale
The only other notable thing about the hearing – which mostly dwelt on the ambassador’s feelings about being dismissed – was the repeated attempt by committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) to prevent Republicans from asking certain questions. The most contentious exchange came when Nunes yielded some of his allotted time to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Schiff refused to allow the congresswoman to speak.
Stefanik got her revenge later, in a way, when she used her own allotted time to quote Schiff – from numerous media reports and television interviews – insisting that the so-called whistleblower would soon testify. The Intelligence Committee chairman has since refused to allow this anonymous individual to appear either in public or even in a closed-door hearing.
The grand finale of this otherwise pointless hearing was Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) grilling Yovanovitch about the several senior Ukrainian officials who, during the 2016 presidential campaign, launched personal attacks against then-candidate Trump. Jordan asked the ambassador if she had made any attempt to warn the Ukrainians that such vocal interference in the U.S. election was not appropriate. She confirmed that she had made no such effort.
It is in no way disparaging of the ambassador to point out that not only was she not a fact witness in this impeachment effort but that she had no business at all providing testimony. Watching the hearing, it appeared that Yovanovitch herself, quite probably, was uncomfortably aware of this. In the final analysis, the latest hearing did nothing at all to bolster the Democrats’ case against President Trump other than to afford them the opportunity to vent their anger at the man they have always believed does not belong in the White House – because they simply do not like him.
Read more from Graham J Noble
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