World

Trump impeachment hearings: Ex-ambassador to Ukraine testifies about smear campaign, diplomatic crisis

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch said during Friday's Trump impeachment hearing in Washington, D.C., that she felt a "big threat" after suddenly being ousted from her post and learning President Donald Trump called her "bad news" on his July phone call with Ukraine's president.

Trump resumes Twitter attacks, says everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went 'turned bad'

Ex-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine testifies about tumult that evolved with assignment and surprising end to Ukraine posting. 4:25

Trump impeachment hearings: What you need to know

  • Day 2 of public testimony concludes.
  • Marie Yovanovitch, ex-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, tells House committee she was the victim of 'a campaign of disinformation' that used 'unofficial back channels.'
  • Yovanovitch says she was known for championing anti-corruption efforts in Urkaine.
  • Trump attacks ex-ambassador on Twitter as she testifies, says everywhere Yovanovitch went 'turned bad.' Yovanovitch calls tweets 'very intimidating.'
  • Attacks from Trump 'leading to a crisis in the State Department,' Yovanovitch says.
  • Missed the 1st day of public testimony? See the highlights here.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch provided chilling detail Friday during the Trump impeachment hearing on how she felt a "big threat" after suddenly being ousted from her post, and learning President Donald Trump called her "bad news" on his July phone call with Ukraine's president.

Yovanovitch told the House intelligence committee in Washington, D.C., of a concerted "smear" campaign against her by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others, including the president's son, Donald Trump Jr.

Her removal is one of several events at the centre of the impeachment effort. On Friday, she gave an opening statement and fielded questions from Democrats, led by lawyer Daniel Goldman, and Republicans led by by lawyer Steve Castor.

"These events should concern everyone in this room," the Montreal-born career diplomat testified Friday morning in opening remarks on Capitol Hill. "Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want."

WATCH: Yovanovitch on why she didn't defend herself publicly from Trump's attacks

Ex-ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified about her work culture and why that held her back from defending herself against President Donald Trump's attacks. 1:00

In often steely, defiant tones, Yovanovitch told investigators the failure of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials to publicly defend her and other career diplomats from political attacks by Trump and his supporters has contributed to severe demoralization within the State Department.

"I remain disappointed that the department's leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong," Yovanovitch told Congress. "This is about far more than me or a couple of individuals. As foreign service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is also being degraded."

Her testimony, which also included a defence of the role of U.S. diplomats, put a public face on deep dissatisfaction within the department under Trump. His administration has slashed the department's budget, left many important posts open for extended periods and often disdained the work of the foreign service.

The Ukraine affair has only added to the problems, she said.

"The attacks are leading to a crisis in the State Department as the policy process is visibly unravelling, leadership vacancies go unfilled, and senior and mid-level officers ponder an uncertain future and head for the doors," Yovanovitch said. "The crisis has moved from the impact on individuals to an impact on the institution. The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage."

WATCH: Yovanovitch describes how U.S. interests were undermined in Ukraine

Former Ambassador Yovanovitch explains that foreign and private interests were able to undermine U.S. interests in Ukraine by using falsehoods 0:48

Yovanovitch also said Gordon Sondland, a political ally of Trump's, suggested she "send out a tweet, praise the president" when it became clear she was abruptly losing her job. She said she rejected the advice.

Sondland was a Trump campaign contributor who'd become a State Department envoy to the European Union but wielded influence over U.S. policy in Ukraine.

Yovanovitch said Sondland's advice was to "go big or go home," which he explained meant lauding Trump.

She said she didn't do it because, "It felt partisan, it felt political" and inappropriate for an ambassador.

Trump renews Twitter attacks

Yovanovitch testified after opening remarks by Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and its top Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes.

The initial day of the inquiry earlier this week marked the first time the hearings have been televised. Also at issue is a conversation Trump had with Ukraine's president and whether it amounted to abuse of political power by the U.S. president.

WATCH: Representatives Jordan, Schiff, exchange words during Yovanovitch's testimony

While testifying on the second day of the impeachment inquiry, ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch addresses President Donald Trump's concerns about corruption in Ukraine. 1:25

The daughter of immigrants who fled the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Yovanovitch described a 33-year career, including three tours as an ambassador to some of the world's tougher postings, before arriving in Ukraine in 2016. She was forced out in April 2019.

As Yovanovitch testified at the Capitol, the president assailed her anew from the White House.

The former ambassador said the tweets about her during her testimony in the impeachment hearings were "very intimidating."

Yovanovitch responded to Trump's charge, saying, "I don't think I have such powers." She said she and her colleagues have improved conditions in places where they've served.

Watch: Yovanovitch responds to Trump's latest Twitter attacks

During testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives, ex-U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch addresses Donald Trump's live tweets attacking her. 1:44

Afterward, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the committee, told reporters the Trump attack could be considered for a separate article of impeachment against Trump for obstruction of justice.

But Republican Rep. Jim Jordan dismissed any suggestion that Trump's tweets were designed to influence the witness.

The White House said Trump's tweets criticizing Yovanovitch were "not witness intimidation." In a statement, spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said Trump did nothing wrong and the tweets were "simply the president's opinion, which he is entitled to."

Grisham also criticized the hearing as a "partisan political process" and "totally illegitimate, charade stacked against the president.

Trump later told reporters he didn't think his tweets or words could be intimidating "at all." He said he watched a little bit of the second public impeachment hearing and "thought it was a disgrace."

More hearings are coming, with back-to-back sessions next week and lawmakers interviewing new witnesses behind closed doors.

'Devastated' over transcript

Yovanovitch recalled that as she read the White House's rough transcript of Trump's conversation, another person said, "The colour drained from my face."

"Even now words fail me."

She said she was "shocked and devastated" upon learning Trump said, on his call with Ukraine, that "she was going to go through some things."

WATCH: Ex-ambassador shocked to be called 'bad news' by Trump

Former ambassador to Ukraine Yovanovitch testifies she had physical reaction to being called 'bad news' by Trump: it was a 'terrible moment.' 1:14

Yovanovitch testified Friday that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan "said the words that every foreign service officer" fears: "'The president has lost confidence in you.' That was a terrible thing to hear."

Sullivan told her Pompeo "was no longer able to protect" her from attacks led by Giuliani.

Yovanovitch said the call "made me feel terrible. After 33 years of service to our country ... it was not the way I wanted my career to end.

Yovanovitch has served both Republican and Democratic presidents, relayed her striking story of being told to "watch my back" and then being suddenly recalled by Trump in a swiftly developing series of events that sounded alarms about a White House shadow foreign policy.

She testified at length about the effort to fight corruption in Ukraine, and some of the hurdles faced by those who worked to end it.

"Thus, perhaps, it was not surprising, that when our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me."

In particular, Yovanovitch and others have described Giuliani as leading an "irregular channel" outside the diplomatic mainstream of U.S.-Ukraine relations. Asked during an earlier, closed-door deposition if anyone at the State Department who was alerted to Giuliani's role tried to stop him, she testified, "I don't think they felt they could."

The White House has instructed officials not to comply with the probe, and most have been issued subpoenas to appear.

Nunes argued that Yovanovitch "is not a material fact witness" in the impeachment probe, and the details of her May ouster at Trump's direction are a human resources issue, not a matter relevant to the Democrat-led investigation.

Watch: Schiff, Nunes open 2nd day of public hearings

Democrat, Republican leaders give contrasting statements to open the second day of the impeachment inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives. 1:13

Nunes noted she had not talked to Trump this year or been part of preparations for the July phone call with the Ukrainian president.

Yovanovitch also rejected the notion that Ukraine tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, as Trump has proposed.

She said "we didn't really see it that way," noting the U.S. intelligence community "has conclusively determined" that those who interfered in that election were in Russia. Trump has said that Ukraine tried to "take me down."

Yovanovitch also pushed back against Trump's suggestions that former vice-president Joe Biden was pursuing his own interests in Ukraine during President Barack Obama's administration. She said he was pursuing "official U.S. policy."

Schiff, of California, praised Yovanovitch, 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."

WATCH: Highlights from Day 1 of public hearings

The first public hearings are over. Catch up with a recap of the day's testimonies 14:04

With files from Reuters and CBC News

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.