Saturday, November 16, 2019

Trump performs witness intimidation in real time. Yovanovitch answers with uncynical outrage.

A few days ago Trump attended a baseball game and got booed. Friday former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch publicly testified at the impeachment inquiry and got a standing ovation. Following are some observations on Yovanovitch’s testimony … and Trump’s further attempts to intimidate her.

Kathleen Parker (Washington Post) reports on how Trump saw the Yovanovitch hearing and just couldn’t bear being left out.

As former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was testifying Friday at the congressional impeachment hearings, the tyrannical 2-year-old occupying the Oval Office busied himself on Twitter trying to smear her. Presumably, there are no grown-ups left to mind him.

There he was, the president of the United States, apparently watching the proceedings, and he couldn’t bear being left out. He hurled insults at Yovanovitch in what House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) described as “witness intimidation in real time.” Not only was this an outrage bordering on criminal, Trump’s Twitter-tantrum conceivably could lead to an article of impeachment.

Aw, what’s another article or two?

This wasn’t Trump’s first time trying to bully — and, yes, intimidate — this highly respected public servant. Yovanovitch was an anti-corruption reformer in her role in war-torn Ukraine. But in May, for seemingly personal reasons, Trump fired her.

Ironically, Yovanovitch had learned of her ouster from Ukraine while honoring a murdered Ukrainian anti-corruption activist. She was told that she should get on a plane home that very day, according to her testimony. Trump likes this sort of thing, too. Remember that when James B. Comey was removed as FBI director two years ago, he was giving a pep talk to employees in the Los Angeles field office as wall-mounted televisions behind him began to flash “Comey Resigns.”

In her damning testimony last month during closed hearings, Yovanovitch said her firing was engineered in part by Giuliani, along with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested last month on campaign-finance violations just as they were about to board a plane out of the country with one-way tickets. She claimed that the trio was conspiring with corrupt, old-guard Ukrainians to get her replaced with someone who would be more favorable to their “business dealings” — importing natural gas into Ukraine.

Plainly, Ukrainian natural gas is the stock to watch. For now, after the first two days of public hearings, it would seem that Trump and Giuliani are the bad news — and maybe soon they’ll be “going through some things” themselves.

Susan B. Glasser, in the New Yorker, reminds us that it is still possible to feel outrage citing In Trump’s Jaded Capital, Marie Yovanovitch’s Uncynical Outrage. A fired Ambassador demonstrates that it is apparently still possible to be shocked by the President – even through the “smear” conducted by Trump and his henchmen.

For a few hours on Friday, an unassuming career diplomat named Marie (Masha) Yovanovitch did something that I thought had become impossible in Donald Trump’s Washington: she managed to hold on to her amazement and outrage at the President’s amazing and outrageous actions. In this hyper-partisan, hyper-political time, she was neither. Nearly three years into this Presidency, that is no given. A state of weary cynicism has taken hold regarding Trump, among his supporters and also his critics. He is what he is. What can we do about it? Even impeachment has quickly come to be seen through this lens. Members of Congress are all too likely to vote the party line. Does any of it matter?

In hours of spellbinding testimony, on the second day of the House’s public impeachment hearings, Yovanovitch offered a decisive rebuttal to that way of thinking. She said that she had been surprised and appalled when Trump succumbed to a foreign disinformation campaign and fired her as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine based on false allegations trafficked by Rudy Giuliani, his private lawyer. She had taken on corrupt interests inside Ukraine, and those parties had, in turn, targeted her—and, unbelievably, it had worked. The President, the most powerful man in the world, had gone along with it. “It was terrible,” she said. Yovanovitch said that she was shocked when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to issue a statement in her defense, although she had spent thirty-three years in the Foreign Service. She said that she was intimidated and incredulous when the President attacked her in a phone call with a foreign leader. She said that she felt threatened. These are simple truths, which is why they were so powerful. So was the question she posed to the members of the House Intelligence Committee arrayed on the dais in front of her: “How could our system fail like this?” That, of course, is a question for which Americans as yet have no real answer.

… Yovanovitch’s appearance was ultimately about what the hell the country is supposed to do with a President who is so manifestly unpresidential. Friday offered a chance to reflect on Trump’s conduct, to consider the extent of his boorishness, his poor judgment, his ignorance, his recklessness, and his callous disregard for anything other than his own personal interests. There will be many days and weeks to come in which to hash out what, if anything, in all this saga involving Ukraine, should be considered impeachable by Congress. But that is not the real import of Friday’s hearing, which was a rare opportunity for America to stop and take stock of Trump and what he has wrought. This was a day to contemplate the excesses of Donald John Trump.

For those who wondered about what an impeachment in the Twitter era would look like, the answer came hurtling from Trump’s phone at 10:01 a.m. The President of the United States was hate-tweeting a witness in real time, while she was testifying. In the tweet, he appeared to blame Yovanovitch for all the troubles of the countries to which she had been assigned in the course of her career. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he tweeted. Her service in war-torn Somalia had clearly stung the Vietnam draft dodger in the Oval Office, and he wrote, “She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” He finished off with a reminder of his “absolute right” to hire and fire Ambassadors.

This, if you haven’t detected it, is a classic case of psychological projection. Rick Wilson has observed that “everything Trump touches dies.” Trump is projecting his own personal malicious toxicity upon Yovanovitch.

Glasser concludes:

Yovanovitch’s firing has always struck me as problematic for Trump. Republican committee members did not attempt to defend it, and instead simply fell back on Trump’s right to fire her. Yovanovitch skewered that excuse after her G.O.P. questioners reminded her one too many times that Trump held this right. “The President has the right to withdraw an Ambassador at any time, for any reason,” Yovanovitch said, “but what I do wonder is, why was it necessary to smear my reputation?”

Why indeed. Because that’s the way real “human scum” operates.

Check out House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff’s closing remarks on Friday. Then, as the proceedings ended, Watch as former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch leaves the impeachment hearing to a standing ovation. Jen Hayden at Daily Kos reports.

Watching former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testify before the House impeachment hearing, one thing became crystal clear: She is a highly competent, dedicated career diplomat who has put her entire life in service the United States, serving in the State Department for 33 years. Even as the president of the United States smeared her in real time during her testimony, and Republicans were asking questions meant to subtly call her judgment and motives into question, Yovanovitch responded with dignity and professionalism. It became evident that she is an extremely valuable asset to the State Department and this nation.

The audience at the hearing apparently agreed, because at the conclusion of her testimony, as Republicans continued to grandstand and shout over House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff’s closing gavel, huge applause broke out in the chamber as Yovanovitch stood up from the hot seat and started to leave the room.

Here are a few clips showing just how thunderous the applause was in the hearing room: clip1 and clip2.

Tonight, let’s toast Marie Yovanovitch and all the patriots (and their families) who serve so devotedly as members of our diplomatic corps, shall we?

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