Saturday, November 16, 2019

Trump tweets witness intimidation while watching Yovanovitch testimony. Jeff Flake - Trump is 'incapable of controlling himself'

The HuffPost reports that Marie Yovanovitch explains how Trump opened the door for corruption. If a bad-faith smear campaign worked against her, it’ll work again, the ousted ambassador told lawmakers in an impeachment hearing.

President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the former ambassador to Ukraine from her post over bad-faith smears dramatically undermined U.S. efforts to fight corruption worldwide, she told Congress in a public impeachment hearing Friday morning.

Over hours of testimony, Marie Yovanovitch described how the Trump administration bought into and advanced a coordinated campaign of lies about her launched by a Ukrainian official accused of corruption, right-wing pundits and Trump’s own lawyer. Trump warned that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things” on his now-infamous July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports in the NY Times that Ex-Envoy to Ukraine ‘Devastated’ as Trump Vilified Her. As Marie Yovanovitch testified, President Trump tweeted insults at her, drawing charges of witness intimidation.

In a proceeding full of high points, this one stands out.

Ms. Yovanovitch’s public testimony, which played out over more than five hours in a packed and hushed House Ways and Means Committee Room, was an indictment of foreign policy in the Trump era, outlining the harm to American diplomacy and national security by a president who embraced false claims to target his own officials representing the United States overseas.

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, at the very moment that Ms. Yovanovitch was testifying about having felt threatened by the president. “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.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, interrupted his counsel’s questioning to read the president’s words aloud to Ms. Yovanovitch and to ask for her reaction. There were audible gasps in the room as he did so.

"It’s very intimidating,” she replied, taken aback.

To that, Mr. Schiff replied gravely, “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”

Democrats said Mr. Trump’s comments were clear attempts by the president to intimidate a crucial witness in the impeachment inquiry and do the same to others who might yet come forward. They argued that the comments could constitute grounds for an article of impeachment against Mr. Trump.

Committee Chairman Schiff tweeted “Right now, President Trump is watching our hearing and tweeting baseless attacks against Ambassador Yovanovitch. This is witness intimidation in real time. And we won’t stand for it.”

Also in the Times, there is this by Michael D. Shear: With a Tweet, Trump Upends Republican Strategy for Dealing with Yovanovitch. House Republicans planned ahead, hoping to strike a respectful tone at Friday’s impeachment hearing. Mr. Trump’s tweet was exactly the kind of attack they had hoped to avoid.

(Thanks to Mrs. Scriber for this tip. Selected paragraphs were reordered by Scriber.)

Heading into Friday’s impeachment hearing, the Republican strategy for dealing with Marie L. Yovanovitch was simple: treat the ousted ambassador to Ukraine with respect during her testimony on Friday and avoid any appearance of bullying a veteran diplomat who had been vilified and driven from her post.

President Trump blew up the plan.

By repeating the same kind of verbal attack that made Ms. Yovanovitch a sympathetic witness for the Democrats in the first place, Mr. Trump undercut his own party’s best chance at minimizing the impact of her testimony. And he handed Democrats another new argument — that his tweet amounted to nothing less than witness intimidation that itself could become an article of impeachment.

“That was not part of the plan, obviously,” said Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona, who clashed repeatedly with Mr. Trump before he retired in 2017. “He can’t help himself. You would think every instinct would be to lay off. She’s a sympathetic witness. But he seems just to be incapable of controlling himself.”

White House aides insisted on Friday that the president was too busy to watch the hearing, but in fact, he chose to watch Ms. Yovanovitch, who had stuck in his craw because he saw her as an obstacle to his desire to have investigations into Hunter Biden, the younger son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., people close to Mr. Trump said.

[Trump’s] decision to fling the sharp-edged insult an hour into Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony was the latest evidence — as if any more was needed — that Mr. Trump’s instincts are rarely in sync with the interests of his party.

On the first day of the impeachment hearings on Wednesday, the president had managed to avoid commenting about the two men who testified — William B. Taylor Jr., the top diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, a senior State Department official.

Mr. Trump’s congressional allies … had planned to be especially careful with Ms. Yovanovitch.

On Thursday, they met for several hours in Room HVC–215 of the Capitol for a practice session aimed at coordinating their overall message, with members who were not on the Intelligence Committee playing the parts of the former ambassador and Representative Adam B. Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence committee.

And then the human volcano trashed all that with a single tweet.

Trump presents as having no self-control and being beyond control by even his closest advisors and members of his Trumpublican party. That impulsivity is a dangerous characteristic of a national leader. But that’s true only if Trump is a democratic leader. He is not. He is an autocrat, a dictator, a modern day King George.

Step back and look at the larger picture, the forrest, if you will. The inquiry is about whether we will still have a democracy at the end of 2020 and whether we are a nation of laws.

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