On Friday, Nov. 15, Marie Yovanovitch ’80 testified before the House Intelligence Committee as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Yovanovitch was the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine until May 2019, and she spoke to the committee about corruption, national values, and the attack on her character extensively.
Trump abruptly fired Yovanovitch from her diplomatic post following a series of targeted allegations by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani. Later investigations revealed that the Trump administration was working to oust Yovanovitch since mid-2018.
“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,” Yovanovitch said in her opening statement. “What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. Ambassador.”
Although Yovanovitch left Ukraine before a number of focal events of the impeachment inquiry — including President Trump’s controversial July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — Yovonavitch was mentioned in the conversation.
“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news,” Trump said. “She’s going to go through some things.”
During her testimony, Yovanovitch recounted what she referred to as the horror of reading the transcript and being criticized by world leaders. She described Trump’s allegations as baseless and threatening, saying that she was “shocked” and “devastated.”
“While I obviously don’t dispute that the President has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time, for any reason, what I do wonder is why it was necessary to smear my reputation falsely,” Yovanovitch said.
Around 9:40 a.m., Yovanovitch began her opening statement. Less than a half-hour later, at 10:01 a.m., Trump posted a live response to the Ambassador on Twitter.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Trump wrote. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go?”
Representative Adam Schiff, Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, read the post aloud and cited concerns about witness tampering. Yovanovitch momentarily faltered as she tried to respond, calling Trump’s behavior “intimidating.”
Both Democrats and Republicans were surprised by Trump’s commentary during the testimony, and Fox News host Bret Baier tweeted that the President was “adding an article of impeachment real-time.”
While fielding questions about the Bidens and Trumps, Yovanovitch also spoke about her background and diplomatic oath, as well as about what she saw as an alarming loss of American integrity. Yovanovitch said that her father fled the Soviets and that her mother grew up in Nazi Germany — she said she was uniquely equipped with empathy to understand the desire for freedom and justice.
“I went to the front line approximately 10 times during a shooting war: to show the American flag, to hear what was going on,” Yovanovitch said. “Our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American Ambassador who does not give them what they want.”
When former Russia policy specialist Fiona Hill testified before the House last month, she said that Yovanovitch’s removal was a turning point — that it was a politicized move without merit. Yovanovitch served as Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and later to Armenia under President George W. Bush and as Ambassador to Ukraine under President Barack Obama, and she reemphasized her commitment to America’s foreign interests regardless of party or president.
“This is about far more than me or a couple of individuals,” Yovanovitch said. “As Foreign Service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is also being degraded. This will soon cause real harm, if it hasn’t already.”
At the same time that Yovanovitch was testifying, Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone was convicted nearby for obstructing the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors claimed that Stone lied to protect Trump and his campaign, and he now faces a maximum prison sentence of 50 years.
Meanwhile, Yovanovitch warned of Russia’s attempts to expand global influence and criticized waning American strength in the face of autocracy. In her statement, Yovanovitch emphasized the significance of a resilient, independent presence in Ukraine and across the world — a presence which she fought for and which she thinks is at risk.
“How could our system fail like this?” Yovanovitch asked. “Which country’s interests are served when the very corrupt behavior we have been criticizing is allowed to prevail?”