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Marie Yovanovitch, Former U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine, Tells Her Side Of The Story


ADAM SCHIFF: Committee will come to order. Good morning, everyone.


On Day 2 of impeachment hearings, forceful testimony about a smear campaign aimed at furthering the political interests of President Trump.


Today's witness - ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, highly respected for her 33 years in the Foreign Service over six administrations.


MARIE YOVANOVITCH: Ambassadors are the symbol of the United States abroad. They are the personal representative of the president. They should always act and speak with full authority to advocate for U.S. policies. If our chief representative is kneecapped, it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States.

CHANG: Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in May this year after being told President Trump had lost confidence in her. In the July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump is on record as calling her bad news.

CORNISH: And today, as the hearing was underway, the president tweeted this about his former ambassador - everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.

CHANG: Prompting this line of questioning from House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff.


SCHIFF: The president implicitly threatened you in that call record. And now the president, in real time, is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, it's very intimidating.

SCHIFF: It's designed to intimidate, is it not?

YOVANOVITCH: I mean, I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.

CORNISH: Joining us now is NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.

Welcome back.


CORNISH: Michele, that moment came actually near the top of roughly six hours of testimony. So what else stood out to you today?

KELEMEN: Well, there were a lot of important moments with her telling her firsthand story about her ouster amid this smear campaign, or a campaign of disinformation as she called it. You know, she didn't know at the time, but when she described the reading the call transcript of President Trump and the new Ukrainian president, Zelenskiy.

CORNISH: And this is the July 25 call.

KELEMEN: Right. So this is several months after she's been recalled from Ukraine. And this is in September - she gets to finally see the transcript of this call. And that's where she learned that President Trump had spoken about her and - you know, calling her bad news. And she said she was shocked and devastated to read that. And you know, he also warned that she would go through some things.


YOVANOVITCH: It was a terrible moment. A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction. I think - even now, words kind of fail me.

KELEMEN: And you know, she said she felt threatened reading those words from President Trump, that she's going to go through some things, to the Ukrainian president.

CORNISH: We've been talking about this so-called smear campaign or campaign of disinformation against her. In public, in testimony today, Republicans were respectful overall of her service and thanking her. They did question her relevance to the case against President Trump. Here's Utah Congressman Chris Stewart.


CHRIS STEWART: Madam Ambassador, as you sit here before us, very simply and directly, do you have any information regarding the president of the United States accepting any bribes?


STEWART: Do you have any information regarding any criminal activity that the president of the United States has been involved with at all?


CORNISH: So how about it, Michele? Why is she among the first witnesses to be called here?

KELEMEN: Well, it was the way that she was withdrawn. I mean, even she acknowledges that ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president. But this was a case when she was facing what was clearly a disinformation campaign, that the corrupt Ukrainians were feeding bad information to Trump's private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

CORNISH: And we should say, this information - when we say smear campaign - about her performance, right? It was specifically about her?

KELEMEN: It was about things like claiming that she had bad-mouthed President Trump at one point and also calling her corrupt, even though she was an ambassador who was representing U.S. policy to fight corruption in Ukraine. And you know, so she describes how, after she left, Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests all over the world have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want. Those were her words today.

And the Democrats are arguing that her removal really paved the way for this shadow diplomacy led by Rudy Giuliani, whose interests were to get Ukraine to open investigations that would help Trump politically.

CORNISH: Stepping back, did anything we heard today give us a sense of what it's like to be on the front lines of diplomacy under this administration or in general?

KELEMEN: Well, she talked a lot about how the State Department has been hollowed out under this administration, how the State Department did not support her publicly despite this smear campaign and that she talked about how the denigration of career public servants is really damaging because U.S. diplomats are, as she called it, the tip of the spear in foreign policy, and if you blunt that, then where do you go?

CORNISH: We know that she was the public witness for today, but the committee is continuing to conduct depositions behind closed doors. Who else is supposed to testify?

KELEMEN: Well, so in the first day of hearings two days ago, Bill Taylor, who's the current acting ambassador in Ukraine, offered a little bit of new information. He said that one of his aides was - overheard a phone call between President Trump and the U.S. ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, who's been a key figure in all of this, and heard the president talking about investigations on this phone. So that's the aide who's going to be testifying now behind closed doors today.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

Thanks for your reporting.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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