Amid attacks from , former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine testifies to influence from 'foreign corrupt interests'

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A former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine testified Friday in the second public hearing that she was the victim of a dishonest smear campaign in which President ’s personal lawyer worked with corrupt Ukrainian officials to remove her from her position earlier this year, and was attacked by the president himself during the hearing. 

“Ukrainians who sought to play by the old corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is they found Americans willing to partner with them, and working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador,” said Marie Yovanovitch, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2016 until her abrupt removal in late April. 

“How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?” Yovanovitch asked the members of the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting public hearings as part of an impeachment inquiry. 

The public hearings are part of an investigation by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., into whether the full House should vote on articles of impeachment, and recommend to the Senate that it hold a trial to determine whether the president is guilty of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” as outlined in Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. 

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is sworn in prior to providing testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is sworn in prior to providing testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is sworn in prior to providing testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Yovanovitch story is important, Schiff said, because she was an obstacle to efforts by Rudy Giuliani, ’s personal attorney, to set up an “irregular channel” of diplomacy that could pressure the Ukrainians to announce they were investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a rival to for the presidency, and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. 

“The president’s scheme might have worked but for the man who succeeded Yovanovitch,” Schiff said, referring to William B. Taylor, who replaced Yovanovitch in June as acting ambassador to Ukraine.

Taylor testified Wednesday, in the first public hearing, that he was alarmed as he came to understand how this “irregular channel” — involving Giuliani and several others — was undermining U.S. national security by weakening U.S. support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. 

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Taylor also called the withholding of nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine until they announced an investigation of the Bidens “crazy” and “wrong.”

As Yovanovitch spoke to the committee, the president attacked her through his Twitter account, 

“everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”

“It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors,” added. He also said in a subsequent tweet that U.S. foreign policy is “very strong and powerful … much different than preceding administrations.”

Yovanovitch, however, said that due to ’s actions “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.”

Daniel Goldman, the Intelligence Committee attorney asking questions on behalf of Democrats, asked Yovanovitch about the effect on her of the president’s statement in July to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelesnky that Yovanovitch would “go through some things.”

That July statement, Yovanovitch said, “sounded like a threat.”

“I didn’t know what to think but I was very concerned,” she said. “It didn’t sound good.”

Schiff then read ’s tweet to Yovanovitch, a 33-year veteran of the U.S. diplomatic corps, about 90 minutes into the hearing. 

“Where I’ve served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better, for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I’ve served in,” she said. 

“Now the president in real time is attacking you,” Schiff said. He asked her what kind of impact that might have on others who consider whether to publicly testify against any kind of wrongdoing in the administration.

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“It’s very intimidating,” Yovanovitch said. 

Schiff referred to the president’s communication as “witness intimidation.”

“Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,” Schiff told Yovanovitch.

Schiff, during a break in the hearing, told CNN that “we saw today witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff speaks during the House Intelligence Committee hearing featuring witness Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2019. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Pool via AP)

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff speaks during the House Intelligence Committee hearing featuring witness Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2019. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Pool via AP)

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff speaks during the House Intelligence Committee hearing featuring witness Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2019. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Pool via AP)

Fallout from ’s tweet was immediate and negative from Republicans, even from a member of the Intelligence Committee. 

Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican who has drawn attention for her combative presence in the hearings so far, criticized the president.

“I disagree with the tweet,” she 

. “I think Ambassador Yovanovitch is a public servant.”

And Ken Starr, the former independent investigator who led the Republican impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998, 

the president’s tweets were “quite injurious” and showed “extraordinarily poor judgment.”

“The president frequently says, ‘I follow my instincts.’ Sometimes we have to control our instincts,” Starr said.

Republicans did not ask a question of Yovanovitch until more than two hours after the hearing had begun, a function of the rules agreed to by the full House in a party-line vote on Oct. 31.

But the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, attacked Schiff and the Democrats’ process in his opening statement, rather than going after Yovanovitch. 

Nunes called the entire investigation and inquiry “an excuse for Democrats to fulfill their Watergate fantasies.”

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