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Ousted U.S. Envoy To Ukraine Calls Trump's Tweets During Her Testimony 'Intimidating'

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Former U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Says She Was 'Kneecapped' By Smears
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WATCH: Former U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Says She Was 'Kneecapped' By Smears

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump derided ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as she testified in an inquiry into his possible impeachment, sparking outrage among Democrats who accused the president of witness intimidation.

As Yovanovitch finished her opening statement on November 15, Trump tweeted: "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?”​

Yovanovitch has also served as U.S. ambassador to Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

Democrat Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, which is leading the inquiry, called Trump’s tweet “part of a pattern to intimidate witnesses.”

Schiff, a Democrat, interrupted the hearing to ask Yovanovich about her reaction to the tweet.

"I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating," she said in arguably the highlight of her five-hour testimony.

Republicans sought to downplay the tweet, with Representative Lee Zeldin (Republican-New York) saying the president was simply trying to “defend himself.”

Lawmaker Elise Stefanik (Republican-New York) said she “disagreed with the tone of the tweet” but that it was not relevant to the events at the center of the impeachment hearing.

Corruption Fighter

Yovanovitch, a career U.S diplomat who was unexpectedly dismissed by Trump from her post in Ukraine in May after being asked by the State Department just weeks earlier to extend her mission, was the lone witness to testify in the second day of the House impeachment hearing.

The Democratic-led inquiry -- which could lead to impeachment proceedings and a trial in the Senate -- is probing whether Trump abused his office for personal and political gain by prodding a foreign government to investigate his foes and if those actions constitute impeachable offenses.

Yovanovitch opened her testimony by casting herself as a corruption fighter during her time in Kyiv, saying that "not all Ukrainians embraced our anti-corruption work" and "Ukrainians who played by the old, corrupt rules" sought to remove her.

Describing a "smear campaign" carried out in tandem with Trump allies such as his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, she said the foreigners found "Americans willing to partner with them, and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador.”

Yovanovitch, 60, emerged as a key figure in the inquiry after she was mentioned as "the woman" in a White House memo of a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

That call -- in which Trump is alleged to have threatened to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid unless Ukraine opened an investigation into a Democratic political rival and his son -- is central to the impeachment inquiry.

"The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news," Trump was quoted as saying in the call, which took place weeks after she was recalled.

"She's going to go through some things," Trump added.

Trump has said that his contacts with Ukraine were "perfect" and has called the impeachment inquiry a "sham."

Yovanovitch said on November 15 that she was "shocked and devastated" that she would feature in a call with another foreign leader, adding that "even now words fail me."

Asked what she felt Trump meant by the words "she's going to go through [some things]," Yovanovitch said that "it sounded like a threat."

Lee dismissed the Democrats questioning of Yovanovitch about her reaction to the call transcript, saying they “wanted her to cry for the cameras.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: "What the president has admitted to and says it's 'perfect,' I say it's perfectly wrong. It's bribery." (file photo)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: "What the president has admitted to and says it's 'perfect,' I say it's perfectly wrong. It's bribery." (file photo)

During her opening statement, Yovanovitch said the events over the past several months have left Washington’s Ukraine policy in “disarray” at a critical time in the nation’s history. It has also hurt morale at the State Department, she said.

“Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want. As Foreign Service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is also being degraded,” Yovanovitch said.

The former ambassador told the hearing she was baffled why Trump simply didn’t say he wanted to put someone else in her position -- which she agreed he has every right to do -- but instead allowed people of dubious background to carry out an attack against her reputation.

Yovanovitch said she was never given a reason why she was recalled.​

Watergate Fantasies

The ranking Republican on the committee, Devin Nunes of California, said in his opening remarks that the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy was being used by Democrats "as an excuse to fulfill their Watergate fantasies."

Nunes also described Yovanovitch as "not a material" witness in the inquiry because she was not involved in the preparations for the July 25 call nor in the deliberations over the pause in military aid.​

Schiff summed up the day’s testimony by saying the July 25 call showed that Trump “praises the corrupt” -- a reference to Yury Lutsenko, the former Ukrainian prosecutor-general -- and “condemns the just” -- a reference to Yovanovitch.

“There is no camouflaging that corrupt intent,” Schiff said.

The second day of hearings was held as the Democrats moved away from using the Latin phrase "quid pro quo" to describe Trump's alleged threat to withhold the aid to Ukraine unless it opened an investigation into former Democratic Vice President and potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who worked in Ukraine.

“It’s bribery,” U.S. House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi told a news conference on November 14.​

The U.S. Constitution includes "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" as impeachable offenses.​

Critics say the president left Ukraine at the mercy of Russia, which in 2014 seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea region and started supporting separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people.

The White House and supporters of the president have denied that any actions were impeachable offenses, although some have said Trump's remarks to Zelenskiy were inappropriate..

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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