/Who Is Marie Yovanovitch? Former Ambassador Testifies Today
Who Is Marie Yovanovitch? Former Ambassador Testifies Today

Who Is Marie Yovanovitch? Former Ambassador Testifies Today

The ousted ambassador to Ukraine recounted how she became the target of a smear campaign by President Trump’s personal lawyer and the right-wing media.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Sheryl Gay Stolberg

WASHINGTON — Before President Trump fired her as his ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch was an anonymous career diplomat who served in the kind of unglamorous posts — Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and eventually Ukraine — typically reserved for civil servants because political donors and friends of the president don’t covet them.

Now Ms. Yovanovitch, known as Masha to her friends and colleagues, is a hashtag on Twitter (#GoMasha) and a reluctant public figure, vilified on the right and lionized on the left. On Friday she told her story publicly for the first time — even as Mr. Trump attacked her in real time on Twitter.

In an impassioned defense of the State Department and the career Foreign Service officers who work — and sometimes give their lives — to advance the interests of the United States, Ms. Yovanovitch recounted how she became the target of a smear campaign by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and the right-wing news media.

She wondered aloud how Mr. Giuliani could have succeeded in working with a corrupt prosecutor in Ukraine to oust her, a decorated 33-year veteran diplomat, even though her bosses said she had done nothing wrong.

“How could our system fail like this?” she asked. “How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?”

As Mr. Trump began tweeting, Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, began reading them aloud, including one missive in which the president asserted that “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.” He asked Ms. Yovanovitch how that made her feel.

“It’s very intimidating,” she testified. Mr. Schiff replied that Congress would take any attempt at witness intimidation very seriously — an apparent warning to the president.

Her testimony, as the latest witness to appear in the growing impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump, included discussion of the July 25 telephone conversation that has set off a political crisis for the president, in which he told Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, that Ms. Yovanovitch was “bad news.”

“She’s going to go through some things,” the president said.

Ms. Yovanovitch had already been removed by the time of that call; she learned of it after the president made a reconstructed transcript public as part of the impeachment inquiry. During a private deposition, Ms. Yovanovitch told investigators that she felt “threatened” by Mr. Trump’s remark, and that she still feared retaliation — remarks she reiterated in her testimony on Friday.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she testified, describing herself as “shocked, appalled, devastated that the president of the United States would talk about any ambassador like that to a foreign head of state.”

“It didn’t sound good,” she said of the president’s remark that she would “go through some things.” She added, “It felt like a vague threat.”

Ms. Yovanovitch’s dismissal followed a campaign of attacks against her, led by Mr. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, who was circumventing State Department diplomats in a shadowy effort to get Mr. Zelensky to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals.

Mr. Giuliani branded her a “stooge” and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, called her “a joker.” Fox News personalities jumped in, accusing her of being disloyal to the president by criticizing him in private conversations.




How Does the Impeachment Process Work?

Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.

“Impeachment by its nature, it’s a political process.” “What people think is going to happen can turn out to be very different from what happens.” “Because it has to do with elected officials holding another elected official to account for their conduct.” When the framers of the Constitution created a process to remove a president from office, they were well … kind of vague. So to understand how it’s going to play out, the past is really our best guide. “I think we’re just all in for a really crazy ride.” Collectively, these New York Times reporters have covered U.S. politics for over 150 years. “I’m also a drummer in a band, so …” They’ve reported on past impeachment inquiries. “Yea, I’m lost in Senate wonderland.” And they say that the three we’ve had so far have been full of twists and turns. “The president of the United States is not guilty as charged.” In short, expect the unexpected. First, the process. Impeachment is technically only the initial stage. “Common misconceptions about impeachment are that impeachment by itself means removal from office. It doesn’t. The impeachment part of the process is only the indictment that sets up a trial.” The Constitution describes offenses that are grounds for removing the president from office as bribery, treason and — “They say high crimes and misdemeanors, which, really, is in the eye of the beholder.” “The framers didn’t give us a guidebook to it. They simply said, that the House had the responsibility for impeachment and the Senate had the responsibility for the trial.” One of the things missing from the Constitution? How an impeachment inquiry should start. And that has generally been a source of drama. Basically, anything goes. “In fact, in the Andrew Johnson case they voted to impeach him without even having drafted the articles of impeachment.” For Richard Nixon, his case started with several investigations that led to public hearings. That part of the process went on for two years, and yielded revelation after revelation, connecting Nixon to a politically-motivated burglary at D.N.C. headquarters — “… located in the Watergate office building.” — and its subsequent cover-up. “Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?” “I was aware of listening devices. Yes, sir.” “This was a shocker. Everybody in the White House recognized how damaging this could be.” As the House drafted articles of impeachment, Nixon lost the support of his party. “O.K., I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.” “I was asked to write the farewell piece that ran the morning after Nixon resigned. And this is what I wrote: The central question is how a man who won so much could have lost so much.” So for Nixon, it more or less ended after the investigations. But for Bill Clinton, that phase was just the beginning. “This is the information.” An independent counsel’s investigation into his business dealings unexpectedly turned into a very public inquiry about his personal life. “The idea that a president of the United States was having an affair with a White House intern and then a federal prosecutor was looking at that, it was just extraordinary.” That investigation led to public hearings in the House Judiciary Committee. “When the Starr Report was being delivered to Congress it was a little bit like the O.J. chase, only a political one. There were two black cars. They were being filmed live on CNN. They were heading towards the Capitol. We were watching it and a little bit agog.” Public opinion is key. And the media plays a huge part in the process. This was definitely true for Clinton. “You know it was just a crazy time. We worked in the Senate press gallery.” “All your colleagues are kind of piled on top of each other.” “We had crummy computers, the fax machine would always break. The printer would always break.” After committee hearings, the House brought formal impeachment charges. “It was very tense. I thought that the Saturday of the impeachment vote in the House was one of the most tense days I’d experienced in Washington.” And it turned out, also, full of surprises. “The day of impeachment arrived, everyone’s making very impassioned speeches about whether Bill Clinton should or should not be impeached and Livingston rises to give an argument for the House Republicans. He started to talk about how Clinton could resign.” “You, sir, may resign your post.” “And all of a sudden people start booing and saying, ‘Resign, resign’!” “So I must set the example.” “He announced he was resigning because he had had extramarital affairs and challenged President Clinton to do the only honorable thing, in his view —” “I hope President Clinton will follow.” “— to resign as well, so there was all this drama unfolding even in the midst of impeachment.” Then it went to the Senate for trial. The Constitution gets a little more specific about this part. “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is supposed to preside over that trial.” “Rehnquist, he showed up in this robe he had made for himself, which had gold stripes on the sleeves because he liked Gilbert and Sullivan.” “The Senate is the actual jury.” “You will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws. So help you, God.” “This is a copy of the rules of the Senate for handling impeachment. They’re actually very specific.” “Meet six days a week.” “Convene at noon. The senators have to sit at their desks and remain quiet in their role as jurors. And not talk, which trust me, is going to be a problem for some of the senators who are used to talking all the time.” It’s just like a courtroom trial. There are prosecutors who present the case against the president. “That was perjury.” Only, they’re members of the House, and they’re called managers. Then the senators, or the jurors, vote. And things are still, unpredictable. “The options are guilty or not guilty. But there was one senator —” “Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania.” “Under Scottish law, there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty and not proved.” “— which is not a thing.” “And everybody just looks, you know, how do you even record that vote?” In the end, there were not enough votes to oust Clinton. “What’s amazing about this whole thing to me wasn’t so much the constitutional process. It was that it felt to me like the beginning of really intense partisanship, the weaponization of partisanship.” And here’s the thing: An impeachment charge has never gotten the two-thirds majority it needs in the Senate to actually oust a president from office. “So you could end up having a situation where the president is impeached, acquitted and runs for re-election and wins re-election.” And that would be a first. “This is my ticket to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. I don’t think you’ll find these on StubHub.”

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Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.CreditCredit…Photo illustration by Aaron Byrd

Among their complaints: A former Ukrainian prosecutor claimed in an interview with The New York Times that Ms. Yovanovitch had blocked his team from getting visas to the United States to deliver damaging information about Mr. Biden and his son Hunter to the F.B.I.

Ms. Yovanovitch testified that she did indeed block the former Ukrainian prosecutor because he was corrupt. And she pointedly denied some of the conspiracy theories that Mr. Giuliani and his allies spread, including allegations that she was speaking ill of President Trump.

She said no one in the State Department believed them, but told lawmakers that efforts by her colleagues to have Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issue a supportive statement about her were fruitless, because of “concerns up the street” — a reference she took to mean the White House.

“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,” she told the lawmakers, adding that actions like her removal would only embolden America’s adversaries, including President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

In earlier congressional testimony, Ms. Yovanovitch said her father fled the Soviet Union and then the Nazis; her mother grew up “stateless” in Germany. She said that background gave her a special empathy for those who had endured poverty, war and displacement.

A native of Canada who moved to Connecticut at age 3 and became an American citizen at 18, Ms. Yovanovitch has spent 33 years with the State Department and is known for her professionalism.

She grew up speaking Russian, graduated from Princeton and joined the State Department six years later. She has worked for presidents of both parties: President George W. Bush appointed her ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, then to Armenia. President Barack Obama named her ambassador to Ukraine in 2016.

There, she pushed for a variety of changes, including ending the immunity enjoyed by legislators accused of crimes. After her ouster, she returned to Washington, and is now a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplom

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