Highlights from Marie Yovanovitch's public testimony on Trump and Ukraine

Highlights from Marie Yovanovitch's public testimony on Trump and Ukraine

Career diplomat Marie (Masha) Yovanovitch got to elaborate in public testimony Friday before the U.S. House intelligence committee about her removal as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, an event that clearly left her disappointed and puzzled.

Yovanovitch was removed from her post just over two months before a now-infamous July 25 call in which U.S. President Donald Trump asked his Ukraine counterpart Volodomyr Zelensky for a "favour," bringing up the possibility of investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden — whose son Hunter served on the board of Ukraine energy giant Burisma while his father was U.S. vice-president — as well as a probe into whether Ukraine actors interfered in the 2016 election through cyber activities on behalf of Democrats.

That phone call and the withholding of U.S. aid to Ukraine for several weeks have formed the basis of an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. Democrats allege Trump improperly used the powers of his office for personal gain and that Yovanovitch, given her exemplary record, was an obstacle to getting buy-in for those desired investigations.

After testifying for about five hours, the Montreal-born Yovanovitch left the room on Capitol Hill to applause.

Here are some of the highlights:

'It sounded like a threat'

In a rough summary released of the Trump-Zelensky phone call, the U.S. president described Yovanovitch as "bad news" and said she was "going to go through some things."

Yovanovitch described learning of the call: "It was a terrible moment. The person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the colour drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction."

Asked by Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman about the content, specifically the "going to go through some things," Yovanovitch replied: "It didn't sound good. It sounded like a threat."

Trump, in a move that was even criticized by analysts on Fox News, sent off a derogatory tweet while the hearing was ongoing, criticizing Yovanovitch's record of public service.

In a surreal moment, Adam Schiff, House intelligence committee chair, read the Trump tweet and got Yovanovitch to respond.

"Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously," said Schiff.

The White House denied in a statement that it was intimidation, and an angry Trump insisted in a scrum with reporters on Friday afternoon, "I have a right to speak."

Republicans tried to push back at the notion Yovanovitch's professional life has ended dismally, with more than one lawmaker referring to the effusive praise she's received from fellow diplomats in testimony, as well as her current role teaching at Georgetown University.

Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley scoffed at that notion, getting her to admit Georgetown was not where she ultimately would like to be at this point in her career, and he then made his main point with a reference to Trump's pre-presidency role as The Apprentice host.

"It's not the end of a Hallmark movie. It's the end of a really bad reality TV show brought to you by someone who knows a lot about that," said Quigley.

High stakes

Yovanovitch's three decades of public service in posts have included time spent in hot spots. The diplomat spoke of fleeing from nearby gunfire in a breakaway Soviet republic, and being on the front lines several times in Ukraine as it has tried to fight off Kremlin-backed Russian fighters in the eastern part of the country.

Yovanovitch, stoic for much of the day, became a bit emotional recalling how she was summoned back to Washington for what would be her dismissal around the time she was involved in posthumously honouring Ukrainian Kateryna Handziuk, an anti-corruption activist who died after spending weeks in the hospital after having acid thrown at her.  

"This isn't a tabletop game," said Yovanovitch at one point. "There are lives in the balance."

Yovanovitch also testified that she believed the circumstances regarding her ouster had negative repercussions pertaining to morale for foreign service officers as well as U.S. credibility in diplomatic circles around the globe.

"Our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests around the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want," she said. "After these events, what foreign official — corrupt or not — can be blamed for wondering whether the U.S. ambassador represents the president's views?"

Again with the bribery

Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that the president and other officers of government "shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours."

As happened with the impeachment cases concerning Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, it has been presumed that if the Democrats were to draft articles of impeachment, they would accuse the president of the ill-defined "high crimes and misdemeanours."

But in her weekly news conference on Wednesday, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought up the spectre of bribery in connection with the $391 million US in aid that was held up for several weeks. Democrats allege it was conditional on Ukraine announcing the investigations Trump desired.

"The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That's bribery," said Pelosi.

Connecticut Democratic Jim Himes picked up the mantle from Pelosi in Friday's hearing, getting Yovanovitch to agree that bribery was a "serious abuse of power."

Trump a friend to Ukraine: Republicans

As the testimony got underway, the White House released a rough transcript of a call in late April between Trump and Zelensky, soon after the latter was elected. 

Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the committee, read liberally from the transcript, in which both presidents spoke of their kinship as outsider candidates and political neophytes with a high profile from TV appearances — Zelensky was a comic actor — before pulling off stunning electoral wins.

The value was questionable, given that the Democrats are largely focused on events between May and September. As they did in the first public hearing earlier this week involving U.S. diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent, Republicans were probably more effective in focusing on the biggest contribution of the Trump administration to Ukraine's defence against Russia.

President Barack Obama's administration provided Ukraine with nonlethal military supplies, including counter-mortar radars, night-vision devices and medical items. The Trump administration in 2017 agreed to provide lethal weapons, committing to sell $47 million in Javelin anti-tank missiles.

Ohio Republican Brad Wenstrup got Yovanovitch to agree that the missiles serve as a deterrent to Russia. 

Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

A bad look for Democrats 

There has never been credible information to emerge that indicates the Bidens engaged in wrongdoing. 

But Texas Republican John Ratcliffe essentially got Yovanovitch to agree that the appearance of a potential conflict of interest for Joe Biden was ever present, and that when she went through confirmation hearings in 2016 for her post, questions about the Bidens and Burisma were part of the preparation material for the Democratic administration.

Yovanovitch could not specifically recall if any other Ukraine company was mentioned in the prep material.

Other Republicans brought up anti-Trump comments made publicly by Ukraine officials during the 2016 U.S. election campaign as evidence they were "out to get him," in the words of Republican counsel Steve Castor.

Yovanovitch admitted it was probably not appropriate for the Ukraine politicians to be so forthright about Trump, but felt they were "isolated incidents."

"Those elements that you've recited don't seem to me to be kind of a plan or plot of the Ukrainian government to work against President Trump or anyone else," she said.