Ex-Ukraine ambassador says "foreign corrupt interests" orchestrated ouster
Key takeaways from Friday's impeachment hearing
- At the second public impeachment hearing, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch said a smear campaign waged by "foreign corrupt interests" led to her early ouster.
- In the middle of the hearing, the president attacked her on Twitter, and she reacted just minutes later, calling his tweets "very intimidating."
- Read updates from the hearing below, as it happened.
- Download the free CBS News app to stream live coverage of all the impeachment hearings.
Washington -- The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was prematurely recalled from her post told lawmakers she was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by "foreign corrupt interests" in Ukraine who worked with Trump allies to tarnish her reputation after 33 years in public service.
Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch appeared Friday before the House Intelligence Committee in the second public hearing in the impeachment inquiry. Over the course of more than six hours, she said she was given no reason for her abrupt removal from Kiev and did not know why she was targeted by Rudy Giuliani.
"There's a question as to why the kind of campaign to get me out of Ukraine happened, because all the president has to do is say he wants a different ambassador," she said. "And in my line of work, perhaps in your line of work as well, all we have is our reputation. And so this has been a very painful period."
She said she felt threatened when she learned what President Trump said about her on his now-infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Mr. Trump said Yovanovitch was "bad news" and would be "going through some things," comments that provoked a physical reaction when she learned of them in September.
"A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face," she said Friday, becoming visibly upset. "Even now, words kind of fail me ... I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner."
Republicans at the hearing praised her service and largely avoided casting doubt on her account, instead criticizing Democrats for their handling of the proceedings and questioning the relevance of Yovanovitch's testimony, given that she was dismissed before the events at the center of the Ukraine affair. Democrats said her experience showed that U.S. foreign policy had been co-opted by a rogue faction that was led by Giuliani and abetted by other U.S. diplomats.
As she was testifying, the president tweeted a new attack targeting her, claiming that "everywhere Yovanovitch went turned bad," seemingly blaming her for instability in dangerous foreign countries where she has been posted over her 33-year career.
In a remarkable moment, Yovanovitch was asked to respond to the president's tweets just minutes after he sent them. She said she found them "very intimidating."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the president's attacks were tantamount to witness intimidation.
"I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously," Schiff said. -- Stefan Becket
Yovanovitch arrives at Capitol for hearing
8:43 a.m.: Yovanovitch arrived at the Capitol ahead of the start of the hearing, waiting in a holding room before her testimony begins. -- Stefan Becket
Schiff says Yovanovitch's removal kicked off chain of events leading to aid delay
9:15 a.m.: As the hearing got underway, Schiff praised Yovanovitch and her record of fighting corruption during her time in Kiev. Schiff quoted George Kent, who testified on Wednesday that "you can't promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing-off corrupt people."
"And Ambassador Yovanovitch did not just 'piss off' corrupt Ukrainians, like the corrupt former prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, but also certain Americans like Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump's personal attorney, and two individuals, now indicted, who worked with him, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas," Schiff said.
Giuliani and his associates coordinated a smear campaign against Yovanovitch, largely in public view, alleging she was disloyal to Mr. Trump. Their efforts eventually leading to her being recalled from her post months early with little explanation.
"Some have argued that a president has the ability to nominate or remove any ambassador he wants, that they serve at the pleasure of the president. And that is true. The question before us is not whether Donald Trump could recall an American ambassador with a stellar reputation for fighting corruption in Ukraine, but why would he want to?" Schiff continued.
The chairman argued that Yovanovitch's removal from Kiev set in motion the series of events that led to the withholding of military aid to Ukraine, which several witnesses have alleged was conditioned on Ukraine opening investigations into the Bidens.
"Ambassador Yovanovitch was serving our nation's interest in fighting corruption in Ukraine, but she was considered an obstacle to the furtherance of the President's personal and political agenda. For that she was smeared and cast aside. The powers of the presidency are immense, but they are not absolute and cannot be used for a corrupt purpose," Schiff concluded. -- Grace Segers
Nunes denounces Democrats, citing White House summary of first Ukraine call
9:23 a.m.: In his opening statement, Republican Ranking Member Devin Nunes condemned Democrats for holding "day-long TV spectacles" instead of working on legislation like a trade agreement or funding the government.
He said the Democratic case was based on hearsay, and pointed out that five Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have already voted to impeach Mr. Trump.
"Democrats have been vowing to oust President Trump since the day he was elected," Nunes said. "So Americans can rightly suspect that his phone call with President Zelensky was used as an excuse for the Democrats to fulfill their Watergate fantasies."
Nunes also condemned Schiff for sending a memo to Republicans on the committee warning of referrals to the Ethics Committee if they attempted to "out" the whistleblower.
Nunes propagated the theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election, which has been widely debunked, including by Bill Taylor and George Kent.
Nunes also read a summary of Mr. Trump's first call with Zelensky, after Zelensky was elected in April. The White House released the summary just minutes before the hearing began. -- Grace Segers
White House says Trump not watching hearing
9:40 a.m.: In a statement, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Mr. Trump would not watch the majority of the hearing.
"The President will be watching Congressman Nunes' opening statement, but the rest of the day he will be working hard for the American people," Grisham said in a statement. -- Grace Segers
Yovanovitch's opening statement: "I had no agenda"
9:40 a.m.: After being sworn in, Yovanovitch began her opening statement by making it clear she had "no agenda" other than to serve stated U.S. policy goals. Yovanovitch, who joined the foreign service during the Reagan administration, has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents.
"I joined the Foreign Service during the Reagan Administration and subsequently served three other Republican presidents, as well as two Democratic presidents," she said. "It was my great honor to be appointed to serve as an ambassador three times-- twice by President George W. Bush and once by President Barack Obama."
Yovanovitch then went on to describe the trials of her service, including when she was quite literally caught in crossfire in Russia.
"I worked to advance U.S. policy, fully embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike," to help Ukraine become a fully free and independent state, she testified, saying that goal serves not just Ukrainian interests, but U.S. interests, too.
"They match our objectives," Yovanovitch said.
The U.S. has provided "significant" assistance to Ukraine, and the Trump administration "strengthened" that support to Ukraine by providing Javelin anti-tank missiles. -- Kathryn Watson
Yovanovitch denounces smear campaign
9:50 a.m.: Continuing her opening statement, Yovanovitch defended her reputation and actions, specifically addressing allegations made by Giuliani and Ukrainians trying to derail her anti-corruption work.
"Perhaps it was not surprising that when our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me," Yovanovitch said. "What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador. How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?"
American leadership around the world, she said, "depends on the power of our example and the consistency of our purpose. Both have now been opened to question."
She said allegations that she was out to get Mr. Trump are untrue, and said she never even met Hunter Biden.
"Also untrue are unsourced allegations that I told unidentified embassy employees or Ukrainian officials that President Trump's orders should be ignored because 'he was going to be impeached' -- or for any other reason. I did not and would not say such a thing," she testified.
"The Obama administration did not ask me to help the Clinton campaign or harm the Trump campaign, nor would I have taken any such steps if they had," she added.
Yovanovitch also swatted down allegations that she distributed a list of people not to prosecute in Ukraine.
"I want to reiterate that the allegation that I disseminated a 'Do Not Prosecute' list is a fabrication," she testified. -- Kathryn Watson
Trump attacks Yovanovitch during testimony
10:09 a.m.: The president tweeted twice about Yovanovitch and her career:
Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President's absolute right to appoint ambassadors.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
....They call it "serving at the pleasure of the President." The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First! With all of that, however, I have done FAR more for Ukraine than O.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
Yovanovitch says abrupt removal "not how I wanted my career to end"
10:12 a.m.: Yovanovitch described a May discussion with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, when Sullivan told her that Mr. Trump had lost confidence in her. She was given no reason why, and was only told that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was "no longer able to protect" her.
"My understanding was that the president had wanted me to leave, and there was some discussion about that," Yovanovitch said about Mr. Trump's opposition to her service.
Sullivan told her that she had to leave Ukraine, which Yovanovitch said made her feel "terrible, honestly."
"After 33 years of service to our country -- it's not how I wanted my career to end," Yovanovitch said. -- Grace Segers
Yovanovitch says she was "shocked and devastated" by Trump comments on July 25 call
10:13 a.m.: Yovanovitch described her reaction to reading the summary of the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Zelensky, when Mr. Trump called her "bad news," and Zelensky said he agreed "100%."
She said she first learned what he had said when the White House released the official account of the call in late September.
"I was shocked. Absolutely shocked. And devastated, frankly," Yovanovitch said.
"A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face," she said. "I think I even had a physical reaction. Even now, words kind of fail me."
Yovanovitch added that she was "shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner."
At another point in the call, Mr. Trump told Zelensky that Yovanovitch was going to "go through some things." Yovanovitch said she wasn't sure what Mr. Trump meant, but "it didn't sound good."
"It kind of felt like a vague threat," Yovanovitch said. -- Grace Segers
Yovanovitch reacts to Trump's tweets attacking her
10:25 a.m.: Schiff read Mr. Trump's tweets from just minutes before, in which he said that "everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?"
"Ambassador Yovanovitch, as we sit here testifying, the president is attacking you on Twitter," Schiff said. "And I would like to give you a chance to respond."
Schiff then read portions of the tweets and asked for her reaction.
"I don't think I have such powers. Not in Mogadishu, Somalia, not in other places," Yovanovitch said, slightly smiling. "I think where I have served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. and for the countries that I've served in."
"Ambassador, you have shown the courage to come forward today and testify, notwithstanding the fact that you were urged by the White House or State Department not to. Notwithstanding the fact that, as you testified earlier, the president implicitly threatened you in that call record, and now the president in real time is attacking you," Schiff said. "What effect do you think that has on other witnesses willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?"
"It is very intimidating," Yovanovitch said. "I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating."
Schiff responded: "I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously." -- Grace Segers
Committee in recess for floor votes
10:49 a.m.: Lawmakers are in recess for a series of votes on the House floor, which are expected to last at least an hour. -- Rebecca Kaplan
Yovanovitch: State Department "being hollowed out from within"
11:36 a.m.: In her opening statement, Yovanovitch said her experience was emblematic of wider problems within the State Department, which she said is being "degraded" as an institution.
"The attacks are leading to a crisis in the State Department, as the policy process is visibly unravelling, leadership vacancies go unfilled and senior and mid-level officers ponder an uncertain future," she said. "The crisis has moved from the impact on individuals to an impact on the institution itself."
She added: "The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage." -- Stefan Becket
Hearing resumes after lengthy recess
12:21 p.m.: After a break that lasted more than an hour, lawmakers and Yovanovitch are back in the hearing room for the second round of questioning, led by Ranking Member Devin Nunes -- Stefan Becket
Nunes questions relevance of Yovanovitch's testimony
12:33 p.m.: Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, questioned why Yovanovitch was called to testify in the first place, given the fact that she was removed from her post before the events that are central to the Ukraine scandal.
"I'm not exactly sure what the ambassador is doing here today," Nunes said. "This is the House Intelligence Committee that has now turned into the House Impeachment Committee."
Nunes said the hearing "seems more appropriate for the subcommittee on human resources at the Foreign Affairs Committee."
He then attempted to yield to Representative Elise Stefanik in violation of the rules for the proceedings, which state that only Nunes or a designated member of his staff may ask questions during this round. Schiff cut Stefanik off, and Nunes protested, before yielding to staff attorney Steve Castor. -- Stefan Becket
Yovanovitch sidesteps questions about Hunter Biden
12:51 p.m.: Yovanovitch sidestepped questions about Hunter Biden and his role on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas firm. Biden served on the board of Burisma from 2014 to 2019. Yovanovitch arrived in Ukraine in 2016.
"I never met him, never talked to him," Yovanovitch said about Biden. She also said that Biden's position on the board was "not a focus" while she was in Ukraine.
Yovanovitch also weighed in on the theory promoted by Republicans that Ukrainians opposed Mr. Trump's election.
"We didn't really see it that way," Yovanovitch said.
Steve Castor, the minority's counsel, also asked Yovanovitch if it was true that Mr. Trump has a "longstanding interest" in corruption in Ukraine.
"That's what he says," Yovanovitch replied. -- Grace Segers
Yovanovitch shoots down idea of Ukrainian "plot" against Trump
1:03 p.m.: After Castor, the Republican counsel, repeatedly asked Yovanovitch about various Ukrainian officials' criticism of Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, Yovanovitch said she did not believe these incidents amounted to election interference, as Republicans have argued.
Noting that Ukrainian officials had made derogatory comments about Mr. Trump on social media, Yovanovitch said: "Sometimes that happens on social media."
She said criticism by Ukrainian officials did not amount to a "plan or a plot to work against" him.
"They're isolated incidents," Yovanovitch said. "That does not mean that someone is, or a government is, undermining either a campaign or interfering in our elections."
She also reminded the committee that the U.S. intelligence committee concluded that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 election.
"Our own U.S. intelligence community has determined that those who interfered in the election were in Russia," Yovanovitch said. -- Grace Segers
Hearing moves to 5-minute rounds of questioning
1:14 p.m.: The hearing now moves to alternating rounds of five minutes for questioning by committee members, which they can yield to colleagues.
Here's the expected order of questioners, after Schiff and Nunes, who yielded his time to Stefanik:
- Jim Himes, Democrat from Connecticut
- Mike Conaway, Republican from Texas
- Terri Sewell, Democrat from Alabama
- Michael Turner, Republican from Ohio
- Andre Carson, Democrat from Indiana
- Brad Wenstrup, Republican from Ohio
- Jackie Speier, Democrat from California
- Chris Stewart, Republican from Utah
- Mike Quigley, Democrat from Illinois
- Elise Stefanik, Republican from New York
- Eric Swalwell, Democrat from California
- Will Hurd, Republican from Texas
- Joaquin Castro, Democrat from Texas
- John Ratcliffe, Republican from Texas
- Denny Heck, Democrat from Washington
- Jim Jordan, Republican from Ohio
- Peter Welch, Democrat from Vermont
- Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat from New York
- Val Demings, Democrat from Florida
- Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat from Illinois
-- Rebecca Kaplan
White House claims Trump didn't engage in witness intimidation
1:23 p.m.: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who has largely eluded reporters in person at the White House during Yovanovitch's testimony, issued a statement Friday afternoon that the president's tweet didn't amount to witness intimidation.
Grisham pointed out that the hearing is part of a political process, not a criminal proceeding.
"The tweet was not witness intimidation, it was simply the president's opinion, which he is entitled to. This is not a trial, it is a partisan political process -- or to put it more accurately, a totally illegitimate, charade stacked against the president," Grisham said in a statement. "There is less due process in this hearing than any such event in the history of our country. It's a true disgrace."
White House reporters have been camped out intermittently outside Grisham's office, although she hasn't substantively engaged with reporters. -- Kathryn Watson
Yovanovitch says attacks have had "chilling effect" on diplomats
1:37 p.m.: Under questioning by Democratic Representative Terri Sewell, Yovanovitch said her experience has sent a chill through the diplomatic ranks of the State Department.
"I think it's had a chilling effect throughout the State Department, because people don't know whether their efforts to pursue stated policy are going to be supported," she said. "And that is a dangerous place to be." -- Stefan Becket
Yovanovitch questions why it was "necessary to attack my reputation"
1:55 p.m.: In response to a Republican lawmaker, Yovanovitch acknowledged the president has the prerogative to remove an ambassador for any reason, but she did not see why it was necessary to level false allegations at her.
"I obviously don't dispute that the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time for any reason, but I do wonder why it was necessary to attack my reputation," Yovanovitch said. -- Grace Segers
Yovanovitch says she would not have pressured Ukraine on investigations
2:24 p.m.: When asked by Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro what she would do if the president asked her to try to get a foreign power to investigate American citizens, Yovanovitch replied: "With what I know today, I would have said no."
Castro also asked whether it was unlawful for Mr. Trump to ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
"I don't think that it's unlawful per se, but I think there are channels for conducting investigations," Yovanovitch said. -- Grace Segers
Trump says he's watched some of the hearing, denies witness tampering
2:46 p.m.: Mr. Trump, addressing reporters following a White House event on transparency in drug pricing, said he watched the impeachment proceedings for the first time Friday morning, contradicting his own White House press secretary who had said he would be too busy to watch.
He took a few questions, including about his tweets criticizing Yovanovitch, which Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said constitute witness intimidation.
"I'll tell you about what tampering is. Tampering is when a guy like Shifty Schiff doesn't let us have lawyers," Mr. Trump said in the Roosevelt Room. "Tampering is when Schiff doesn't let us have witnesses, doesn't let us speak. I've been watching today. For the first time I started watching. And it's really sad when you see people not allowed to ask questions, it's totally, nobody's ever had such horrible due process, there was no due process."
The president said he thinks the inquiry is "considered a joke all over Washington and all over the world. The Republicans are given no due process whatsoever. We're not allowed to do anything. It's a disgrace what's happening."
Pressed further, Mr. Trump said he doesn't consider his tweet to be witness intimidation. -- Kathryn Watson
Hearing wraps up after more than 6 hours
3:22 p.m.: Schiff gaveled out the hearing to the sound of applause in the room. In his closing remarks, he praised Yovanovitch for coming forward and telling her story.
"What you did in coming forward and answering a lawful subpoena was to give courage to others who also witnessed wrongdoing," Schiff said.
"We not only grieve for what you went through, but what damage is being done to the State Department, to career foreign service officers all over the country," he added. -- Stefan Becket