Analysis by Maeve Reston, CNN
(CNN)Donald Trump has rarely seemed capable of restraining his urges to lash out at women who criticize him, and that dynamic was never more on display than on Friday when he faced down the unflappable Marie Yovanovitch.The president removed Yovanovitch from her post as ambassador to Ukraine after a lengthy campaign to discredit her by his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani’s associates in Ukraine — and has generally professed disinterest in the hearings delving into whether he pressured Ukraine’s new president to investigate his political rival and withheld held military aid as cudgel.
But he snapped to attention Friday morning after a stretch of deeply compelling testimony by Yovanovitch, who has been hailed by her peers as an anti-corruption crusader.He sought to undermine “the woman” — as he called her in his July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — after a chilling moment when Yovanovitch described her reaction to reading his prediction of her fate during that July call with Ukraine’s president.
Most important takeaways from the Marie Yovanovitch impeachment hearingOn the witness stand before the House Intelligence Committee, the poised and dignified 33-year-diplomat described how the color drained from her face as she read the transcript of the President telling another foreign leader she was “bad news” and that “she’s going to go through some things.
“Those words, with their ominous tone, were disturbing enough on the page of the transcript, but Yovanovitch brought them to life when she was asked by the Democratic counsel to explain how she interpreted them.”She’s going to go through some things. It didn’t sound good. It sounded like a threat,” Yovanovitch said.When asked whether she felt threatened, Yovanovitch replied simply: “I did.”The President, who often seems to forget that women will form the majority of the electorate next year, apparently decided that compelling and relatable moment was the time to weigh in with a slashing attack on the credibility of a woman who recently visited the frontlines of a “hot war” to make sure US aid was being used properly.
She also helped open an embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, that was sprayed with gunfire and was quite literally caught in the midst of crossfire while serving in Moscow during the 1993 attempt coup in Russia.Seeming to blame her for a civil war in Somalia that began before she arrived at her post there, Trump described the former Ukraine ambassador as some sort of malevolent presence sowing discord at her posts around the world.”Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” he tweeted, going on to demean her service as his ambassador in Ukraine.Reacting to the President’s tweets in real time, a slight smile crossed Yovanovitch’s face as she responded more in disbelief than humor at the notion that everything “turned bad” in the places she went.”Well I, I mean … I don’t think I have such powers.
Not in Mogadishu, Somalia, not in other places,” she said.Trump’s attempt to once again discredit Yovanovitch was cringe-worthy even for some of the Republicans querying Yovanovitch Friday, who made it plain to her in their subsequent questions that they did not share his view of her service.Trump’s attack seemed all the more gratuitous coming after a day in which he declined to go after the two male witnesses who gave the opening testimony of the impeachment hearings Thursday, and after a morning in which Yovanovitch had described her service as a show of “gratitude for all that this country has given my family and me.”Delivering her recitation of the facts in a firm but sometimes soft voice that made her all the more compelling as a witness, Yovanovitch had described how her father fled the Soviets “before ultimately finding refuge in the United States” and how her mother grew up “stateless in Nazi Germany before eventually making her way to the United States.
“Leaning hard into her non-partisan credentials, she also highlighted that she joined the Foreign Service under Ronald Reagan and served under three other Republican presidents in addition to Trump.Despite countless and repetitive questions about how she “felt” about her firing and the smear campaign against her, Yovanovitch maintained a crisp and mostly steely tone throughout the day, avoiding the sorts of traps that would have allowed her critics to brush her off as an emotional witness.The rare exception came when she was asked to describe the impact of her experience on her family.”I really don’t want to get into that but thank you for asking,” she replied.”It’s been a difficult time. I mean, I’m a private person, I don’t want to put all that out there, but it’s been a very, very difficult time,” she allowed.Republicans generally took pains to show respect for the service of the former Ambassador, making the contrast with Trump all the more striking.
Ranking Member Devin Nunes, always the exception, questioned why Yovanovitch’s abrupt removal from her post was a topic for public hearings and not a matter for Human Resources.But Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, for example, who seemed to have been tapped as the GOP’s star questioner, repeatedly praised Yovanovitch and sought to redirect the conversation to the whistleblower, as well as the Obama Administration State Department’s concerns about Hunter Biden’s ties to Burisma during Yovanovitch’s initial confirmation hearings.
There were rougher moments in the questioning from Rep. Mike Turner and the famously aggressive Rep. Jim Jordan.Turner pressed Yovanovitch to say that Gordon Sondland, who is the US Ambassador to the European Union, could include Ukraine in his portfolio.
When she tried to answer in more depth, he talked over her — prompting Schiff to cut him off.”Not on my time,” Turner said, when Schiff admonished to allow the witness to answer.”You’re done right?” he snapped, pointing at Yovanovitch.Jordan expressed his outrage about the Democrats’ lack of attention to various allegations that Ukrainians sought to influence the 2016 election, but Yovanovitch seemed to get the better even of the GOP’s designated bulldog.She dispatched a lengthy diatribe from Jordan with her own query: “Is there a question in there?”