As former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was testifying Friday at the congressional impeachment hearings, the tyrannical 2-year-old occupying the Oval Office busied himself on Twitter trying to smear her. Presumably, there are no grown-ups left to mind him.
There he was, the president of the United States, apparently watching the proceedings, and he couldn’t bear being left out. He hurled insults at Yovanovitch in what House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff described as “witness intimidation in real time.” Not only was this an outrage bordering on criminal, Trump’s Twitter-tantrum conceivably could lead to an article of impeachment.
The president later defended his comments at a White House event on health care, saying, “I have the right to speak; I have freedom of speech just like other people do.” Of course, he does, but there’s a tiny difference between him and “other people.” He’s the most powerful person in the world and commands the largest military on the planet. He doesn’t have to express every little thing. Someone should tell him.
This wasn’t Trump’s first time trying to bully — and, yes, intimidate — this highly respected public servant. Yovanovitch was an anti-corruption reformer in her role in war-torn Ukraine. But in May, for seemingly personal reasons, Trump fired her.
The president later expressed his low impression of Yovanovitch during a July 25 phone call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The American president told his counterpart that Yovanovitch was “bad news,” that she caused problems everywhere she served, and that she would “go through some things.”
“It sounded like a threat,” Yovanovitch testified.
I’d say. Never mind the utter humiliation and disrespect. Or the implicit threat to others serving in the diplomatic service. Or the clear message to other interested parties, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, that Trump will kneecap his own people when they fail to serve his personal agenda. Does Trump know nothing about diplomacy? Never mind.
Ironically, Yovanovitch had learned of her ouster from Ukraine while honoring a murdered Ukrainian anti-corruption activist. She was told that she should get on a plane home that very day, according to her testimony. Trump likes this sort of thing, too. Remember that when James Comey was removed as FBI director two years ago, he was giving a pep talk to employees in the Los Angeles field office as wall-mounted televisions behind him began to flash “Comey Resigns.”
That Trump, what a prankster. Further to his own amusement, he apparently decided that Friday morning, right about when Yovanovitch’s hearing began, was exactly the right time to release a rough transcript of his first call with Zelensky in April. Surely an attempt to deflect attention from the hearing, the maneuver backfired when a comparison of Trump’s rough transcript and the White House’s readout released immediately after the call revealed significant discrepancies, raising doubts about the veracity of both.
Trump’s allies had maintained that Yovanovitch’s removal from Ukraine was based on her allegedly bad-mouthing the president and her failure to fight corruption. But the emerging picture based on recent revelations is that Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani considered her an obstacle to an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
If, indeed, Yovanovitch had impeded a valid investigation, evidence of which isn’t apparent, then perhaps Trump might have wanted to replace her. That’s certainly his prerogative, as he tweeted Friday. The main issue at stake, however, is whether Trump offered a quid pro quo or attempted to extort or bribe Zelensky in exchange for dirt on Hunter Biden and his father, a potential opponent in next year’s election. Whatever you call it, we now know that Trump did briefly freeze military funding to Ukraine and teased a White House visit in what appeared to be an exchange for information.
In her damning testimony last month during closed hearings, Yovanovitch said her firing was engineered in part by Giuliani, along with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested last month on campaign-finance violations just as they were about to board a plane with one-way tickets. She claimed that the trio was conspiring with corrupt, old-guard Ukrainians to get her replaced with someone who would be more favorable to their “business dealings” — importing natural gas into Ukraine.
Plainly, Ukrainian natural gas is the stock to watch. For now, after the first two days of public hearings, it would seem that Trump and Giuliani are the bad news — and maybe soon they’ll be going through some things themselves.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist For The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.