Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, is scheduled to testify on Friday at 10 a.m. ET in the second public hearing of the House impeachment inquiry of President Trump. She is expected to provide details about what she has termed a “smear campaign” waged against her by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her post in May after Giuliani complained she was interfering with his demand for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, has testified that Giuliani’s efforts were at odds with U.S. policy. Her testimony will likely corroborate what Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, described as the Trump administration’s “irregular” channels of diplomacy with Kyiv.
At the heart of the Democrats’ case against Trump is the contention that he abused his power — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to his actions as “bribery” — in seeking a foreign investigation of a domestic political rival and pressing his demand by withholding security assistance to that country. Recalling Yovanovitch, Democrats will say, is further proof that Trump was undermining U.S. policy, which was to support Ukraine in its war with Russia.
While Giuliani is certain to become the focus of much of Friday’s testimony, three other possible sideshows are worth watching.
Will Jim Jordan press his argument that Trump wanted to test the Ukraine president’s honesty?
During his questioning of Taylor and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, offered a novel explanation for Trump putting a hold on military aid to Ukraine: Trump was testing newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky’s commitment to fighting corruption.
Jim Jordan is out here offering some historical fiction about Trump's purported good faith concerns about corruption in Ukraine. (The word "corruption" never appears in the White House summary of the Trump-Zelensky phone call.) pic.twitter.com/PEcojWZ0bS
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 13, 2019
Trump himself has insisted that his demand for an investigation into Biden, and a parallel effort to push a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine was involved in hacking Democratic emails in 2016, were born of a concern over corruption. (That conflicts with at least one of the several explanations Giuliani has given for the demand: that it was to defend Trump against “false charges.”)
Yet Jordan’s assertion that Trump put a hold on aid to Ukraine until he could be assured of Zelensky’s honesty has no support in the memo of Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president, in which he specifically asked for the investigations as a “favor.” Other members of his administration had made clear to Kyiv that a public announcement of the investigations would prompt the restoration of aid.
The aid was released, without conditions, on Sept. 11, which Trump’s defenders cite as evidence that the Democrats’ narrative of a quid pro quo demand is false. But that came just two days after three House committees were informed of the whistleblower’s complaint about the July 25 call, and prepared to launch an investigation.
Will Republicans press their effort to unmask the whistleblower?
For weeks, Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress have demanded that Democrats identify the whistleblower by name. Their theory is that they can then show that he or she was opposed to Trump politically, discrediting the entire impeachment inquiry.
Democrats counter that everything in the complaint has now been corroborated over the course of sworn depositions, making the whistleblower’s testimony and identity irrelevant. Revealing the whistleblower’s name would undercut the protections established to root out government corruption.
During Wednesday’s hearing, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., declared that he would “not permit the outing of the whistleblower.”
While Republicans have alleged that Schiff knows the identity of the whistleblower, who reportedly sought advice from House Democratic staffers on how to properly file a complaint, Schiff said Wednesday he was not told his or her name.
Jordan, on the other hand, clearly believes he already knows the identity of the whistleblower. During Wednesday’s hearing he railed against “this anonymous so-called whistleblower, with no first-hand knowledge, who is biased against the president, who worked with Joe Biden, who is the reason we are all sitting here today. We’ll never get a chance to question that individual.”
That drew a clever response from Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
“I’d be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify,” Welch said. “President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”
REP. JIM JORDAN (R): Congress will never get a chance to question the one "who started it all."
REP. PETER WELCH (D): pic.twitter.com/v0o5kDn6pM
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) November 13, 2019
With names of the suspected whistleblower already having been published by some right-leaning news outlets, and with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., vowing that he “will not accept a trial in the Senate until I know who the whistleblower is,” it’s possible that a Republican on the Intelligence Committee could simply blurt out a name during live testimony.
How far will Republicans take their attacks on Yovanovitch?
With a broad brush, Trump depicted those taking part in Wednesday’s hearing as “NEVER TRUMPERS!” In his opening statement, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., decried “partisan bureaucrats” who seek to “overturn the results of the 2016 election.”
“I’ll conclude by noting the immense damage the politicized bureaucracy has done to Americans’ faith in government,” Nunes continued. “Though executive branch employees are charged with implementing the policies set by our president, who is elected and is responsible to the American people, elements of the civil service have decided that they, not the president, are really in charge.”
In her deposition to House investigators, Yovanovitch testified that Giuliani sought her ouster because she refused to pressure the Ukrainians for an investigation of Biden.
In his July 25 call with Zelensky, Trump said the following about Yovanovitch: “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that.”
For Republicans, the president’s assessment explains why he had lost faith in Yovanovitch, and they will likely portray her as just another Never Trumper, which is the term they use for anyone who doesn’t accede to his wishes.
Democrats, however, will likely focus on Trump’s next remarks, in which he brings up Hunter and Joe Biden, as proof that the ambassador was recalled to advance his political interests.
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