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Donald Trump was accused of "real-time" witness tampering on Friday as he tweeted attacks on his former Ukranian ambassador while she testified in a second day of public impeachment hearings, leading her to say she felt "very" intimidated.
"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," the US president wrote of his former ambassador who was forced from her post this summer, in an apparent attempt to cast doubt on her record serving as a diplomat in Somalia and Ukraine.
The tweets, issued around an hour into Ms Yovanovitch's testimony on Capitol Hill, were swiftly condemned not just by Democrat congressmen but also some Republicans, including the party's third most senior member in the House of Representatives.
Ms Yovanovitch herself was asked about Mr Trump's criticism while she gave evidence by the most senior Democrat on the committee leading the impeachment inquiry who had been alerted to the tweets.
"The president in real time is attacking you," said Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman. "What effect do you think that has on other witnesses' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?"
Ms Yovanovitch replied: "It's very intimidating."
The comment led Mr Schiff to add: "I want to let you know ambassador that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously."
Some media commentators said the president's intervention was the equivalent of Richard Nixon live-tweeting attacks on John Dean, the former White House counsel whose damning evidence about the Watergate scandal helped force him from office.
In the halls of Congress, Republicans were put on the spot by reporters over whether they endorsed the tweets. Some did, with Mr Trump's chief defender on the House Intelligence Committee Jim Jordan saying the president was "frustrated" with the "relentless" attacks on him, adding: "I think the American people can relate to the frustration."
But others were openly critical. Liz Cheney, daughter of former US vice president Dick Cheney and the third most senior Republican House member, said: "Clearly [Yovanovitch] is somebody who’s been a public servant to the United States for decades and I don’t think the president should have done that.”
Nicolle Wallace, a senior reporter for the broadcaster MSNBC, likened the tweets to "real-life witness tampering and intimidation". Witness tampering is a crime in America.
Mr Trump's full tweets read:
....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
The "O" appears to be a reference to Barack Obama, Mr Trump's predecessor as US president.
Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said in a statement: “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. There is less due process in this hearing than any such event in the history of our country. It’s a true disgrace.”
The row dominated a day where Ms Yovanovitch testified about how she had been forced out of her Ukraine ambassadorship after Trump allies, chief among them his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, spread unfounded claims about her.
Ms Yovanovitch, who served under Mr Obama before Mr Trump, denied she had given Ukrainian officials a "do not prosecute" list, something claimed amid suggestions she was somehow standing in the way of an investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of US vice president Joe Biden, a Democrat.
She recounted how in April 2019, amid a swirl of allegations about her opposition to Mr Trump, she was told to get "on the next plane" home. She left her role in July after being informed that Mr Trump no longer wished her to serve.
Ms Yovanovitch said she had been "kneecapped", adding: "Our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want."
On Friday morning the White House released a rough transcript of Mr Trump's first phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in an apparent attempt to boost his case that nothing untoward happened in his Ukraine policy.
The April 21 call, which lasted 16 minutes, saw Mr Trump congratulate Mr Zelenskiy and talk warmly about possible future meetings.
Unlike the now infamous July 25 call, where Mr Trump pushed for a probe into the Bidens, there was no mention of investigations.
Mr Trump tweeted the transcript out, while a supportive Republican congressman read it word-for-word during the impeachment hearing.
But Democrats pointed out that it was Mr Trump's actions later in the year, after April 21, which were the focus of their investigation.
The day was marked by several contentious moments between the two parties, with Republican congressmen regularly sparring with Mr Schiff.
Mr Trump accused the Democratic chair of the committee of abandoning "due process", saying "it's really sad" when people can't ask questions.
Leading Republicans and Democrats offered their assessment of the day's events in post-hearing press conferences. Mr Schiff hit out at Mr Trump, saying his critical tweet of Ms Yovanovitch was part of a broader and incriminating pattern of witness intimidation. "This is a part of a pattern to intimidate witnesses, and it's also part of a pattern to obstruct the investigation. It was also a part, frankly, of the pattern to obstruct justice," he told reporters
At the White House, Mr Trump told reporters he did not think his tweets were intimidating.
"I'll tell you about what tampering is," he said. " 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."
Mr Jordan, a key Trump ally in Congress, also dismissed any suggestion that Trump's tweets were designed to influence the witness, saying "She wouldn’t even have known about the quote if Mr Schiff hadn’t read the tweet."
There will be three more days of public hearings next week with eight witnesses testifying. After that Democrats are expected to draft and table articles of impeachment against Mr Trump. d