Marie Yovanovitch says State Department 'being hollowed out from within'

By Nicholas Sakelaris & Danielle Haynes
Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, takes the oath before testifyng before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Friday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, takes the oath before testifyng before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Friday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told lawmakers there's a "crisis" in the State Department during Friday's public impeachment hearing, saying the agency's "being hollowed out from within."

She described a State Department in which leaders fail to stand with career diplomats and fear how President Donald Trump might undermine their policies. It was Yovanovitch's second appearance before House lawmakers as part of their impeachment inquiry. She sat for a closed-door deposition Oct. 11.


"At the closed deposition, I expressed grave concerns about the degradation of the Foreign Service over the past few years and the failure of State Department leadership to push back as foreign and corrupt interests apparently hijacked our Ukraine policy. I remain disappointed that the department's leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong," she said.


"Moreover, the attacks are leading to a crisis in the State Department as the policy process is visibly unraveling, leadership vacancies go unfilled, and senior and mid-level officers ponder an uncertain future and head for the doors. The crisis has moved from the impact on individuals to an impact on the institution.

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"The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage."

The House intelligence committee questioned Yovanovitch, who still works for the State Department, about her former post in Kiev and her removal at Trump's insistence in May.

The House investigation seeks to determine if Trump used promised military aid to Kiev as leverage to persuade Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Threatening to withhold Congress-approved aid for personal political benefit is grounds for impeachment, Democrats argue.

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Yovanovitch said she found Trump's efforts to remove her undermining, dangerous and precedent-setting. House Democrats believe she was recalled after a smear campaign led by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Yovanovitch testified Friday she'd visited the front lines of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on multiple occasions to see how U.S. military aid was spent and show Ukrainian troops they had the support of the United States.


"I worked to advance U.S. policy fully embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike to help Ukraine become a stable and independent Democratic state," she said. "We see the potential in Ukraine. Russia by contrast sees the risk."

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Her goal, she said, was to help Ukraine move out of Russian's orbit and into Europe's market. She said she expected her crusade against corruption in Ukraine would make enemies there.

"What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and working together they apparently succeeded in removing a U.S. ambassador," Yovanovitch said of the Trump administration. "How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government? Which country's interests are served when the very corrupt behavior we have been criticizing is allowed to prevail?"

She denied disparaging Trump and said she never maintained a "do not prosecute list" for Ukrainian officials, as Giuliani claimed.

"She was considered an obstacle to the furtherance of the president's personal and political agenda," intelligence committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff said in his opening remarks. "For that she was smeared and cast aside."

Yovanovitch said that though she was told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to keep her in Kiev as long as possible, he stopped short of issuing a statement of support for her after Donald Trump Jr. disparaged her.


"I was told there was a concern on the seventh floor," where State Department leaders are located, "that if a statement of support was issued ... that it could be undermined," she said.

She added that if such a statement were issued, "the president might issue a tweet contradicting that."

Yovanovitch said Trump was not always in line with official policy within the State Department. For instance, she said Trump's praise for former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky contradicted the State Department, which considered Lutsenko corrupt.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said he's angry at the way Yovanovitch was dismissed after a lifetime of service to her country.

"I'm angry that [Trump dismissed] a woman whose family fled communism and Nazism, who served this country beautifully for 33 years, not in Paris or in Rome, but literally under fire in places like Mogadishu and Kiev," Himes said. "I'm angry that a woman like you would be not just be dismissed, but humiliated and attacked by the president of the United States."

Himes asked Yovanovitch how she would have handled Ukrainian issues if she'd been allowed to remain in the post. Asked if she would've directed Kiev to explore a theory concerning who hacked the Democratic National Committee server during the 2016 campaign, Yovanovitch answered "no," saying the theory had already been debunked by the U.S. intelligence community.


When asked whether she would have approved withholding military aid for three months, she again answered "no" -- and when asked if she would've been OK with Trump asking a foreign government to investigate a political rival, her answer once again was "no."

During Yovanovitch's testimony Friday, Trump fired off a series of tweets further disparaging her.

"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," one tweet read. "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.

"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 [Obama]."

Yovanovitch disagreed with Trump's assessment that she made a mess of things while in Kiev.

"I and others have demonstrably made things better," she said. "For the U.S. as well as for the countries that I've served in.

"There are huge challenges, including on the issue we're discussing today on corruption. [Ukraine has] made a lot of progress since 2014, including the years that I was there. The Ukrainian people get the most credit for that. A part of that credit goes to the work of the United States and to me as the ambassador in Ukraine."


Trump rejected Democrats' suggestion that his tweets about Yovanovitch amounted to witness tampering.

"I'll tell you about what tampering is," he told reporters. "Tampering is when Shifty Schiff doesn't let us have lawyers. Tampering is when Schiff doesn't let us have witnesses, doesn't let us speak.

"There was no due process. And I think it's 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."

Yovanovitch also reacted to reading the transcript of the July phone call with Zelensky -- in which the president disparaged her and asked for investigations of Biden and his son, a former Ukrainian gas company board member.

"I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner, where President Trump said I was 'bad news' to another world leader," she said. "It was a terrible moment. A person who saw me reading the transcript said the color drained from my face. Even now, words kind of fail me."

Yovanovitch said she served under four Republican presidents and has always been non-partisan.


"Politics should stop at the water's edge," she said. "At the end of the day, when we are dealing with other countries, it needs to be about what is right for the United States. Those are our national security interests. Whether an individual works for the CIA, or the military or the State Department, we've got to be non-partisan and what is right for the United States."

In the transcript from her private deposition, Yovanovitch contended Trump simply wanted a new ambassador in Kiev.

"I guess they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine, or different business dealings," she said.

Most of the events at the center of the investigation occurred after Yovanovitch left Kiev.

William Taylor, who succeeded Yovanovitch in the post, and diplomat George Kent testified at a public hearing Wednesday that they disagreed with her removal. Taylor said Trump tried to use the Ukraine aid as leverage for a Biden investigation -- a claim supported by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and corroborated by national security aide Tim Morrison.

Investigators were also scheduled Friday for a private deposition of foreign service official David Holmes, who's believed to have been with Sondland in Ukraine when he received a call from Trump asking about the status of "the investigations." Taylor alluded to the call in his testimony Wednesday.


Earlier Friday, Trump released a rough transcript of an April 21 call between he and Zelensky, which Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., read into the record at the hearing. In that call, Trump congratulated Zelensky on his election victory and the Ukrainian leader invited him to attend his inauguration. Trump also invited Zelensky to Washington, D.C.

"When you're settled in and ready, I'd like to invite you to the White House," Trump said, according to the transcript. "We'll have a lot of things to talk about. But we're with you all the way."

In his remarks Friday, Nunes, the panel's ranking Republican, criticized the proceedings by saying Congress has other important work to do -- such as a pending North American trade deal and a federal spending bill to avoid another government shutdown. He called the probe a "farce" replete with second-, third- and fourth-hand information.

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