LIVEBLOG: Axed U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Testifies In House Impeachment Probe

US Ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify at US President Donald Trump impeachment probe at the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill on November 15, 2019 in Washington DC. - Public impeachm... US Ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify at US President Donald Trump impeachment probe at the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill on November 15, 2019 in Washington DC. - Public impeachment hearings resume Friday with the testimony of former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who says she was ousted because the Trump administration believed she would not go along with plans to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden, a potential Trump White House rival in 2020. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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November 15, 2019 8:35 a.m.
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The second day of public impeachment hearings features the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled after an aggressive smear campaign pushed by Rudy Giuliani and his allies.

In her private deposition, Yovanovitch described finding out about the smear campaign and how her requests that the State Department publicly stand up for her went unanswered.

President Trump would go on to promise on his July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that she would “go through some things” — comments she said left her feeling threatened.

We’ll be live-blogging her public testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee here:

3:23 p.m.: The hearing wrapped up more than six hours after it began. The the public audience gave Yovanovitch a standing ovation as she exited the room, drowning out a GOP member’s attempts to lodge one last procedural complaint before the hearing ended.

3:01 p.m.: Shots fired: Schiff gave Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) some extra time to clarify a question that was confusing Yovanovitch. Jordan’s clarification, however, took several seconds, and Schiff cautioned his “indulgence” of extra time was wearing out.

“Our indulgence wore out with you a long time ago, Mr. Chairman, I can tell you that,” Jordan snapped back.

2:27 p.m.: Republicans have returned to Yovanovitch’s testimony that she was prepped by the Obama administration for confirmation hearing questions about Hunter Biden and Burisma.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX): How many other companies were there in the prep?
Yovanovitch: I don’t recall
Ratcliffe: But you specifically recall Burisma?
Yovanovitch: Yup

2:09 p.m.: Quigley asked Yovanovitch about Sondland’s advice that she deal with the smear campaign by tweeting her support of the President. Yovanovitch said Sondland told her to “go big or go home” with a tweet but she felt the idea was too political and not in keeping with her role as a foreign service officer.

1:59 p.m.: Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) takes on a sterner tone in his questioning than what was used by previous Republicans in their questioning of Yovanovitch. He asked her if she had evidence that Trump accepted bribes or committed a crime, and she said no to both questions.

1:53 p.m.: At the end of Wenstrup’s questioning, Yovanovitch acknowledged again the President’s right to remove ambassadors. “Why was it necessary to smear my reputation?” she asked. Wenstrup responded by saying he wasn’t asking her about that.

1:46 p.m.: Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) compares Yovanovitch’s experience — in which the President’s allies attacked her publicly for month while the President himself badmouthed her to a foreign leader — to how he felt when he was abruptly deployed as an army reservist.

“I had patients scheduled for months. I has surgeries scheduled, so I understand that shocking feeling that can come with some abrupt change like that,” Wenstrup, who is a doctor, said.

1:41 p.m.: Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) asked Yovanovitch a series of questions that implied that there was nothing wrong with Giuliani or EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland getting so involved with Ukraine policy.

1:39 p.m.: Sewell gets an answer out of Yovanovitch that seems to counter the GOP line that the President has the right to chose ambassadors of his liking.
“All the president has to do is say ‘I want a different ambassador’,” Yovanovitch said, when asked whether the president has the right to malign people’s character.

She added that this was a very “painful” period for her.

1:32 p.m.: Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL)’s questioning appears to be in response to Conaway’s and she asked about the consequences the whole episode has had. She asked Yovanovitch how it has affected her family.
“I don’t want to get into that,” Yovanovitch said.

1:26 p.m.: Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), a senior Republican on the Intel Committee, asked Yovanovitch several questions about what she’s now doing in her post at Georgetown University and how she’s been treated by her State Department colleagues since her recall. The implication seems to be that getting removed from her post wasn’t the end of the world for her.

1:17 p.m.: Stefanik brought up the confirmation prep that Yovanovitch got in 2016 and the specific question she was prepped for about Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board. President Obama’s “own” State Department was concerned about a perceived conflict of interest, Stefanik said, yet Dems “cry foul” when Republicans “dare” to raise the issue.

1:16 p.m.: As member questioning starts, Stefanik gets the first full stab at questioning Yovanovitch. She said deposition was “powerful” and thanks her for her service. She then pivots to the issue of “corruption” in Ukraine.

1:09 p.m.: Before moving to the five-minute round for members, Schiff addressed Republican claims that Yovanovitch is irrelevant to the impeachment hearings. He noted that Yovonavitch was referenced on the July 25 call, and so was Giuliani, who was leading the smear campaign against her.

1:05 p.m.: Yovanovitch smoothly dismantled a GOP talking point in these proceedings: that the Trump administration’s policy towards Ukraine has been stronger than Obama’s. She noted that the message of the U.S. strong support was “undermine[d]” by the questions of whether the military assistance to Ukraine was going to go through.

1:01 p.m.: Yovanovitch got some laughs for her answer to a Castor question about how a Ukrainian politician who bashed Trump on Twitter.

Castor: “He said some nasty things.”
Yavanovitch: “Sometimes that happens on social media.”

12:56 p.m.: Castor brought up the “black ledger” reporting in August 2016 the led to Paul Manafort’s ouster from the Trump campaign. Yovanovitch pushed back against the idea that the reporting amounted to targeting the Trump campaign.

12:53 p.m.: Castor: Was there any indications in the embassy of Ukrainians advocating against then-candidate Trump?
Yovanovitch: “Actually there weren’t.”

12:52 p.m.: Castor tried to get Yovanovitch to weigh in on Hunter Biden’s lack of qualifications to sit on the Burisma board. She notes she didn’t arrive in Ukraine until August 2016, but later acknowledged that she was “aware” of the potential issue due to the preparation for her Senate confirmation hearings.

12:37 p.m.: Steve Castor, the GOP counsel, questioned Yovanovitch about Parnas and Fruman, whom Yovanovitch previously testified were part of the smear campaign against her. She told Castor that she had never met the two men, so it wasn’t clear to her at the time why they were pushing the allegations against her. She noted, however, that it was “unusual” that they didn’t reach out to the U.S. embassy if they were interested in launching an energy company, because that’s usually the first stop for U.S. businesses looking to grow in Ukraine.

12:26 p.m.: Nunes asks only a few questions and then another procedural squabble breaks out. Nunes had tried to yield to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who appeared to be prepared to take over questioning. But Schiff wouldn’t let her, because, according to the rules approved on the House floor last month, only the ranking member or staff counsel can ask questions in the 45-minute rounds that lead the hearings.

12:21 p.m.: The committee kicks things off again with another GOP procedural complaint suggesting that Dems coordinated with the witness — in violation of the House impeachment proceedings rules — by providing her a paper copy of their exhibits. Schiff clarifies that the committee gave her the paper copies this morning because the TVs in the hearing room weren’t working.

12:13 p.m.: We should be starting back up shortly. Members are beginning to trickle back in to the hearing room.

11:35 a.m.: More Twitter reaction to Yovanovitch’s testimony so far”

11:29 a.m.: As we wait for this recess to wrap up, here is how one diplomat, the Kyrgyz Republic’s ambassador in London, responded to Trump’s tweet about Yovanovitch:

10:40 a.m.: As the Democrats finish their first round of questioning, Schiff called a recess because the House has a vote.There are seven or eight votes scheduled, so this recess could take awhile.

10:30 a.m.: Schiff asked Yovanovitch if the tweets were “designed” to be “intimidating.” She said that she doesn’t know Trump’s intent but the “effect” is that they are intimidating.

Shiff told Yovanovitch that “some of us here take witness intimidation very seriously.”

10:24 a.m.: Schiff brought up Trump’s tweets posted during her hearing bashing Yovanovitch and asked to respond to his claim that everywhere she served “turned bad.”

10:22 a.m. Yovanovitch testified on how the smear campaign against her ramped up. She was asked who was working with Rudy Giuliani in pushing the false allegations. She said Yuriy Lutsenko, who was then the top Ukrainian prosecutors; Victor Shokin, a former Ukrainian prosecutor who was ousted because he was believed to be corrupt, and Lev Parnas, and Igor Furman, who were recently indicted.

10:16 a.m.: Yovanovitch was asked to weigh in on Trump’s praise of the Ukrainian prosecutor behind the smear campaign against her: “Well it was, it was disappointing, it was concerning.”

10:12 a.m.: Yovanovitch says she was “shocked” and “devastated” when she learned Trump bashed her on his July 25 Zelensky call. Goldman is taking her through the rough transcript itself.

10:06 a.m.: Yovanovitch recalls hearing that the President had lost confidence in here: “That was a terrible thing to hear.” She said she was not told that State had lost confidence in her, nor was she given reasons for why Trump had lost confidence in here.

10:00 a.m.: As questioning from Daniel Goldman, the staff counsel for the committee Democrats, begins, Yovanovitch reveals that she was hosting an event for an anti-corruption activist when she got the fateful phone call giving her the heads up about her ultimate removal.

9:59 a.m.: With his first set of questions, Schiff asked Yovanovitch to weigh in on the broader consequences of what happened to her. He asked if other diplomats will look at what happened to her and think that that is what will happen to them if they take on corruption.

“I think that’s a fair statement,” she said.

9:50 a.m.: Towards the end of her prepared remarks, Yovanovitch cited several episodes where U.S. diplomats were harmed or killed in their service to the United States. Those episodes included a reference to the 2012 Benghazi attacks, which Republicans investigated aggressively when they controlled the House.

9:48 a.m.: Yovanovitch goes after State Department leadership more directly, for failing to publicly back her amid the smear campaign.

“I remain disappointed that the Department’s leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong. ”

9:47 a.m.: Yovanovitch’s opening statement also recounts her removal, and how no one has “ever explained or sought to justify the President’s concerns about me, nor did anyone in the [State] Department justify my early departure by suggesting I had done something wrong.”

9:40 a.m.: Yovanovitch’s opening statement goes through her background, and as she pivoted to the specifics issues at hand today, she posed these questions to the committee.

“How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?”

9:28 a.m.: Schiff responds to the new rough transcript and says that he’s “grateful” the President released this “single” document but that, “We would ask the president to stop obstructing the impeachment inquiry.”

There’s also some back-and-forth with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) over her point of order complaining about Democratic interruptions to GOP questioning on Wednesday.

9:21 a.m.: Nunes is now reading from the freshly released White House call record from Trump’s April 21st call with Zelensky. Impeachment witnesses in their private testimony have already noted that that call went considerably more smoothly than the July 25th one.

9:20 a.m.: Nunes hasn’t abandoned the conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s alleged 2016 meddling, bringing them up again in his opening remarks, even as many other Republicans on his committee sought to avoid them during Wednesday’s testimony.

9:18 a.m.: Top Intel Republicans Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) opening remarks repeated his criticisms of Democrats for their “bizarre,” “TV spectacle” and their efforts to “topple a duly elected president.”

He also zeroed in on Wednesday’s hearing, claiming it was merely “hearsay.”

9:13 a.m.: House Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s (R-CA) opening statement focused on Yovanovitch’s biography, the major episodes in her private deposition and how her ouster fit into the pressure scheme.

“Getting rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch helped set stage for an irregular channel that could pursue the two investigations that mattered so much to the President, the 2016 conspiracy theory, and most important, an investigation into the 2020 political opponent he apparently feared most, Joe Biden,” Schiff said.

9:05 a.m.: Yovanovitch has entered the hearing room.

 

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