Impeachment inquiry hearing with former US Ambassador to Ukraine
GOP lawmakers dodged the question when asked whether it was OK for Rudy Giuliani to mount a smear campaign against former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Rep. Jim Jordan, who has been an active participant in the impeachment hearings, went silent at one point when asked.
Some context: Yovanovitch, who was unexpectedly removed from her position as ambassador to Ukraine by President Trump, testified that she was accused, without evidence, by Rudy Giuliani and others of trying to undermine the President and blocking efforts to investigate Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden.
During the hearing today, ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and at least one congressman referred to the death of a prominent anti-corruption Kateryna Handziuk, who died in 2018 following an acid attack.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York, asked Yovanovitch, "Why would somebody attack her with acid? There are easier ways to kill people. Why did they do it with acid?"
"I think they wanted her out of the way, but I think the message was this could happen to you, too, if you continue her work."
"That's what happens when you go up against corrupt people in Ukraine?" Maloney asked.
"It is something that can happen," Yovanovitch said.
What we know about Handziuk's death: According to the prosecutors in the case, in late July 2018, the perpetrator poured over a liter of sulfuric acid on Handziuk next to her house. She suffered severe chemical burns to 30% of her body and had to undergo over ten surgeries. Initially, a criminal case was launched under “hooliganism” offense but reclassified as “assault with the intent of intimidation” due to public pressure, Ukrainian news agencies reported at the time.
A few weeks prior to her death, Handziuk recorded an anti-corruption message from hospital bed saying “I know I look bad now… but I’m sure that I look much better than fairness and justice in Ukraine."
Earlier this year, then-prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko said in a televised statement that the main suspect who ordered the acid attack is a local political in a Ukrainian town of Kherson Vladislav Manger. The possible motive was a TV story accusing him of large scale corruption and other investigations into corruption in Kherson that Handziuk worked on along with others.
Manger was arrested but eventually was released on bail. He denies any involvement but is still a suspect in the case. In June 2019, a court in Dnepropetrovsk convicted five men who participated in obtaining acid and carrying out the attack.
Why they talked about this today: On April 25, 2019 — when Yovanovitch got the call telling her to leave Kiev — Yovanovitch was awarding her the "Woman of Courage” award postmortem. Handziuk’s father received it on her behalf.
Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley defended President Trump's release of rough transcripts of his calls with the Ukrainian president, saying he did it "so that every American can see he did nothing wrong."
Here's what Gidley said:
“The President continues to push for transparency in light of these baseless accusations and has taken the unprecedented steps to release the transcripts of both phone calls with President [Volodymyr] Zelensky so that every American can see he did nothing wrong. It is standard operating procedure for the National Security Council to provide readouts of the President’s phone calls with foreign leaders. This one was prepared by the [National Security Council’s] Ukraine expert.”
Talking to the press this afternoon, President Trump ridiculed Democrats for their conduct during the public testimony of former US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
“It’s really sad when you see people not allowed to ask questions,” Trump said, seemingly referring to a moment during the testimony when Devin Nunes, the Republican ranking member of the House intelligence committee, attempted to give some of his time for opening questions to Rep. Elise Stefanik.
“They’ve taken away the Republican’s rights. And I watched today as certain very talented people who wanted to ask questions, and they weren’t even allowed to ask questions.”
Chairman Adam Schiff, however, did not allow Stefanik to ask any questions during that time.
“Under the House Resolution 660 you are not allowed to yield time except to minority counsel,” Schiff said.
Facts First: Under the House rules for these hearings, Nunes is not allowed to give his time to other members of the committee. Additionally, later on in the hearing Stefanik was still given – as all members are – five minutes to question Yovanovitch.
On October 31, the House passed the resolution governing how the impeachment hearings would be conducted. In that resolution, it lays out that “only the chair (Schiff) and ranking minority member (Nunes), or a Permanent Select Committee employee if yielded to by the chair or ranking minority member, may question witnesses during such periods of questioning.”
Both Nunes and Schiff yielded part of their time of questioning to an employee. The rules are clear that other members of the committee (e.g. Stefanik) can’t be given part of that time.
Instead, each member has five minutes of questions. So it’s incorrect to suggest that Stefanik was “not allowed to ask questions.”
Two Trump campaign sources, one inside the re-election team and one surrogate, said it was a mistake for the President to tweet about former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovich during her hearing today.
One of the sources, a longtime Republican operative and surrogate for the campaign, offered a scathing response to Trump's tweet, saying it made Yovanovitch more sympathetic, working against the President's interests.
"It was idiotic to tweet today about her. Democrats are owning the emotion of the day. She seems legitimately worried," the source said.
Ousted ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified under oath that a "smear campaign" was levied against her by the President's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his associates.
Asked moments ago in the hallway if he believed her claims of a "smear campaign," Republican Rep. Jim Jordan shook his head.
Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik said that while she disagrees with the tone of President Trump's tweet attacking former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the focus should remain on whether there are impeachable offenses, not tweets.
"We're not here to talk about tweets. We're here to talk but impeachable offenses," she said. "These hearings are not about tweets. They are about impeachment of the President of United States. This is a constitutional matter."
Stefanik went on to criticize Democrats, saying they "want to continue making this a political food fight and they are going about this in a partisan way."
"This is a very serious matter when we're talking about impeachment. This a constitutional matter. It's not about tweets," she said.
House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff called a tweet sent by President Trump during former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch's hearing "just appalling."
Schiff told reporters after the hearing:
"But as we have observed so often, appalling in this administration is not the least bit surprising. Nonetheless, she endured the attack and went on. We are grateful for that."
Asked if Trump's attack could potentially be considered for an article of impeachment, Schiff said the President's behavior is "part of a pattern to intimidate witnesses. It's also part of a pattern to obstruct the investigation."
"A pattern that goes back to praising Paul Manafort for not cooperating, condemning Michael Cohen as a rat, because he was cooperating with authorities. Attacking other witnesses who come forward suggesting that we ought to treat those like the whistleblower who exposed wrongdoing in his administration was we treat traitors and spies and we used to execute traitors and spies," Schiff said.
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff would not say if Former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill's public testimony, which is scheduled for next Thursday, will be the last.
"In terms of whether Ambassador Hill will be the final testimony — I'm not prepared to say," he told reporters.
Earlier this week, the Intelligence panel announced it would hold five impeachment hearings next week over three days, all for officials who have already appeared for closed-door depositions:
- Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide next Tuesday morning
- Kurt Volker, the former US special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a National Security Council aide, next Tuesday afternoon
- US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on Wednesday morning
- Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense and David Hale, the under secretary of State for political affairs, on the Wednesday afternoon
- Hill on Thursday morning.