Impeachment inquiry hearing with former US Ambassador to Ukraine
President Trump defended his tweets against former ambassador Marie Yovanovich as she testified on Capitol Hill, saying that he had every right to send them.
“You know what? I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech just as other people do, but they’ve taken away the Republicans rights,” the President said.
Trump admitted that he watched today’s proceedings, saying, "It’s really sad when you see people not allowed to ask questions." He said he didn’t watch Wednesday’s proceedings due to a White House visit from Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
When asked directly if he thought his tweets and words could be intimidating, the President responded, “I don’t think so at all.”
More context: Earlier today, Trump tweeted as former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's testimony was underway that "everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," which prompted a response minutes later from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who allowed Yovanovitch to react to Trump's latest criticisms. Schiff charged that the tweet was "designed to intimidate" her and other witnesses.
Moments ago, during a press conference at the White House to discuss healthcare, President Trump called himself the "most transparent president in history" while characterizing the impeachment hearing today as "a joke."
"It's really sad when you see people not allowed to ask questions," Trump said about the hearing today of ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. "I think it's considered a joke. It's a disgrace what's happening."
When asked if Trump's tweets and remarks about Yovanovitch were intimidating, the President said, "I don't think so at all."
Trump added that he had watched some of Yovanovitch's testimony today.
There are still a few members left to ask questions. Each gets 5 minutes.
The hearing will resume in a few minutes. Members will resume their questioning when they return.
Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat from Washington, got emotional as he described how angry he is over President Trump's treatment of Marie Yovanovitch, former US Ambassador to Ukraine.
First, some background: Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in May. In the July phone that's at the center of the impeachment inquiry, President Trump disparaged her, calling her "bad news" and saying, "she's going to go through some things."
"I'm very angry," Heck said at today's hearing.
"About how it is the most powerful person on the face of the Earth would remove you from office after your stellar service and somehow feel compelled to characterize you as 'bad news' and then to ominously threaten that you're 'going to go through some things.' So I am angry. But I'm not surprised."
Former US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch has the support of her family and her former foreign service colleagues inside the hearing room today.
Here's who's sitting behind her:
- Her brother Andre Yovanovitch
- Elizabeth Jones, former assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia
- John Naland, former president of the American Foreign Service Association (Naland and Yovanovitch were classmates when they first joined the foreign service.)
Yovanovitch was asked today about how the smear campaign carried out against her has impacted her family.
“I really do not want to get into that, but thank you for asking,” she said.
After saying that, Yovanovitch appeared to get a bit emotional. Her mother died less than a month ago.
The State Department did not reply when asked if any current top State Department officials attended the hearing to support Yovanovitch today.
Ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch says neither President Trump nor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ever told her exactly why she was being pulled from her post.
Yovanovitch has testified that, amid a personal campaign against her, she was told by a superior in April to get "on the next plane home" because there was nervousness about her in the White House and State Department and possible concerns about her security.
Here's her exchange with Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas:
Castro: So I want to ask you, did the president ever tell you why he was recalling you?
Castro: Did anybody at the White House ever tell you why you were being recalled?
Castro: Did the President ever consult you about who the good guys and the bad guys were in the Ukraine?
Castro: Did Secretary Pompeo ever tell you why you were being recalled?
Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik used her five minutes for questions to go after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and his remarks about having the whistleblower testify.
Stefanik read off headlines from several publications reporting Schiff saying that the whistleblower, whose complaint initiated to the House impeachment inquiry, would testify before committee:
"I keep can going but the chairman refused to allow us put these into the record as unanimous consent. It's important to prevent whistleblower from retaliation and firing and want to make sure whistleblowers are able to come forward but in this case the fact we are getting criticized by Chairman Adam Schiff for statements he made early on in the process shows the due duplicity and just the abuse of power that we are continuing to see."
The other side: Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell said the whistleblower's identity needs to be protected because of President Trump's attacks on him or her:
"The whistleblower has an absolute right to anonymity. The whistleblower's lawyer has said that he fears for his personal safety and will only answer questions now in writing."
More on this: The whistleblower's attorney responded on Saturday to House Republicans' call for his client to testify, saying that an in-person interview is a non-starter, but the offer for lawmakers to submit written questions still stands.
"My client's complaint has been largely corroborated. Nonetheless, I have offered to have my client respond in writing, under oath, and under penalty of perjury to Republican questions," Andrew Bakaj said in a statement to CNN.
Tensions over the whistleblower's identity have been building in the closed-door depositions — transcripts of which have been publicly released over the course of this week.
Two sources previously described to CNN a pattern of GOP questioning — over the course of several congressional depositions related to the probe — that appeared designed to try to identify the whistleblower through the course of asking witnesses, and putting into the deposition record, the names of various government officials involved that may fit the professional description that has been made public of the individual.
GOP Rep. Will Hurd rattled off a list of Marie Yovanovitch's accomplishments before going into questioning.
"You’re tough as nails and you’re smart as hell,” the retiring Texas Republican told Yovanovitch during his period of questioning.
“You’re a great example of what our ambassadors should be like. You’re an honor to your family, you’re an honor to the foreign service, you are an honor to this country, and I thank you for all that you have done, and will continue to do on behalf of your country.”