Impeachment inquiry hearing with former US Ambassador to Ukraine
Two of the top anchors at Fox News said that President Trump's Friday tweets attacking ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch raised the possibility of an additional article of impeachment being added against Trump for witness tampering.
Bret Baier, Fox's chief political anchor, said Trump's tweets "enabled" House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment inquiry, to "characterize that tweet as intimidating the witness or tampering with the witness, which is a crime."
"Adding, essentially, an article of impeachment real time as this hearing is going on," Baier said.
Chris Wallace, the anchor of Fox's flagship Sunday show, agreed with Baier, noting the attack "played out in real time."
"It does raise the possibility of witness intimidation and witness tampering as a new charge here," Wallace said.
"If you are not moved by the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch today, you don't have a pulse," Wallace said.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, told CNN in the hallway outside the hearing room what he thought of former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony so far.
He said Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, was relying on “gossip mongers” to testify. He called President Trump’s first April call to Zelensky, the transcript of which was released today, "No big deal."
He said of Trump, "Give the guy a break." When asked whether he found Yovanovitch to be a credible witness, Gohmert said:
"I don’t find her testimony relevant — to impeachment, to remove a president. How she felt, that’s not an impeachable offense and it’s irrelevant. If we had a real hearing, getting real evidence this would not even come into court."
Some context: Yovanovitch testified today that she was unexpectedly removed from her post as ambassador to Ukraine because of unfounded claims that she tried to undermine the President and blocked efforts to investigate Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden.
Rep. Jim Jordan brushed off President Trump’s tweets attacking Yovanovitch, blaming his frustration with Democrats.
“Look, the President has been frustrated with this relentless attack on him by the Democrats that started even before he was President. I think the American people can relate to the frustration. Democrats started in July 2016 with their crazy investigation and now they move into this, so I think that’s what drives that.”
He rejected the notion that Trump’s tweets amount to witness tampering.
“The witness is testifying. She wouldn’t even know about the quote if Mr. Schiff hadn’t read the tweet,” Jordan said.
CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said President Trump's tweet attacking former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as she testified today was "textbook" witness intimidation.
Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor, said Trump "tweeted out a direct personal attack on this witness clearly related to her testimony while she was testifying."
"I've prosecuted witness tampering cases. I've tried witness tampering cases. To me this is right down the middle. The question who is going to prosecute it?" Honig said.
He went on to say there are questions whether a sitting president can be prosecuted, adding "the question is what is Adam Schiff going to do."
Watch: Yovanovitch says President's attacks are 'very intimidating'
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a House Intelligence member, says Trump's tweet shows that former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's testimony is "getting under his skin."
"The testimony is getting under his skin. I think that he can't stand it," Krishnamoorthi said. "And he's engaging in what appears to me to be a type of witness intimidation."
Some background: As Yovanovitch testified this morning, Trump tweeted attacks against her, saying, "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad." He specifically pointed to her work in Somalia — which she described in her opening statement. (Remember: The White House said President Trump would watch Rep. Devin Nunes' opening statement — but not any of the rest of today's hearing.)
Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont who is on the Intelligence Committee, told CNN that the most significant fact today “is the intimidation by the President.”
“There's just an immense amount of intimidation coming from the President,” Welch said on a break from the Marie Yovanovitch hearing.
As Yovanovitch testified, President Trump tweeted several attacks against her.
Many Members didn’t notice Trump's tweets and learned of them when staff passed out copies, Welch said. “We were totally focused on the witness.”
Welch said the tweets were "absolutely" witness intimidation. “That’s a pretty shocking action by the president."
He also said the tweets "raise the question of obstruction of justice.”
Ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch said she was troubled by the misinformation disseminated about her by Fox News and other right-wing media entities.
Daniel Goldman, the attorney who led the questioning of Yovanovitch for the Democrats, showed Yovanovitch a tweet from President Trump attacking her, tagging Fox host Sean Hannity, and citing Fox contributor John Solomon.
Goldman showed her another tweet from Donald Trump Jr. which cited the right-wing website The Daily Wire.
Yovanovitch said she was aware of the tweets from the President, testifying, "I was worried."
"What were you worried about?" asked Goldman.
"That ... these attacks were being repeated by the President himself and his son," Yovanovitch answered.
More context: For months, Fox and other right-wing media organizations have pushed misinformation about Yovanovitch. Asked about some of the allegations peddled by right-wing media, Yovanovitch said they were wholly not true.
Watch the moment:
A powerful moment in today's hearing came when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff questioned Marie Yovanovitch on the effect of President Trump’s tweets and messages.
“It's very intimidating,” Yovanovitch replied.
The line of questioning could be building up Democrats’ case for a possible article of impeachment: obstruction of justice.
While Trump’s alleged abuse of power is still the main line of investigation for Democrats, the questioning that has emerged also underscores that Trump’s actions since then could also be in play.
White House stonewalling on administration witnesses has already frustrated Democrats, and they have argued the attempts to limit information could undercut their constitutional responsibilities.
In today's hearing, Democrats sought to portray Trump as cowing possible witnesses from appearing. And they suggested he was using threats to keep them from talking.
"What we saw today witness intimidation in real time by the President United States," Schiff said. "Once again going after this dedicated and respected career public servant in an effort to not only chill her but to chill others who may come forward."
"We take this kind of witness intimidation and obstruction of inquiry very seriously," Schiff said.
They highlighted a line from Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president when he mentioned Yovanovitch.
Trump said she was “going to go through some things,” which she told the committee appeared menacing.
“It sounded like a threat,” she said.
Later, she stopped short of saying what Trump was attempting to do. But she was clear on its impact.
“I can’t speak to what the President is trying to do,” she said. “But the effect is intimidating.”
Democrats who are watching ousted US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony right now say that her story, delivery and focus on the overall disruption to US foreign policy caused by Giuliani and associates has been devastating for the President.
These comments come from members who don’t serve on the committee but are glued to their own televisions today.
“Devastating,” Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey, said. “It’s a cry for help to the American people from and on behalf of the Foreign Service and every career public servant in our government.”
“Like her, I’m not shocked that corrupt interests in Ukraine wanted her gone. What’s extraordinary is that the president of the United States came under their influence and fired an ambassador on their behalf,” Malinowski added.
Maryland's Rep. Jamie Raskin similarly said that Yovanovitch “is a devastating witness for Trump, Giuliani and the back channel shadow government. The administration looks increasingly lawless.”
“The President and Giuliani targeted a 33-year award-winning public servant because her work against corruption got in the way of their corrupt scheme to shake down the Ukrainian government for political dirt,” Raskin added.