Littwin: Trump bullies his way into a surprise appearance at the impeachment hearing

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch returns for additional questioning after a break while testifying before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the second impeachment hearing held by the committee, House Democrats continue to build a case against U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to link U.S. military aid for Ukraine to the nation’s investigation of his political rivals. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch returns for additional questioning after a break while testifying before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the second impeachment hearing held by the committee, House Democrats continue to build a case against U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to link U.S. military aid for Ukraine to the nation’s investigation of his political rivals. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donald Trump stole the impeachment show Friday, which was, in any case, less about impeachable offenses than it was about the level of presidential thuggishness that has made an impeachment inquiry necessary.

After all, this impeachment inquiry is centered on Trump’s attempt to intimidate Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — by withholding $390 million in critical military aid — in order to force him to publicly announce an investigation of Joe Biden and of the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, was at the heart of the 2016 political hackery.

According to reports, Zelensky had given in and had agreed to go on CNN — just days before the whistleblower report landed. Thanks to the report, Trump had to back down and actually hand over the congressionally-approved taxpayer money to Ukraine, effectively taking Zelensky off the hook. But not Trump.

We already know the plot line here. We’ve read the whistleblower’s report and the July 25 rough transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call, watched the many TV appearances of Rudy Giuliani basically admitting to running the scheme, saw Mick Mulvaney admitting (and then insisting he wasn’t admitting) to Trump’s quid pro quo and on and on. And there will be more witnesses, some of them first-hand witnesses — all braver, apparently, than tough guy John Bolton — who defied Trump’s order not to cooperate with the committee.  

And though the committee won’t hear from Mulvaney, Giuliani, Bolton or Mike Pompeo, it did receive an unexpected bonus appearance Friday as Trump himself showed up (OK, off camera) to remind us again that playing the bully is what he does best. It was shocking — not for what he said, of course, but for when he said it.

Marie Yovanovitch, the Trump-recalled ambassador to Ukraine, was the witness of the day. She had just finished her opening statement, a recitation of how Trump had “devastated” her in his July 25 phone call, how Secretary of State Pompeo had abandoned her out of fear of a Trump reprisal, how Giuliani and his Ukraine buddies had launched a smear campaign against her, how the present Washington dysfunction and corruption have served to weaken our standing in the world. If you wonder how well Yovanovitch’s testimony went over, she got a rare committee room standing ovation when the day ended.

She told the committee the affecting story of how she had been recalled — a month after being asked by the State Department to extend her assignment in Ukraine for a year. She got a 1 a.m. call in which she was ordered to take the next plane back to Washington.

Earlier that night, she had hosted a dinner for a murdered anti-corruption activist, Kateryna Handziuk, who had been splashed with sulfuric acid outside her home. She would die after 11 surgeries at age 33. And now the corruption in Ukraine was leading to Yovanovitch’s recall.

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

How indeed? Well, here’s Trump’s response, which he tweeted as he watched the hearings on TV: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. 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.”

Unfortunately for Trump, Rep. Adam Schiff was in the midst of questioning Yovanovitch when he was told of the tweet, which he read in real time on national TV for everyone, including Yovanovich, to hear. (And, of course, it was Trump who trashed her. Not Zelensky.)

She called it a threat. Schiff said it sounded like witness intimidation and later said it could play a role in whatever articles of impeachment we can expect to eventually see.

Even on FoxNews, they were calling Trump’s tweet a terrible mistake. And the Republicans who would go on to question Yovanovitch nearly all praised her 33 years in foreign diplomacy, thanked her (as all politicians must) “for her service,” and effectively contradicted Trump, who seemed to accuse her of the turmoil in Somalia (she was 28 when she went there) and failed to recognize that she had served in more than a dozen posts, five of which were hardship posts. 

Even for the stable genius, this was not exactly a brilliant move. But we have come to expect that.

On the call with Zelensky, Trump had said that Yovanovitch was “bad news” and added, “She’s going to go through some things.”

Yovanovitch said she couldn’t help but wonder what those things might be. She said when she heard the transcript of the call, she “had a physical reaction. Even now, words kind of fail me … It didn’t sound good — that the president of the United States would talk about any ambassador like that to a foreign head of state. And it was me. I couldn’t believe it.”

The day would only get worse for Trump. Roger Stone was convicted on counts of lying and witness tampering. In Wednesday’s hearing, we had learned from Bill Taylor, the acting Ukraine ambassador, that at least one of his aides (the count is now apparently up to three) had overheard a phone call from EU Ambassador/Trump donor Gordon Sondland to Trump, in which Trump had asked if Zelensky was ready to cooperate. Aide David Holmes testified about the call behind closed doors Friday.

CNN got hold of the opening statement, in which Holmes said, “Sondland told Trump that Zelensky ‘loves your ass.’ I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to.'”

He also said Sondland later told him Trump was only interested in the “big stuff” — like investigating Biden. Like all America, I’m waiting for Trump’s big-stuff, loves-your-ass tweeted response.

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

11 COMMENTS

  1. And none of us has heard anything good about her as Ambassador. We heard a lot of Democrats pay homage to her 33 years of service, but none spoke of how that service was successful, or not successful. Know that Ukraine was corrupted during prior administration, when she was Ambassador, and that Zelensky, campaigned against that promising to correct the problems, and to take strong stand opposing Russia and Russian efforts. So I would say that Donald Trump took proper action, well within his rights, as President.
    ——And know that Schiff led administration opposing Donald Trump, first for supporting Russia, but that did not fly. Then he tried to prove QUID PRO QUO, and that did not fly. Then he led on compromise, and that is not flying either. Schiff, is a loser, and now I have to question, where he went to law school. He seems to have missed a lot of the courses, and for sure he did not learn of what proper Defense-Offense in a Court case is, and what rights all members have as a given, in USA. He seems to think he should follow KGB tactics, though those went out of use, long ago. Very frankly, none of his witnesses have changed my mind about my past vote, or the one I will cast in 2020. I do not accept Socialist positions, in USA. Will stick with REPUBLIC, and our Constitution, with Bill of Rights.

  2. The Trump allies commenting above present arguments that are simultaneously incoherent and laughable – or they would be laughable if the perpetrators did not take them so seriously. Alas, for their presenters, there’s no evidence that any of the pro-Trump defenses presented above have any basis in fact. We are provided, however, with plenty of evidence that Frank 2525 has never been to law school himself.

  3. Frank2525 apparently lives in a news bubble where “none of us has heard anything good about her as Ambassador.”

    Taking a moment to read a Wikipedia article, you would no doubt see her career development. You could also see she’s been appointed Ambassador by both Republican and Democratic Presidents and confirmed by the Senate while it had Democratic and Republican majorities. You could also read “Yovanovitch received the department’s Senior Foreign Service Performance Award six times and the Superior Honor Award five times..” And some other awards along the way.

    Nice that you are broadening your horizons by reading the Colorado Independent.

  4. Some of the comments here are reminiscent of former Cong. Earl Landgrebe, who said during the Nixon Watergate impeachment investigation, “don’t confuse me with the facts”

  5. I find it encouraging that the Trumpies are reading Mike’s column, but not so encouraging that they fail to comprehend the clear summary he is presenting. Still they aren’t saying that they think it’s OK for a President to intimidate a witness in his impeachment trial with real – time derogatory tweets.So we ‘re getting somewhere.

  6. What President Trump wanted from Zelinsky was a public announcement linking Joe Biden to corruption. Mission accomplished. Even though Zelinsky did not make the announcement, Joe Biden has been linked with the suspicion of corruption, which hurts him in the democratic primary.

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