Donald Trump's tweet about Yovanovitch.
Donald Trump's tweet about Yovanovitch.

America erupts over a single tweet

America's former ambassador to Ukraine has dramatically recounted the devastation she felt when she was targeted by President Trump and his allies.

Marie Yovanovitch was removed from her post earlier this year amid rumours she had been bad-mouthing Mr Trump in private and undermining him abroad.

The President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, helped foment those rumours. He said Ms Yovanovitch was obstructing efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter - a push which is now at the heart of the Trump impeachment inquiry.

On top of that, Ukraine's then prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko claimed Ms Yovanovitch had stood in the way of corruption investigations, giving him a list of people she did not want him to prosecute.

Mr Lutsenko has since retracted that claim, which was labelled an "outright fabrication" by the US State Department. He was dismissed from his position in August.

Overnight, Ms Yovanovitch spoke to the House Intelligence Committee in Congress, headlining the second day of public impeachment hearings.

An hour into her testimony, Mr Trump attacked the former ambassador on Twitter, saying everywhere she went "turned bad".

There's a bit of context to unpack there.

Ms Yovanovitch served as a young foreign service officer in Somalia in 1986. The country dissolved into violence in the following years, though it seems quite a stretch, to put it mildly, for Mr Trump to blame that on her.

It is true that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "spoke unfavourably" about Ms Yovanovitch during his phone call with Mr Trump on July 25.

"The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news, so I just want to let you know that," Mr Trump told him.

"It was great that you told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100 per cent," Mr Zelensky said.

"Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous president and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new president well enough."

"Well, she's going to go through some things," Mr Trump responded.

 

In a second tweet, Mr Trump said he had an "absolute right" to appoint ambassadors.

"They call it 'serving at the pleasure of the President'. The US now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than preceding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First!" he said.

In a dramatic departure from the congressional hearing's planned course, Democrat Adam Schiff, who is heading the probe, read out Mr Trump's tweets and asked Ms Yovanovitch to respond.

"I mean, I don't think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu and Somalia and not in other places. I actually think that where I've served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better, you know, for the US as well as for the countries that I've served in," the former ambassador said.

"Ukraine, for example, where there are huge challenges including, you know, on the issue that we're discussing today of corruption, huge challenges, but they have made a lot of progress since 2014, including in the years that I was there and I think in part, I mean the Ukrainian people get the most credit for that, but a part of that credit goes to the United States and to me as the ambassador."

Mr Schiff then asked how the tweets impacted her - and how they could impact other witnesses.

"The President, in real time, is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?" he asked.

"It's very intimidating. I mean, I can't speak to what the President is trying to do, but I think the effect is trying to be intimidating," she replied.

She said the president's words "sounded like a threat".

 

Ms Yovanovitch said she was devastated when she came under fire from Mr Giuliani and the President's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, earlier this year. But she was even more stunned in September when she learned that Mr Trump himself had disparaged her in his now infamous call with Mr Zelensky.

"It was a terrible moment," she said.

"A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the colour drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction. I think, you know, even now, words kind of fail me."

Ms Yovanovitch received a round of applause from the crowd in the committee room after concluding her testimony. The Democrats joined in. The Republicans didn't.

Mr Trump's decision to tweet about her during the hearing was a stunning move, and one which could cause more trouble for him going forward.

"The whole hearing turned on a dime when the President tweeted about her in real time, and during the questioning Adam Schiff stopped Democratic questioning to read the President's tweet to her and get her response," Fox News political anchor Bret Baier said during a break in proceedings.

"That enabled Schiff to then characterise the tweet as intimidating the witness or tampering with the witness, which is a crime, adding essentially an article of impeachment in real time as this hearing is going on."

Elsewhere in the United States overnight, another of Mr Trump's associates was convicted of crimes in connection with the Mueller investigation into Russian election interference.

Roger Stone, a longtime Republican political operative and adviser to Mr Trump, was found guilty on all seven counts, which included lying to investigators about WikiLeaks, tampering with witnesses and obstructing a congressional committee's investigation.

The President reacted, again on Twitter, by saying Mr Stone's conviction was "a double standard like never seen before" in American history.

"So now they convict Roger Stone and want to jail him for many years to come. Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr and Nellie, Steele and all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn't they lie?" Mr Trump said.

Mr Stone joins a list of other Trump associates who have been convicted, including the President's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, deputy campaign manger Rick Gates, national security adviser Michael Flynn, personal lawyer Michael Cohen and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

megan.palin@news.com.au | @Megan_Palin


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