November 15, 2019 / 3:04 PM / a month ago

Factbox: 'You're tough as nails and you're smart as hell' - Quotes from Trump impeachment hearing

(Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee held its second public hearing on Friday in an impeachment inquiry examining President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The witness was Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, arrives to testify before a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Below are some quotations from Friday’s hearing.

WITNESS MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE:

Yovanovitch said not all Ukrainians “embraced” U.S. anti-corruption work. “Thus, perhaps, it was not surprising, that when our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador.”

“I do not understand Mr Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she said, referring to the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. “What I can say is that Mr. Giuliani should have known those claims were suspect, coming as they reportedly did from individuals with questionable motives and with reason to believe that their political and financial ambitions would be stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

“These events should concern everyone in this room. Ambassadors are the symbol of the United States abroad, they are the personal representative of the president,” Yovanovitch said. “If our chief representative is knee-capped, it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States.”

Yovanovitch was asked to respond to President Trump’s tweet on Friday in which the president said “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” including Somalia, as well as Ukraine.

She replied: “I don’t think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu, 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 for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I’ve served in.”

Asked by the committee’s chairman, Representative Adam Schiff, what effect the attacks on her could have on the willingness of other witnesses to come forward, Yovanovitch said: “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.”

Schiff replied: “Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”

Yovanovitch calmly refuted an argument by Republican counsel Steve Castor that Trump was legitimately concerned about influential Ukrainians being “out to get the president.”

“I can’t speak for what President Trump thought or what others thought. I would just say that those elements that you’ve recited don’t seem to me to be kind of a plan or a plot of the Ukrainian government to work against President Trump or anyone else. I mean, they’re isolated incidents. We all know – I’m going to find out myself – that public life can be, you know, people are critical. That does not mean that someone or a government is undermining either a campaign or interfering with elections. And I would just remind again that our own U.S. intelligence community has conclusively determined that those who interfered with the election were in Russia.

“While I obviously don’t dispute that the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time ... what I do wonder is - why it was necessary to smear my reputation?”

HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN ADAM SCHIFF:

Schiff, a Democrat, opened the impeachment hearing explaining how Yovanovitch was removed from her post earlier this year “because she did not have the confidence of the president.”

“Getting rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch helped set stage for an irregular channel that could pursue the two investigations that mattered so much to the president, the 2016 conspiracy theory, and most important, an investigation into the 2020 political opponent he apparently feared most, Joe Biden. And the president’s scheme might have worked but for the fact that the man who would succeed Ambassador Yovanovitch, whom we heard from on Wednesday, acting Ambassador Taylor, would eventually discover the effort to press Ukraine into conducting these investigations and would push back hard, but for the fact that someone blew the whistle,” Schiff said.

“Ambassador Yovanovitch was serving our nation’s interest in fighting corruption in Ukraine, but she was considered an obstacle to the furtherance of the president’s personal and political agenda. For that she was smeared and cast aside,” Schiff said. “The powers of the presidency are immense, but they are not absolute and cannot be used for a corrupt purpose.”

Schiff also responded to Representative Devin Nunes’ reading aloud of the first telephone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“I’m grateful the president has released the call record. I would now ask the president to release the thousands of other records that he has instructed the State Department not to release. ... We would ask the president to stop obstructing the impeachment inquiry,” Schiff said.

During a break in proceedings, Schiff told reporters: “What we saw today is it wasn’t enough that Ambassador Yovanovitch was smeared, it wasn’t enough that she was attacked, it wasn’t enough that she was recalled for no reason, at least no good reason. But we saw today witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States. 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.”

HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE SENIOR REPUBLICAN DEVIN NUNES:

Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, said Democrats had gone “too far” in their efforts to impeach Trump, castigating them for accusing the president of being a “Russian agent” and comparing them to “some kind of strange cult.”

“Democrats have been vowing to oust President Trump since the day he was elected. So Americans can rightly suspect that his phone call with President Zelenskiy was used as an excuse for the Democrats to fulfil their Watergate fantasies,” Nunes said.

Much of the testimony so far relied on rumours, the Republican said.

“The problem with trying to overthrow a president based on this type of evidence is obvious. But that’s what their whole case relies on, beginning with secondhand and thirdhand information cited by the whistleblower,” Nunes said.

“And just when you thought this spectacle couldn’t get more bizarre, committee Republicans received a memo from the Democrats threatening ethics referrals if we out the whistleblower. As the Democrats are well aware, no Republicans here know the whistleblower’s identity because the whistleblower only met with the Democrats — not with Republicans.”

“I’ll note that House Democrats vowed they would not put the American people through a wrenching impeachment process without bipartisan support — and they have none. Add that to their ever-growing list of broken promises and destructive deceptions,” Nunes said.

“I’m not exactly sure what the ambassador is doing here today. This is the House Intelligence Committee that has now turned into the House impeachment committee. This seems more appropriate for the subcommittee on human resources at the Foreign Affairs committee,” Nunes said.

STEVE CASTOR, REPUBLICAN COUNSEL:

“This is a crazy environment. The hearing room has turned into a television studio.”

REPUBLICAN REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS STEWART, in an exchange with Yovanovitch:

“Madame Ambassador ... do you have information about the president of the United States accepting any bribes?

Yovanovitch: “No.”

Stewart: “Do you have any information regarding any criminal activity that the president of the United States has been involved with at all?”

Yovanovitch: “No.”

Stewart: “Thank you. Thank you for answering that directly. The American people know this is nonsense. ... And I have a prediction regarding this. I think public support for impeachment is actually going to be less when these hearings are over than it is when the hearings began.”

REPUBLICAN REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD, to Yovanovitch:

“You’re tough as nails and you’re smart as hell. You’re a great example of what our ambassadors should be like. You’re an honour to your family, you are an honour to the foreign service, you are an honour to this country, and I thank you for all that you have done and will continue to do on behalf of your country.”

REPUBLICAN REPRESENTATIVE JIM JORDAN, to Yovanovitch:

“You had several high-ranking officials in the Ukrainian government ... criticise President Trump, then candidate Trump, all in the late summer and fall of 2016. What I want to know, ambassador: When this was all happening, did you go talk to anyone in the Ukrainian government about this? Did you go say to some of these officials, ‘Hey, you guys need to knock this off?’”

Yovanovitch: “No.”

Jordan: “No one did anything. No one did anything. You see why maybe, maybe the president was a little concerned about what went on in Ukraine? And you couple that with the corruption level that we know exists in Ukraine, you add to that this idea that he (Trump) is not a big fan of foreign aid - why he might be concerned about sending the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people to Ukraine? ... Do you think there’s maybe a reason that President Trump’s concern was justified?”

Yovanovitch: “I can’t speak for the president on this. You’ve listed a number of actions. From my point of view, that doesn’t create a Ukrainian government strategy to interfere in our elections.”

Jordan: “I didn’t say that.”

Yovanovitch: “I would just say, that U.S. politicians will often criticise policies of foreign counterparts, even perhaps during their elections. This happens in politics, and I think that it doesn’t necessarily constitute interference.”

REPUBLICAN REPRESENTATIVE JORDAN, speaking to reporters during break:

Jordan dismissed a reporter’s suggestion that Trump’s tweeting during the testimony might not be helpful to Republicans on the committee.

“Look, the president has been frustrated with this relentless attack on him that started even before he was president. I think the American people can relate to the frustration of Democrats starting in July 2016 with their crazy investigation and now they move into this. So I think that’s what drives that.”

Asked to comment on Democratic claims of witness intimidation, Jordan said: “The witness is testifying. She wouldn’t even have known about the quote, if Mr. Schiff hadn’t read the tweet.”

Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Patricia Zengerle, David Morgan and Richard Cowan; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Dan Grebler and Chris Reese

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