You can’t fight corruption without pissing off corrupt people
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and her former boss, President Donald Trump. | AP photos

You can’t fight corruption “without pissing off corrupt people.” That’s what State Department official George Kent said during his testimony at Wednesday’s public impeachment hearing. On Friday morning, his point was proved. While former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was testifying, President Donald Trump was certainly pissed off.

At the very moment Yovanovitch was speaking to the House Intelligence Committee about Trump-Giuliani efforts to oust her from the embassy in Kiev, Trump was tweeting out personal attacks that amounted to nothing less than outright witness intimidation and obstruction of justice.

“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,” Trump claimed.

The memo detailing that call—the “do me a favor” call at the center of the Trump impeachment inquiry—shows that it was the U.S. president who did most of the bad-mouthing when it came to Yovanovitch. Trump called her “bad news” and told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things.”

Yovanovitch arrived in Kiev as ambassador in 2016 but was suddenly terminated by Trump in May this year. When she later learned of Trump’s words on that July 25 call, Yovanovitch testified Friday that she was “devastated” and “shocked” that the president of the United States targeted her specifically when speaking to a foreign head of state. She characterized Trump’s words on the call as a “threat” against her.

Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., in the middle of the hearing, immediately highlighted the president’s Twitter tirade against Yovanovitch as yet another threat by Trump. Within minutes of Trump firing off his attack, Schiff asked the ambassador what effect the president’s actions would have on other witnesses’ willingness to expose wrongdoing. She responded somberly, “It’s very intimidating.”

The witness intimidation Trump engaged in Friday morning provided further evidence and confirmation of the exact criminal actions Yovanovitch was testifying to. Several Democratic lawmakers said the tweets from Trump could result in an obstruction of justice charge being added to the impeachment inquiry.

Yovanovitch proceeded with her testimony despite Trump’s threats, telling the committee her moves to support anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine were jeopardized once she was placed in the crosshairs of Trump and his associates. Rudy Giuliani, in conjunction with the two Florida-based mobsters Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman (who are currently under indictment for election finance violations), ran a “smear campaign” against Yovanovitch in Ukraine. Parnas and Fruman were arrested in October just as they were about to flee the country, one-way plane tickets in hand. Their efforts to undermine Yovanovitch were supported stateside by Donald Trump, Jr., who publicly referred to her as “a joker ambassador.”

In addition to Trump’s push for Ukrainian interference in the 2020 U.S. elections via the Hunter Biden/Burisma “investigations,” Giuliani and his cronies were also angling for new business opportunities in Ukraine, especially in natural gas. Yovanovitch was seen as someone who was not amenable to their schemes—whether of the electoral or investment variety.

In her testimony, Yovanovitch said she believed the clear goal of the smear campaign was to provide an opening for Trump to fire her and put in a new ambassador who’d help advance their business interests as well as the 2020 political goals of the president.

Trump thundered away on Twitter during the hearing that he had every right to get rid of her for whatever reason he wanted, saying it was his “absolute right” to appoint or fire any ambassador he wishes. GOP members of the committee parroted the president’s line all day Friday. They had little to offer in the way of an actual defense of the president, simply repeating that it was within his power to decide on ambassador posts.

Yovanovitch’s testimony indicted Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy and the attacks on her as “a campaign of disinformation” pushed by “individuals with questionable motives” who saw anti-corruption efforts as a threat to their “political and financial ambitions.”

The Daily Beast reported late Thursday that Giuliani ally GOP Texas Rep. Pete Sessions was considered as a possible replacement for Yovanovitch in Kiev. Sessions has been identified as “Congressman 1” in the probe into the campaign finance violations of Parnas and Fruman. Sessions benefited to the tune of around $3 million via illegal donations funneled through Parnas and Fruman’s shell companies and political action committees.

Another person named as a possible replacement was Raul Mas Canosa, a South Florida businessman who hails from the right-wing Cuban-American exile community. He advocated for Giuliani to get a cabinet position when Trump took office and his nephew is known to be a donor to the former New York mayor’s 2008 campaign for president.

Either Sessions or Mas Canosa would have made a politically-pliant ambassador, almost surely amenable to the requests of Trump, Giuliani, Parnas, and Fruman. As of now, the post of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine remains empty.

The whole scheme against Yovanovitch was exposed in the explosive whistleblower report that emerged in late September. That was first major revelation of Trump’s plan to withhold U.S. aid from Ukraine unless the new government of President Zelensky announced a public investigation into the business activities of Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden—one of several Democrats seeking the nomination to take on Trump next year. Democrats in Congress say Trump’s block on aid amounted to an abuse of power. It is the central charge in the impeachment probe against him.

As this story was going to press—as Trump was attempting to tamper with witnesses via Twitter—news broke that a jury has added long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone to the long and growing list of people in the president’s inner circle who have been convicted of federal charges. Stone was found guilty on seven counts, including lying to Congress, obstructing the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into 2016 Russian election interference on Trump’s behalf, and—of course—witness tampering.

The reaction from Trump was swift and filled with an enemies list of people he said were more deserving of imprisonment than his man Stone. “So now they convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come. Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr & Nellie, Steele & all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn’t they lie?”

Seems George Kent was right. You can’t fight corruption without pissing off corrupt people.


CONTRIBUTOR

C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

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