Orlando Democratic Rep. Val Demings defended ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch Friday against slanders launched by President Trump and his allies.
“As a woman, I can’t be prouder of you, and I consider you an inspiration for women around the world,” Demings, a former police chief, said to Yovanovitch during the second day of public testimony in the U.S. House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Trump had attacked the career foreign service officer that very morning via his Twitter account, saying in part: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” He also asserted that Ukraine’s head of state had criticized her.
Additionally, Yovanovitch described a campaign to undermine her effectiveness as a corruption-fighting ambassador fomented by Trump attorney Rudy Guiliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were seeking energy deals in Ukraine.
Parnas and Fruman had steered $50,000 in to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ election campaign last year. The governor, a close Trump ally, gave the money to the U.S. Treasury after the pair were arrested on federal charges of sinking overseas money into U.S. political campaigns. DeSantis has been refusing to discuss his relationship with Parnas and Fruman, who’d also attended his campaign events.
Yovanovitch acknowledged she found the president’s tweet intimidating.
Demings described as “disgraceful” committee Republicans’ suggestion that Yovanovitch landed well because the State Department posted her to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service – “to basically suggest that the woman should be thankful for whatever she was left with, smear campaign and all, after you were recalled.”
Demings referred to White House Chief of State Mick Mulvaney’s statement on Oct. 17 dismissing concerns about the politicization of foreign policy: “I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
Mulvaney had responded to testimony offered to the inquiry by Michael McKinley, a senior aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who resigned to protest the department’s failure to speak up for its diplomats and use of ambassadors to pursue a partisan objective.
Did Yovanovitch share McKinley’s qualms? Demings asked.
“As I said before, I think it’s important to keep political influence out of foreign policy. Because we all – whether we are Republican or Democrats or something else – have common security interests, and that needs to be safeguarded and advanced,” Yovanovitch said.
“What message do you think it sends to other foreign service officers in public service – which we so desperately need good ones – when an administration refuses to support it’s own officials in the face of a smear campaign?”
“It’s deeply troubling. It’s deeply troubling and there are morale issues at the State Department” Yovanovitch replied.
“Morale issues at the State Department. I can understand why,” Demings said.
The Floridian delved into details of the smear campaign, including a March 20 tweet by Trump that included a letter from former Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions alleging that Yovanovitch was privately expressing disdain for the administration and might merit recall.
Yovanovitch denied doing any such thing.
“Why do you think the president would want to push such a lie?”
“I don’t know,” Yovanovitch answered. “I don’t know.”
“Policies change, but U.S. interests don’t. Not for those who are seeking to do the work of protecting our nation – the work you have done for decades,” Demings said. “The president, his chief of staff, and his allies seem to want nothing more than to smear the good people trying to protect this country, and to hijack our institutions for their personal and political gain.”