Donald Trump made the extraordinarily ill-advised decision to tweet derisively about Marie Yovanovitch while she was testifying on Capitol Hill Friday.
During the infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, the US president described Yovanovitch as “bad news” and predicted she was “going to go through some things”.
By that time, Yovanovitch had already been through “some things”, where that means Rudy Giuliani and his now-jailed fixers Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman had engaged in a backdoor scheme to have the ambassador removed based on a patently false set of allegations. Yovanovitch detailed that smear campaign during her closed-door testimony last month, and reiterated it on Friday during her remarks to lawmakers in open session.
During her Friday testimony, Trump decided it would be a good idea to malign Yovanovitch in real time.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?”, Trump tweeted. “Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him”.
Every lawyer in the country (including and especially Trump’s attorneys) likely cringed.
Adam Schiff, smelling blood, immediately pounced, bringing up the president’s tweet in the hearing and asking Yovanovitch to respond.
“The president implicitly threatened you in that call record and now the president is in real time attacking you”, Schiff said. “What effect do you think that has on other witnesses’ willingness to come forward?”, he asked.
“Well, it’s very intimidating”, Yovanovitch said. “It’s designed to intimidate, is it not?”, Schiff wondered. “Well, I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating”.
Probably. But one thing we know with certainty is that if you’re Trump, it was a comically stupid thing to do, something Ken Starr was kind enough to point out. “The president was not advised by counsel in deciding to do this tweet”, he told Fox News.
“[It was] extraordinarily poor judgment”, he added. “Obviously this was quite injurious”.
Yes, “obviously”. And especially when seen in the context of the long-running smear campaign against Yovanovitch orchestrated by Giuliani and his imprisoned associates.
“Basically, it was people in the Ukrainian Government who said that Mr. Lutsenko, the former prosecutor general, was in communication with Mayor Giuliani, and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me”, Yovanovitch told Congress last month.
Asked how she felt about Trump’s “go through some things” remark in the July call with Zelensky, she said she felt threatened.