/Opinion | Defying White House, ambassador explains public service to a corrupt president

Opinion | Defying White House, ambassador explains public service to a corrupt president

(J. Scott Applewhite)

We are now learning that Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who testified Friday as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry, only did so after the State Department tried to block it from happening.

If you read Yovanovitch’s opening statement, you can see why. It shows a longtime government professional delivering a pointed lecture about what public service in the national interest really looks like, to a bottomlessly corrupt president who cannot fathom placing any interests, let alone those of the nation, above his own.

Yovanovitch did not say anything specific about President Trump. But given the larger context in which this is unfolding, her larger message is unmistakable.

Three House Democratic chairs just issued a statement declaring that they learned that the State Department, under the White House’s direction, instructed Yovanovitch not to testify. So Democrats subpoenaed her, and she appeared in defiance of the White House’s wishes. That’s a real crack in the White House’s defenses.

Yovanovitch’s role in the grand Ukraine scandal is only now coming into focus. Reporting in The Post has detailed that last spring, Rudy Giuliani, who had undertaken a campaign to pressure Ukraine to launch sham investigations to help Trump, had already started to target Yovanovitch for removal, presumably because she was an obstacle to those efforts. In March, Donald Trump Jr. joined calls for her ouster, and she was removed in early May.

It’s in this context that Yovanovitch’s testimony needs to be looked at. In it, Yovanovitch described her removal this way:

I was … abruptly told in late April to come back to Washington from Ukraine “on the next plane.” You will understandably want to ask why my posting ended so suddenly. I wanted to learn that too, and I tried to find out. I met with the Deputy Secretary of State, who informed me of the curtailment of my term.

He said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018. He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.

In other words, a senior State Department official informed Yovanovitch that she was being ousted because the president had been pressuring the department to get rid of her since the previous summer, even though the official didn’t think she had done anything wrong.

It’s worth noting that only days after Yovanovitch had been removed, Giuliani immediately started scheming on Trump’s behalf. From The Post’s reporting:

Within days of her ouster on May 9, Giuliani seemed determined to seize an unsanctioned diplomatic role for himself, announcing plans to travel to Ukraine to push for investigations that would “be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

That trip was canceled due to blowback. But as we now know, this campaign to push for investigations to help Giuliani’s “client” — i.e., President Trump — did pick up steam, culminating in Trump’s July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump corruptly pressured Zelensky to help rig the election on Trump’s behalf.

This career government official was very likely removed by the president to clear the way for all this to unfold.

In that regard, let me point to a particularly barbed part of Yovanovitch’s testimony. Yovanovitch lamented that the State Department is being “attacked and hollowed out from within,” and argued that it must be rebuilt to serve the national interest — i.e., not Trump — lest more harm befall the country:

The harm will come when private interests circumvent professional diplomats for their own gain, not the public good. The harm will come when bad actors in countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system. In such circumstances, the only interests that will be served are those of our strategic adversaries, like Russia, that spread chaos and attack the institutions and norms that the U.S. helped create and which we have benefited from for the last 75 years.

Can there be any doubt what this is a reference to? Trump has corruptly bent large swaths of the government away from what Yovanovitch describes as the “public good,” and toward the goal of rigging the next election on his own behalf, and toward covering that all up.

Trump is doing this by pressuring Ukraine into helping manufacture disinformation — that is, disinformation designed to cover up the truth about the Russian sabotage of our last election to get him elected and to smear a domestic political rival in the next one.

Thus Yovanovitch’s reference to the “fiction and innuendo” that “manipulate our system.” As she notes, other countries will see this as a profound weakening of our system and act accordingly. And, of course, we’re going to see that play out in the very election that Trump is currently trying to corrupt, once again placing his own interests before those of the country.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: At rally, Trump tells 5 big lies in under 3 minutes

Paul Waldman: Two Giuliani associates were just arrested. Here’s what we need to know.

Colbert I. King: The Trump campaign and Russian government are apparently on the same moral plane

Harry Litman: Congress might be able to foil the White House’s stonewalling

Jennifer Rubin: The bully in chief loses his secret weapon: Fear