Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, a pro-Trumper or a never-Trumper, an inhabitant of a blue state or a red state, you owe it to yourself and your country to read the text of the statement prepared for Congress by former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. If you care about the Constitution, if you feel any fealty to the ideas and ideals that have shaped U.S. foreign policy for the past century, then you will find it deeply disturbing.
Yovanovitch is a career State Department official who served under multiple presidents from both political parties. She was fired by the Trump administration — told to go home “on the next plane” — because, it turns out, her campaign against corruption in Ukraine bothered some corrupt Americans with Ukrainian ties. Specifically, her campaign against corruption bothered two men, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, who were clients of Rudolph W. Giuliani, a friend of President Trump as well as the former mayor of New York. The men spread rumors about her that reached the president’s ears — and he believed them.
“I was nevertheless incredulous,” she writes, “that the U.S. government chose to remove an Ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.” She also points out that the precedent set, for State Department officials as well as other civil servants, is terrible: “We make a difference every day on issues that matter to the American people,” she writes. “We repeatedly uproot our lives, and we frequently put ourselves in harm’s way to serve this nation. And we do that willingly, because we believe in America and its special role in the world. We also believe that, in return, our government will have our backs and protect us if we come under attack from foreign interests.”
That is no longer the case. Foreign interests — specifically, the interests of Fruman and Parnas, who have just been indicted on a charge of conspiring “to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence” — not only sought the removal of a U.S. ambassador; they sought, successfully, to distort and undermine U.S. foreign policy, to undermine our decades-long push for rule of law in Ukraine. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Trump and Giuliani “set out to undermine every U.S. and European program in the region, every diplomatic and educational initiative, every single ideal that the United States has ever stood for in that part of the world.” But now I see that the situation was far worse than that. Not only was Trump pursuing conspiracy theories in Ukraine; not only did he want the Ukrainian government to launch a fake investigation into one of his rivals; not only did he seek to exercise political influence on another country’s judicial system; he was, in addition, doing all of this at the behest of Giuliani, in Giuliani’s direct personal, financial interests.
This is it: This is why we have a diplomatic service. This is why we employ people who are loyal to the country, not to a political party or a private interest: to prevent U.S. policy from being made by people like Giuliani, private actors who can dodge ethics regulations, owe no loyalty to the United States and act in their own interests, not the national interest.
The implications of this story are immense. If U.S. foreign policy is now for sale — then how many other people are out there trying to buy it? Yovanovitch sums this up as well as anybody could. “The harm will come,” she writes, “when bad actors in countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system.” How sure are we that there were no private interests at stake when Trump promised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan he could invade northern Syria? Can we be certain there are no private interests shaping the United States’ relationship with Russia or Saudi Arabia? The answer is no, no and no. This is the most corrupt White House in modern U.S. history, and we cannot be sure of anything at all.