For a few hours on Friday, an unassuming career diplomat named Marie (Masha) Yovanovitch did something that I thought had become impossible in Donald Trump’s Washington: she managed to hold on to her amazement and outrage at the President’s amazing and outrageous actions. In this hyper-partisan, hyper-political time, she was neither. Nearly three years into this Presidency, that is no given. A state of weary cynicism has taken hold regarding Trump, among his supporters and also his critics. He is what he is. What can we do about it? Even impeachment has quickly come to be seen through this lens. Members of Congress are all too likely to vote the party line. Does any of it matter?
In hours of spellbinding testimony, on the second day of the House’s public impeachment hearings, Yovanovitch offered a decisive rebuttal to that way of thinking. She said that she had been surprised and appalled when Trump succumbed to a foreign disinformation campaign and fired her as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine based on false allegations trafficked by Rudy Giuliani, his private lawyer. She had taken on corrupt interests inside Ukraine, and those parties had, in turn, targeted her—and, unbelievably, it had worked. The President, the most powerful man in the world, had gone along with it. “It was terrible,” she said. Yovanovitch said that she was shocked when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to issue a statement in her defense, although she had spent thirty-three years in the Foreign Service. She said that she was intimidated and incredulous when the President attacked her in a phone call with a foreign leader. She said that she felt threatened. These are simple truths, which is why they were so powerful. So was the question she posed to the members of the House Intelligence Committee arrayed on the dais in front of her: “How could our system fail like this?” That, of course, is a question for which Americans as yet have no real answer.
As with most truly memorable public moments, there was something raw and unexpected about Yovanovitch’s appearance on Friday; it cut through the rote posturing and partisanship to get at an essential fact. Yovanovitch reminded us that all of this is, in fact, amazing and shocking and outrageous. It is not normal. Trump is not on the brink of impeachment because of some arcane dispute over differing philosophies about anti-corruption policies in Ukraine. Yovanovitch, who spent her career fighting corruption in the former Soviet Union, was dumped because the President had allied himself with Ukrainians who wanted to stop America’s anti-corruption efforts. He personally ordered her fired. He spoke threateningly of her during a phone call with Ukraine’s new President and did it again, on Twitter, while she was testifying on Capitol Hill. No previous President—of either party—has ever acted in this way. [Continue reading…]