Donald Trump has been accused of intimidating career diplomat Maria Yovanovitch after live-tweeting abuse in the middle of her testimony to the impeachment hearing.
Standing ovations during impeachment hearings are not the norm.
In fact, they’re rare. But when career diplomat Maria Yovanovitch finished her testimony on Friday, citizens in the room jumped to their feet to applaud her ability to endure five hours of questioning about her professional competence, on live television, while fending off a troll in real-time.
That troll was Donald Trump.
Currently, the inquiry is investigating whether the president withheld US military aid to the Ukraine in order to put pressure on the country’s new president to announce a corruption inquiry into his rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden. Trump denies any wrongdoing and has labelled the inquiry as “presidential harassment”.
Yovanovitch was removed from her role as ambassador to Kyiv in May this year – two months before a phone call that is at the centre of the inquiry, during which Trump urged Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensk to investigate Biden and his son, according to a rough transcript of the phone call.
During her testimony, Yovanovitch painted a picture of a vicious “smear campaign” by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani. However, perhaps the most damning and telling evidence against the president came from Trump himself.
Just over an hour into Yovanovitch’s testimony, Trump began tweeting a critiquing of her competence in real-time and pointed out that the president had spoken unfavourably about her. He tweeted: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?”
Perhaps what is most astounding though is that Yovanovitch was alerted to the tweets mid-testimony, and then given a chance to respond to Trump’s mud-slinging in real-time.
Appearing to rebut his comments about upheaval in Somalia, she responded: “I don’t think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu and Somalia and not in other places.”
She continued: “I actually think that where I’ve served over the years I and others have demonstrably made things better, you know, for the US as well as for the countries that I’ve served in.” Her response was broadcast during the live televised hearing.
When asked about the tweets, she called them “very intimidating”. Others agreed, even going as far as labelling the behaviour as “witness intimidation” which, they pointed out, would amount to grounds for impeachment if proven.
Congressman Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee called out Trump’s behaviour as “just appalling” but “not the least but surprising”.
When asked whether the tweets could amount to grounds for impeachment, Schiff said there were behavioural patterns “to intimidate witnesses” and “obstruct the investigation”.
Trump denied this, telling reporters: “I have a right to speak.” He was backed by Republicans who rejected the intimidation claim, saying the witness would not have known about the words if she hadn’t been read the tweet.
While these kinds of shoot-from-the-hip tweets might be part of Trump’s political repertoire, let’s not forget something here: Trump is a powerful man.
Whether he knew Yovanovitch would be made aware of his words in real-time or not, he clearly intended to discredit – or at worst, intimidate – the witness.
However, beyond that, choosing to air these kinds of venomous personal attacks to millions of people can have serious consequences on people’s livelihoods, or even lives.
Another thing: his behaviour could also discourage other witnesses from coming forward to speak out against him for fear of what will happen to their careers, or worse.
Then again, that’s what bullies do, isn’t it? They run their mouths and throw their weight around to scare others into submission, and this was typical, bog-standard, run-of-the-mill schoolyard bullying.
And yet, in spite of this, Yovanovitch continued to stare down her bully, on live television, and speak her truth.
Now, that deserves a standing ovation.