(Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee held its second public hearing on Friday in an impeachment inquiry examining President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
The witness was Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Below are some of the quotations from Friday’s hearing.
WITNESS MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE:
“These events should concern everyone in this room. Ambassadors are the symbol of the United States abroad, they are the personal representative of the president,” Yovanovitch said. “If our chief representative is knee-capped, it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States.”
Yovanovitch was asked to respond to President Trump’s tweet on Friday in which he said “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” including Somalia and Ukraine.
She replied: “I actually think that where I’ve served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I’ve served in.”
Asked by the committee’s chairman, Representative Adam Schiff, what effect the attacks on her could have on the willingness of other witnesses to come forward, Yovanovitch said: “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.”
“I do not understand Mr Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she said, referring to the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. “What I can say is that Mr. Giuliani should have known those claims were suspect, coming as they reportedly did from individuals with questionable motives and with reason to believe that their political and financial ambitions would be stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”
Yovanovitch calmly refuted an argument by Republican counsel Steve Castor that Trump was legitimately concerned about influential Ukrainians being “out to get the president.”
“I can’t speak for what President Trump thought or what others thought. I would just say that those elements that you’ve recited don’t seem to me to be kind of a plan or a plot of the Ukrainian government to work against President Trump or anyone else. I mean, they’re isolated incidents. We all know – I’m going to find out myself – that public life can be, you know, people are critical. That does not mean that someone or a government is undermining either a campaign or interfering with elections. And I would just remind again that our own U.S. intelligence community has conclusively determined that those who interfered with the election were in Russia.”
“While I obviously don’t dispute that the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time ... what I do wonder is - why it was necessary to smear my reputation?”
Schiff, a Democrat, opened the impeachment hearing explaining how Yovanovitch was removed from her post earlier this year “because she did not have the confidence of the president.”
“Getting rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch helped set stage for an irregular channel that could pursue the two investigations that mattered so much to the president, the 2016 conspiracy theory, and most important, an investigation into the 2020 political opponent he apparently feared most, Joe Biden.
Referring to Trump’s tweets attacking Yovanovitch on Friday, Schiff said: “Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”
“Ambassador Yovanovitch was serving our nation’s interest in fighting corruption in Ukraine, but she was considered an obstacle to the furtherance of the president’s personal and political agenda. For that she was smeared and cast aside,” Schiff said. “The powers of the presidency are immense, but they are not absolute and cannot be used for a corrupt purpose.”
During a break in proceedings, Schiff told reporters: “What we saw today is it wasn’t enough that Ambassador Yovanovitch was smeared, it wasn’t enough that she was attacked, it wasn’t enough that she was recalled for no reason, at least no good reason. But we saw today witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States. Once again going after this dedicated and respected career public servant in an effort to not only chill her but to chill others who may come forward. We take this kind of witness intimidation and obstruction of inquiry very seriously.”
HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE SENIOR REPUBLICAN DEVIN NUNES:
Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, said Democrats had gone “too far” in their efforts to impeach Trump, castigating them for accusing the president of being a “Russian agent” and comparing them to “some kind of strange cult.”
“Democrats have been vowing to oust President Trump since the day he was elected. So Americans can rightly suspect that his phone call with President Zelenskiy was used as an excuse for the Democrats to fulfill their Watergate fantasies,” Nunes said.
Much of the testimony so far relied on rumors, Nunes said. “The problem with trying to overthrow a president based on this type of evidence is obvious. But that’s what their whole case relies on, beginning with secondhand and thirdhand information cited by the whistleblower.”
“I’ll note that House Democrats vowed they would not put the American people through a wrenching impeachment process without bipartisan support — and they have none. Add that to their ever-growing list of broken promises and destructive deceptions,” Nunes said.
“This is a crazy environment. The hearing room has turned into a television studio.”
REPUBLICAN REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS STEWART, in an exchange with Yovanovitch:
“Madame Ambassador ... do you have information about the president of the United States accepting any bribes?
Stewart: “Do you have any information regarding any criminal activity that the president of the United States has been involved with at all?”
Stewart: “Thank you. Thank you for answering that directly. The American people know this is nonsense. ... And I have a prediction regarding this. I think public support for impeachment is actually going to be less when these hearings are over than it is when the hearings began.”
REPUBLICAN REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD, to Yovanovitch:
“You’re tough as nails and you’re smart as hell. You’re a great example of what our ambassadors should be like. You’re an honor to your family, you are an honor to the foreign service, you are an honor to this country, and I thank you for all that you have done and will continue to do on behalf of your country.”
REPUBLICAN REPRESENTATIVE JIM JORDAN, speaking to reporters during break:
Jordan dismissed a reporter’s suggestion that Trump’s tweeting during the testimony might not be helpful to Republicans on the committee.
“Look, the president has been frustrated with this relentless attack on him that started even before he was president. I think the American people can relate to the frustration of Democrats starting in July 2016 with their crazy investigation and now they move into this. So I think that’s what drives that.”
Asked to comment on Democratic claims of witness intimidation, Jordan said: “The witness is testifying. She wouldn’t even have known about the quote, if Mr. Schiff hadn’t read the tweet.”
Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Patricia Zengerle, David Morgan and Richard Cowan; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Dan Grebler and Chris Reese