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As former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified in the House impeachment inquiry to evidence of abuse of power by Donald Trump, he tweeted insulting allegations against her in real time. Trump’s tweets defensively attempted to justify his decision to abruptly pull the veteran diplomat out of Ukraine two months before her scheduled departure date. His decision to recall Yovanovitch was part of Trump’s pattern of corrupt behavior of tying foreign policy decisions in Ukraine to his own political interests.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine,” Trump tweeted. Yovanovitch testified that she found his tweets “very intimidating.” This is evidence of witness tampering which could provide the basis for an article of impeachment against Trump for obstruction of justice.
“They call it ‘serving at the pleasure of the President,’” Trump tweeted, referring to the appointment of ambassadors. There is no doubt the deployment of an ambassador is the prerogative of the president. But that does not mean he can recall her for a corrupt purpose, that is, to further his own personal or political agenda. That would constitute abuse of power, which could be charged in an article of impeachment. The attorney general also serves at the president’s pleasure. But Trump’s attempt to fire former attorney general Jeff Sessions to obstruct Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was equally corrupt and amounts to obstruction of justice.
The state of mind required for a criminal charge of obstruction of justice is corrupt. “There is no camouflaging that corrupt intent,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff stated at the end of the hearing. Obstruction of justice was included in articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Abuse of power was alleged against Nixon as well.
During Yovanovitch’s testimony, Trump also tweeted, “the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.” But it was Trump who told Volodymyr Zelensky, in the infamous July 25 phone call, “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news,” adding menacingly, “she’s going to go through some things.” Zelensky replied, “It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.”
The summary of that phone call contains evidence of Trump conditioning military assistance to Ukraine on Zelensky launching investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden and the 2016 election. This is evidence of bribery — the corrupt use of power in exchange for personal benefit. Bribery is a ground for impeachment enumerated in the Constitution. Trump’s quid pro could also be charged in an article of impeachment as abuse of power.
Why did Trump oust Yovanovitch from her ambassadorial post in Ukraine? “[N]ot all Ukrainians embraced our anti-corruption work,” she testified. “Thus, perhaps, it was not surprising, that when our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of the desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me,” she said. “What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador.”
The “smear campaign” against Yovanovitch was instigated by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, his two associates — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and the right-wing media, according to Yovanovitch. Parnas and Fruman, who are both under indictment for illegally funneling foreign donations to U.S. political candidates, sought to establish a liquefied natural gas operation in Ukraine.
Yovanovitch testified that Parnas and Fruman worked with a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor who opposed her anti-corruption efforts and they succeeded in turning Trump against her. Ironically, Yovanovitch said, she was “hired to fight corruption but removed from her post for doing just that.”
Since the July 25 phone call, evidence has emerged that would support several articles of impeachment against Trump. His statements on that call constitute bribery and abuse of power. His attempt to cover it up by hiding the call record on a secret server is obstruction of justice. Trump’s efforts to prevent witnesses from obeying congressional subpoenas to testify in the impeachment inquiry amount to obstruction of the impeachment inquiry. His ouster of Yovanovitch constitutes abuse of power. And Trump’s real-time tweets during Yovanovitch’s testimony is obstruction of justice.
As the House committees continue to call witnesses and gather evidence, we will see additional corroboration of Trump’s impeachable conduct. And the televised hearings will demonstrate to the watching public the details of the high crimes and misdemeanors Trump has committed.
Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.
Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a member of the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.