WASHINGTON -- The fired U.S. ambassador to Ukraine sounded an alarm Friday about the denigration of American diplomacy and the hollowing out of the State Department under President Donald Trump as she recounted how she became an early casualty of the behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to the impeachment inquiry.
In often steely, defiant tones, Marie Yovanovitch told House investigators that the failure of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials to publicly defend her and other career diplomats from political attacks by Trump and his supporters has contributed to severe demoralization in the State Department.
“I remain disappointed that the department’s leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong,” Yovanovitch told Congress. “This is about far more than me or a couple of individuals. As Foreign Service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is also being degraded.”
Her testimony, which also included a defense of the role of American diplomats, put a public face on deep dissatisfaction in the department under Trump. His administration has slashed the department’s budget, left many important posts open for extended periods and often disdained the work of the foreign service.
The Ukraine affair has only added to the problems, she said.
”The attacks are leading to a crisis in the State Department as the policy process is visibly unravelling, leadership vacancies go unfilled, and senior and midlevel officers ponder an uncertain future and head for the doors,” Yovanovitch said. “The crisis has moved from the impact on individuals to an impact on the institution. The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage.”
Trump has dismissed the accounts of the former ambassador and the other senior diplomats who raised concerns about his apparent effort to force the government of Ukraine to conduct investigations that would help his reelection — and that not following through meant risking the loss of badly needed U.S. military aid. Trump and his supporters have derided these diplomats “Never Trumpers,” or part of the “deep state.”
Pompeo has shrugged off their complaints, denying reports that morale has cratered at the agency. He made no mention of the Ukraine affair in a speech in Texas on Friday, except to make a joke about “quid pro quo,” the Latin phrase that has come to prominence in the inquiry.
Some believe that Pompeo’s silence has damaged his department and the credibility of American diplomacy.
“We have a secretary of state who presided over this mess, he enabled it, he refused to stand up for individuals who had had enough and came forward,” said Aaron David Miller, a retired career foreign service officer who served under seven secretaries of state and is now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “He is further damaged in the eyes of his own department, in the eyes of Washington and in capitals abroad.”
Yovanovitch, an immigrant and 33-year veteran of the Foreign Service, testified that she felt intimidated and was stunned when she was abruptly recalled from her post in Kyiv despite being told that she had done nothing wrong and had an exemplary record.
Trump has spoken negatively of Yovanovitch in the past, telling Ukraine’s president in a July 25 phone call that Yovanovitch was “bad news.” Democrats allege her ouster was part of a Trump scheme to open up an alternate diplomatic channel with Ukraine run by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to advance his own personal interests.
As Yovanovitch was testifying Friday, Trump launched a new Twitter attack on her, blaming her for crises in countries where she had previously served. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Trump said. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.”
Trump’s attempt to interrupt her testimony came as Yovanovitch was lauding her colleagues, many of whom serve in extreme and dangerous situations. She recalled the Iranian hostage crisis, the unexplained injuries to American diplomats in Cuba and the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others in the 2011 attack in Benghazi that drew outrage from Republicans.
The Benghazi reference was notable because GOP lawmakers, including then-Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., conducted well-publicized inquiries into the attack, accusing the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of negligence and attempting to cover up the circumstances around it.
“We are people who repeatedly uproot our lives, who risk — and sometimes give — our lives for this country,” Yovanovitch said.