Intimidating and Intimidated

Terry H. Schwadron

Nov. 16, 2019

Well, it’s not everyday that you see a crime happen on live television.

But there we were, back in the Congressional hearing room yesterday, listening to a soft-spoken deposed Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, when committee chairman Adam Schiff, D-CA, read aloud a new, contemporaneous tweet from Donald Trump about the witness as she was testifying.

That’s is an attempt at witness intimidation and tampering by any understanding of law that I understand. Plus it was insulting — and incorrect — about Yovanovitch’s past.

Had he held his water and said nothing, he could have left it to Republicans on the committee to remind Yovanovitch that the president has the power to hire and fire ambassador, with some explanation real or invented (which did not happen here), and that Trump’s role in recalling the ambassador was somewhat distanced from the person left in the dark as to why she had been called in the middle of the night to get on the next plane from Kiev to return to the United States.

Instead, as he has through this — and virtually all of the behaviors that have led to investigations and now the likelihood of impeachment — Donald Trump took an action himself that creates a legal mess.

The refusal to allow government witnesses testify, to show taxes, the payments to sex partners in violation of campaign funds, the bad behavior in running a fraudulent Trump University and misusing a charitable foundation all reflect the same pattern: Trump acts instinctively with Trump’s perceived interest and defense overruling all else, including the law, and he triggers his troubles with his own actions.

A Signal Flag

Indeed, Yovanovitch had been testifying about being denigrated in Trump’s a July call with the president of Ukraine, about the failure of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come to the defense of a 30-year foreign service professional, and relating that words from Trump, Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer and legate, and political commentator Sean Hannity to insult her. Yovanovitch said the president’s words “sounded like a threat,” and that the tweets before her recall were “very intimidating.”

And then, out of nowhere, he was an in-the-moment tweet doing the same thing, a clear signal flag to any other pending witnesses that they face the full fury of Donald Trump if they testify, and, perhaps an attempt to influence this witness. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” Trump tweeted, adding that “It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”

This hearing was the second in the impeachment series that had opened on Wednesday. I was just listening, not intending to write about yet another recitation of testimony that we already have heard. Still, Yovanovitch spoke quietly, drawing the attention of all in the room, and with some haltingness about her feelings of having been raked over the coals, unfairly if you accept her version.

But feeling as if I had just witnessed a crime right before our eyes was too much to ignore.

Schiff read the hearing and then said, “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.” Tweeting could easily result in another count in an indictment for Republicans to try to defend or ignore. So much for the defense that says we do not know the “intent” of Trump in the Ukraine matter.

Even Republicans Respond

A couple of Republicans immediately criticized Trump for the intimidation tweet. Otherwise the Republicans focused on how aid to Ukraine finally did go through, questioned why Yovanovitch had been attacked by Trump and Giuliani, and generally repeated questions trying to tag Ukraine as filled with corrupt politicians that would draw the eye of Trump to want to focus aid on a promise to attack corruption in general.

What Republicans did not do was to explain why it was necessary not only to remove Yovanovitch, but to smear her publicly.

There are only two explanations: Either Trump is too dumb to recognize the limits of law, or, indeed to be president, or he doesn’t know the difference between Right and Wrong, in which case, he shouldn’t be president of the United States.

As it happened, as legislators took a break for votes, a Washington jury found Trump associate Roger Stone guilty on all counts of a federal prosecution for obstruction of justice to advance Trump campaign interests, witness tampering, liaising with Wikileaks over publishing Democratic email hacks, and lying to federal officials about his actions, with a jail term all but certain.

Trump may be the villain in this piece, but it is the team around him that is going to the Big House.

Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Rudy Giuliani, his Ukrainian-American henchmen and perhaps even acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney ought to be watchful of their Twitter accounts.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer