During the second impeachment inquiry hearing Friday, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) read the newly released transcript of President Trump’s first congratulatory phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and questioned why they were even having a hearing, since the witness didn’t have “any firsthand knowledge of the issues that we’re looking into.”
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee read the April transcript just prior to the opening testimony of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who Trump recalled in May, following reports that she was undermining Trump’s efforts to investigate corruption in Ukraine.
Unlike House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff—who added ample creative flourishes to his reading of the transcript of Trump’s July phone call with Zelensky in September—Nunes read the transcript verbatim, “so there’s no confusion over this first call.”
As the April call transcript reveals, Trump invited Zelensky to the White House, long before any aid issues were raised, demolishing the Democrat argument that the president was using a potential White House meeting as leverage until he could get the Ukraine government to investigate the Bidens.
“When you’re settled in and ready, I’d like to invite you to the White House. We’ll have a lot of things to talk about, but we’re with you all the way,” Trump said, according to the transcript.
And when Zelensky invited the president to his inauguration, Trump said he would have to check his schedule, but would at the very least dispatch someone at “a very, very high level.” He kept his promise, initially tapping Vice President Mike Pence to attend, and later replacing him with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Yovanovitch complained during her opening testimony that she was abruptly terminated from her post for “no real reason” and had to leave Ukraine in a hurry because State Department officials had expressed concerns about her security.
The diplomat returned to Washington DC where she remains a paid employee of the State Department.
Democrats went on to read the part of the July 25 call transcript where Trump told Zelensky that Yovanovitch was not a good ambassador and that she “was going to go through some things.”
As predicted, Yovanovitch was at times close to tears throughout her appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, telling the panel that she felt “threatened” by the Trump’s comment, when the call transcript was released on September 25.
“It didn’t sound good — it sounded like a threat,” she said.
She also said she felt “intimidated” when Schiff read the president’s tweets about her firing that were sent while she was testifying.
….They call it “serving at the pleasure of the President.” The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First! With all of that, however, I have done FAR more for Ukraine than O.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
“Ambassador, you’ve shown the courage to come forward today and testify. Notwithstanding the fact that you were urged by the White House or State Department not to, notwithstanding the fact that as you testified earlier the President implicitly threatened you in that call record, and now the President — in realtime — is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?” he asked.
Yovanovitch answered: “It’s very intimidating.”
“It’s designed to intimidate, is it not?” Schiff asked.
“I mean, I can’t speak to what the President is trying to do, but I think the effect is trying to be intimidating,” she answered.
Schiff went on to tell reporters during a brief recess that Trump’s tweets were “intimidation in real time by the President of the United States.”
Yovanovitch went on to tell lawmakers that she is teaching class at Georgetown University and has no responsibilities at the State Dept, where she is still being paid.
Update: Yovanovitch says that she is teaching 1 class at Georgetown (as a teaching fellow) and has zero responsibilities at the State Dept, where she is employed. The #resist administrative stater is receiving a full salary to do absolutely nothing.https://t.co/W2p167Wpxg
— Jordan Schachtel (@JordanSchachtel) November 15, 2019
During his time questioning the former ambassador, Rep. Nunes argued that the entire exercise was a waste of everyone’s time because rather than being a fact witness, she was a simply a disgruntled employee who would be better off telling her story to the Subcommittee on Human Resources.
“Ambassador, I congratulate you. You’ve been down in the secret deposition meeting rooms. You’ve graduated for your performance today. Later this afternoon, I should note that, for the public, that we will be back down in the basement of the Capitol doing more of these secret depositions,” Nunes began.
“Ambassador, I just have — I don’t really have very many questions for you. You admitted in your opening statement that you don’t have any firsthand knowledge of the issues that we’re looking into,” he added.
To demonstrate this, he pressed her about whether she had spoken to either the president or acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, or had listened to Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky.
She answered that she had not.
“I’m not exactly sure what the ambassador is doing here today. This is the House Intelligence Committee that’s now turned into the House impeachment committee,” Nunes asserted.
“This seems more appropriate for the Subcommittee on Human Resources at the Foreign Affairs Committee. If there’s issues with employment, it seems like that would be a more appropriate setting instead of an impeachment hearing where the ambassador is not a material fact witness to any of the accusations that are being hurled at the president for this impeachment inquiry,” he concluded.
.@RepDevinNunes is exactly right: former Ambassador Yovanovitch should not be a witness at an impeachment hearing where she is NOT a material fact witness to any of the accusations that are being hurled at the President for this sham impeachment inquisition. pic.twitter.com/urg8AZN7M3
— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) November 15, 2019
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) made the same points on Twitter, saying Yovanovitch was bringing no “relevant information,” but was instead merely complaining about getting fired.
This witness has absolutely no relevant information. She can't bring any first-hand knowledge of the events and was recalled from Ukraine before the call between @realDonaldTrump and Zelensky. Instead, she is complaining about how @POTUS lawfully removed her as ambassador.
— Rep. Doug Lamborn (@RepDLamborn) November 15, 2019
Several times during the proceedings, Chairman Schiff shut down Rep. Elise Stefanik, a smart and effective young Republican from New York, when she attempted to ask the witness a question.
“The gentlewoman is not recognized,” Schiff said again and again.
Why is Chairman Schiff afraid of @RepStefanik?
Why doesn’t he want Republican members to ask questions?
Why is he conducting more secret hearings after promising the American people an open process? pic.twitter.com/sxFftZs1BX
— House Republicans (@HouseGOP) November 15, 2019
Stefanik later had the opportunity to question Yovanovitch about the Obama administration’s concerns about Hunter Biden and Burisma.
BIG –> @EliseStefanik exposes how Obama's own State Dept. was concerned about Hunter Biden and Burisma!
"And yet our Democratic colleagues and the chairman of this committee cry foul when we dare ask that same question that the Obama State Department was so concerned about." pic.twitter.com/pkkQHzLR9D
— Trump War Room (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@TrumpWarRoom) November 15, 2019
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) was able to get Yovanovitch to admit that she didn’t lift a finger to stop the corrupt Ukrainian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.
When Jordan asked Yovanovitch if she thought it was understandable that the president had concerns about Ukraine, given their shady 2016 activities, the diplomat tried to run out the clock by asking him to repeat his question. Then sparks flew between Jordan and Schiff.
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) November 15, 2019
During a press briefing following the hearing, Republicans characterized the Democrats’ impeachment effort an “abject failure.”