Trump accused of real-time intimidation of witness; Republicans reject claim

Hearing chairman Adam Schiff said president's tweets were intended to "chill" the ambassador.

Donald Trump
Twitter / Donald Trump

Dramatic scenes unfolded during President Trump impeachment hearing on Friday, as Marie Yovanovitch, former US ambassador to Ukraine, was testifying. Trump tweeted when the key testimony was well underway that Yovanovitch had a poor record as ambassador. "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad ... She started off in Somalia, how did that go?" Trump tweeted.

"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. 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. It is a U.S. President's absolute right to appoint ambassadors," Trump said.

Democrats locked on to the Trump comment, terming it witness intimidation. Hearing chairman and Democrat lawmaker Adam Schiff got the presidential tweets displayed on large screens in the hearing room and elicited the response of ambassador Yovanovitch. The 61-year-old ambassador, who was recalled from Ukraine by Trump before the scandal over Biden investigation unfolded, said the tweets were intimidating.

She also defended her record as ambassador: "I actually think that where I've served over the years I and others have demonstrably made things better, you know, for the US as well as for the countries that I've served in... I entered the Foreign Service understanding that my job was to implement the foreign policy interests of this nation, as defined by the President and Congress, and to do so regardless of which person or party was in power," she told lawmakers. "I had no agenda other than to pursue our stated foreign policy goals," she said.

Joe Biden

Trump removed Yovanovitch as US ambassador to Ukraine in May. The president's controversial phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky took place in July. In the phone call Trump urged Zelensky to probe allegations against former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The phone call forms the basis of the impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Russia, not Ukraine, meddled

The impeachment will also look into charges if Trump pressured Ukraine president to launch a corruption probe into Biden and his son by withholding US military aid to the country. Yovanovitch also told the hearing that Russia, not Ukraine, meddled in the 2016 elections and that Moscow's interventions were geared towards helping Trump win presidency.

Democrats decried the real-time harassment of the witness by the President. Adam Schiff said president's tweets were intended to "chill" the ambassador. He called it "witness intimidation in real-time by the president of the United States".

But the Republicans rejected the charge. "The witness is testifying. She wouldn't even have known about the quote, if Mr Schiff hadn't read the tweet," Representative Jim Jordan said, according to BBC.