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Trump’s Twitter Attack on Yovanovitch Rocks Republican Impeachment Defense

November 15, 2019, 8:14 PM UTC

President Donald Trump’s real-time Twitter attack on former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Friday scrambled congressional Republicans’ united defense of the president in the impeachment inquiry, with a number of House GOP members going out of their way to praise her—and others refusing to answer questions about the tweet.

“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,” the president tweeted at 10:01 a.m. during the second day of impeachment hearings. “….They call it ‘serving at the pleasure of the President,'” he added in a second tweet.

Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled from her ambassadorial post in Kyiv in May at the direction of Trump.

Minutes later, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Yovanovitch to respond to the tweet. “I don’t think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu, Somalia, not in other places,” she said. “I actually think that where I served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I’ve served in.” Schiff later said that the intervention was “witness intimidation in real time.”

The tweet threatened to disrupt the united front the House GOP has projected with the president in the impeachment inquiry. All House Republicans (along with two Democrats) voted against the procedures for the impeachment inquiry. No Republicans have said that the president’s conduct on the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was impeachable, but some have criticized how Trump handled the call where he dangled military aid and requested an investigation into the Bidens.

However, Republicans were anything but united with the president on the unexpected tweet, and many simply dodged questions from reporters. 

Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who have expressed criticism of the president’s call with Zelensky, did not answer shouted questions from reporters off the House floor about the tweet. House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said he wouldn’t talk about “committee business” when asked about the tweet. “You can follow me all the way back. I’m not acknowledging any questions at this time or any time,” he said.

One Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), told Fortune that he disagreed with criticizing foreign service officers, which he said that Trump was doing to Yovanovitch: “The president does have an absolute right to change ambassadors. I don’t think it’s right to be criticizing unduly professional foreign service officers who are doing their job.” Rooney, who announced his retirement at the end of the term, voted against procedures for the impeachment inquiry but has not fully ruled out voting for impeachment articles.

“He [Trump] was criticizing Yovanovitch, he said she was in Somalia and how’d that work out, that’s pretty critical,” Rooney said. “From what I heard from her testimony, she was doing a good job.”

After Trump’s tweet, several Republicans in the hearing pointedly thanked Yovanovich for her service as a foreign service officer. “You’re tough as nails and smart as hell,” Hurd said. “You’re an honor to the foreign service, you are an honor to this country.”

House Democrats said the tweet could be added to potential articles of impeachment and slammed Trump for his comments. “The testimony obviously got under his skin,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) told reporters. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) said the tweet was “beyond unpresidential,” and added that “it’s a big state of gaslighting that he does on a regular basis.” 

Other Republicans criticized Schiff for asking about the tweet, but not Trump. “I’m not familiar with the time and position related to her service in Somalia. I don’t know off hand what years she was there, what position she filled,” he told reporters. “What was wrong for Chairman Schiff to say that there was a tweet out there and cite a part of it and then ask Ambassador Yovanovitch to respond to Adam Schiff’s version of the president’s tweet.” (Schiff accurately quoted the president’s tweet and asked both about the president’s comments on her service in Somalia and the president having the right to appoint and recall ambassadors.)

Zeldin rejected that the tweet was witness intimidation and offered a defense of Trump. “No, I think it’s about the president wanting to ensure that the entire story is getting out there for the American public,” he said.

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