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President Donald Trump launched a Twitter attack on a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine on Friday while she was testifying to an impeachment hearing in Congress, in an extraordinary moment that Democrats said amounts to witness intimidation.
Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, was explaining to the second day of televised impeachment hearings how she fought corruption in Ukraine and how the Trump administration pulled her back to Washington abruptly earlier this year.
Democrats say her removal was aimed at clearing the way for Trump allies to persuade Ukraine to launch corruption investigations into Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
As Yovanovitch testified, Trump fired off his criticism on Twitter, a move Democrats labeled "real-time" witness intimidation.
"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?" Trump asked.
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. Presidents absolute right to appoint ambassadors.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
In the most dramatic moment of the impeachment hearings that began on Wednesday, Adam Schiff, the Democrat chairing the hearing in the House Intelligence Committee, asked Yovanovitch for her reaction to the tweet. She said it was "very intimidating."
"I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating," she said.
Schiff replied: "Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously."
Afterwards, Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell, a member of the committee, told reporters the Trump attack could be considered for a separate article of impeachment against Trump for obstruction.
"Its evidence of more obstruction: intimidating, tampering with the witnesss testimony. But it really goes to guilt, his knowledge of what he did," Swalwell said. "Innocent people just dont do this."
But Republican Representative Jim Jordan dismissed any suggestion that Trump's tweets were witness intimidation.
"The witness is testifying. She wouldnt even have known about the quote, if Mr. Schiff hadnt read the tweet," he said.
The session is part of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry that threatens Trump's presidency even as he seeks re-election in November 2020.
Yovanovitch was removed from her post as ambassador to Kiev in May after coming under attack by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, at a time when he was working to persuade Ukraine to carry out two investigations that would benefit the Republican president politically.
Giuliani was also trying to engineer a Ukrainian investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory embraced by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, iRead More – Source