WASHINGTON — “In my line of work, perhaps in your line of work as well, all we have is our reputation,” Marie L. Yovanovitch, the ousted American ambassador to Ukraine, said on Friday. “This has been a very painful period.”
It was just after 9 a.m. and the career diplomat and self-declared “private person” found herself engulfed in a ritual camera burst. She had entered the hearing room by a side door, as if she could avoid a fuss.
After a career of far-flung postings and a diplomat’s ease for sizing up exotic cultures, her mission before the House Intelligence Committee still resembled that of a wayward stopover in a strange land. Known as Masha, Ms. Yovanovitch, 61, looked every bit the outsider in a dangerous village.
She walked to her seat with a story to tell. She exited nearly seven hours later — after a presidential tweet denigrating her drew gasps from the audience — to applause.
Ms. Yovanovitch started with some basic housekeeping, the kind you could easily skip past in a less suspicious time. “I come before you as an American citizen,” she said in her opening statement. She also came as a human story, a witness to collateral damage — namely her own.
Ms. Yovanovitch would be the first to assert there is nothing spectacular about her 33 years at State. She was but one of many unsung Foreign Service officials who toiled with distinction on behalf of the country. “Like my colleagues, I entered the Foreign Service understanding that my job was to implement the foreign policy interests of this nation,” she said. “I had no agenda other than to pursue our stated foreign policy goals.”
President Barack Obama gave her Ukraine in 2016, where she would become the highest-ranking female ambassador at the State Department. By nearly all accounts she served with professionalism and a commitment to anti-corruption. Then along came Mr. Trump.
The president, by way of his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, targeted Ms. Yovanovitch as an impediment to the investigations they were trying to advance in Ukraine at the expense of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter — the events leading Mr. Trump to the brink of impeachment.
Ms. Yovanovitch was disdained by Mr. Trump’s allies as an Obama-appointed stooge (Don Jr. called her a “joker”). She was accused without proof of disparaging the president and said she was warned (by Ukraine’s interior minister) to “watch her back.”
When, according to her closed-door testimony, she asked the Trump-appointed ambassador to the European Union, Gordon D. Sondland, how she might improve her crippled standing in Washington, he suggested she tweet something nice about the president. Not normal.
After being derided as “bad news” by Mr. Trump in a fateful July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, Mr. Trump said ominously that “she’s going to go through some things.”
Friday was quite a thing.
“I was shocked and appalled,” the former ambassador said when she learned that Mr. Trump had disparaged her to the Ukrainian president. “The woman,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Zelensky, “was bad news.”
“It was a terrible moment,” Ms. Yovanovitch said of her reaction. She quoted a person who observed her at the moment she learned of the president’s characterization of her: “The color drained from my face.”
Although she presented as someone who was not easily flustered, she said that this was difficult to discuss, even months later. The room fell silent as Ms. Yovanovitch paused. For a moment it seemed that she might tear up, as a few spectators did in the back of the hearing room.
Dan Goldman, the majority counsel, invited her to continue, hopefully “without upsetting you too much.’’ Ms. Yovanovitch then spoke of her disbelief that an American president would talk like this to a foreign head of state about his own diplomat. And not just any diplomat.
“It was me,” she said, her voice creeping off, as she appeared to relive her shock.
And then the president tweeted. About the witness. As she testified, in real time, a little after 10 a.m. It is safe to assume this was another first.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” came the president’s just-discharged words.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who is chairman of the intelligence committee, jumped in to narrate the breaking tweet: “She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” There were head shakes and maybe a grimace or two from even the staunchest Republicans on the panel.
This was not your parents’ impeachment (Clinton) or grandparents’ (Nixon).
Perhaps it should not have been a surprise, but the ambassador appeared freshly shaken. “I don’t think I have that power,” she said after Mr. Schiff asked about the president blaming her for “turning bad” every place that she served. “I made things better,” she countered, less with conviction than disbelief.
“It’s very intimidating,” she said a minute later, of what it was like to have the president of the United States denounce your entire career by tweet and learn about it, along with millions of other people, on live television. She rocked slowly in her chair.
As the hearing wore on, Republicans repeatedly disparaged the proceeding as a “performance.” Representative Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican from California, called it a “show trial.” He predicted “low ratings,” the ultimate nod to the Audience of One in the White House.
But Ms. Yovanovitch did not seem eager to perform. “I really don’t want to get into that but thank you for asking,” Ms. Yovanovitch said after Representative Terri A. Sewell, Democrat of Alabama, asked how this experience has affected her family.
There were some Republicans on the panel who seemed compelled to bolster the witness, especially after the president’s tweet. They thanked her for her service. Her ordeal made her no less a public servant, patriot or vital part of the nation’s foreign policy machinery, they said. They made clear, with a few exceptions, that their beef was with Democrats, not with her.
As the inquiry neared its close, the process devolved into shouting. Members yelled back and forth, interrupting each other, trading objections and points of order. Mr. Schiff wielded his gavel like a jackhammer. Representative K. Michael Conaway, Republican of Texas, kept insisting to be recognized, complaining of “disparaging remarks” made against his party. Finally, Mr. Conaway’s microphone was shut off, and the men lingered, jawing inaudibly at each other before they walked off.
Evidently pleased to leave the theatrics to the professionals, Ms. Yovanovitch allowed herself a tiny smile, like an anthropologist amused by the spectacle of wrestling bears. She walked off to a partial standing ovation from the gallery — also not normal.
She had been “through some things,” for sure.
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