In the middle of Friday’s impeachment hearing, President Donald Trump assailed the witness at the stand, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, in a tweet. He wrote: “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.” This echoed the talking point that pro-Trump spam accounts had already been making earlier in the hearing.
Shortly after Trump sent the tweet, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff read it aloud in the hearing room and gave Yovanovitch an opportunity to respond to the assertion that everywhere she went “turned bad.” The former ambassador, with a bemused expression, said: “I don’t think I have such powers. Not in Mogadishu, Somalia, not in other places. I actually think that where I’ve served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better,” adding that Ukraine had made strides in its efforts to root out corruption since 2014.
Schiff then asked whether Trump’s attacks could discourage other witnesses from coming forward. Yovanovitch said, “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.” Schiff responded, “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.” Democratic Reps. Joe Kennedy III, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ted Lieu made similar points.
Right-wing pundits on Twitter soon began making the case that it was actually Schiff who was intimidating Yovanovitch. Fox News host Mark Levin wrote: “But for the fact that Schiff read the presidents tweet to the witness during the course of the hearing, she would have not known about the tweet. How the hell is that witness tampering?” Breitbart News’ Joel Pollak insisted that Trump was merely explaining his decision to fire Yovanovitch, while Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton wrote: “@RealDonaldTrump criticizing a witness who opposes him is intimidation? Schiff is desperate.”
Some on Fox News, however, seemed to have a different take. Fox’s chief political anchor, Bret Baier, tweeted, “[Yovanovitch] was already a sympathetic witness & the President’s tweet ripping her allowed Schiff to point it out real time characterizing it as witness tampering or intimidation—adding an article of impeachment real-time.” Ken Starr, who led the impeachment investigation into President Bill Clinton, also said on Fox: “The president was not advised by counsel in deciding to do this tweet. Extraordinarily poor judgment. … Obviously this was quite injurious.”