Trump impeachment inquiry: President's real-time attack 'very intimidating', says ousted US envoy

15 November 2019, 15:57 | Updated: 16 November 2019, 01:28

A former US envoy has said she found it "very intimidating" that Donald Trump was attacking her on Twitter as she testified at the impeachment inquiry into the president.

Marie Yovanovitch also said her abrupt removal as US ambassador to the Ukraine by the White House in May played into the hands of "shady interests the world over".

And she told the Democrat-led investigation that previous comments made by the president in a phone call to Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy that "she's going to go through some things", "sounded like a threat".

While the career diplomat was giving evidence to the hearing, Mr Trump lashed out at her, writing in a tweet: "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?"

Having seen the tweet, Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff almost immediately asked Ms Yovanovitch for her reaction to it, displaying the tweet on a screen in the room, Ms Yovanovitch 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.

Mr Schiff replied: "Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously."

A White House spokesperson denied that Mr Trump's post amounted to witness intimidation, saying it was "simply his opinion".

And on leaving the hearing, where Ms Yovanovitch was given a standing ovation, Mr Schiff said that Mr Trump's twitter attack on Ms Yovanovitch would not be seen in isolation but as part of a broader and incriminating pattern of witness intimidation.

He told reporters: "What we saw today was witness intimidation in real-time by the president of the United States."

Republican Liz Cheney said Mr Trump's live tweeting was wrong.

"I don't think the president should have done that," she said.

Appearing as a witness, Ms Yovanovitch described a "smear campaign" against her by Mr Trump's allies, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, before she was fired.

In her opening remarks, she said: "These events should concern everyone in this room.

"Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want."

The daughter of immigrants who fled the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, she described a 33-year career, during which she served both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Recalling how she felt when she read comments made by Mr Trump denouncing her in a phone call with Ukraine's president, Ms Yovanovitch said someone with her said "the colour drained from my face".

She added: "Even now words fail me."

The impeachment inquiry is focused on Mr Trump's actions toward Ukraine.

Democrats argue it amounts to bribery, as the president withheld military aid to Ukraine while he pushed the country to investigate rival Democrats, including presidential hopeful Joe Biden.

But Mr Trump has branded the probe a hoax and argues he has done nothing wrong.

Opening the latest hearing, Mr Schiff said that Ms Yovanovitch was "too tough on corruption for some, and her principled stance made her enemies".

It became clear that the president "wanted her gone".

But the top Republican on the panel, Devin Nunes, dismissed the hearings as a "day-long TV spectacle".