Yovanovitch Admits to 'Appearance of Conflict' in Bidens' Role
Day two of the televised impeachment hearings seemed to be going better than Democrats had planned Friday when towards the end of the five-hour session, the questioning seemed to hit an unexpected snag.
Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom President Trump ousted earlier this year, in large part had convincingly cast herself as the victim of an intimidation campaign waged by Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.
The 33-year career Foreign Service officer said she was “shocked, appalled and devastated” that Trump would denounce her in a call with the new Ukrainian president.
But hours into the hearing, Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe wanted to know if, when preparing for her Senate confirmation in 2016, whether Obama administration officials had highlighted the issue of Hunter Biden serving on Burisma, the natural gas company whose head was investigated for corruption.
Yovanovitch confirmed that indeed they had flagged it a possible pitfall for her confirmation and told her to refer all questions about it to Vice President Joe Biden’s office.
Ratcliffe then asked whether she thought Hunter Biden’s presence on the board, where he made tens of thousands of dollars a month despite having no previous natural gas experience, was improper while his father was vice president and serving as the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine. (Hunter stepped down earlier this year after his father announced his candidacy for president and the position started to draw greater media scrutiny.)
“Yeah, I think that it could raise the appearance of a conflict,” she said.
That response was the opportunity Republicans -- seemingly fearful of taking an aggressive line of questioning up to that point -- had been waiting for. Under sympathetic questioning from Democrats throughout the morning, Yovanovitch had testified that she was such a dedicated anti-corruption crusader that she upset “establishment” Ukrainian officials who wanted to continue business as usual and who enlisted Giuliani to help launch a smear campaign against her.
On the same day she was recalled from Ukraine, she testified she had attended an event to honor murdered Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk, who died last year after being doused in sulfuric acid.
After Yovanovitch acknowledged the Bidens’ possible conflict of interest, Ratcliffe wanted to know if she ever discussed the issue up the chain of command at the State Department, specifically pressing her on whether she talked about the matter with George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs.
“I don’t believe so,” she said.
“No one did anything? You see why the president was a little concerned about what happened in Ukraine?” Ratcliffe asked.
Yovanovitch didn’t readily acknowledge Ratcliffe’s point, but she didn’t have to. Even liberal media blogs acknowledged the shot taken and scored – that, after arguing for hours that she had been targeted for cracking down on corruption, she apparently was willing to turn a blind eye to the appearance of impropriety involving the vice president of the United States -- to whom in many ways she owed her appointment.
Near the end of the hearing, Ratcliffe drove the point home, using his time to argue that Hunter Biden be brought to testify in front of the committee.
“I’d like to renew my request … that Hunter Biden’s testimony that has been requested by Republicans be considered as legitimate, rather than a sham,” he said.
Earlier in the day, with Democrats controlling the focus of the hearing, Trump took a Twitter swipe at Yovanovitch in real time.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who led the hearing, then read aloud the Trump tweet and asked her if it was meant to intimidate.
“It’s very intimidating,” she responded. “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.”
Around noon, as if on Democratic cue, news broke that federal investigators were now probing Giuliani’s ties to Ukrainian energy projects and whether he stood to personally profit from the business ventures involving two associates who are now in jail. Those two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were pitching plans this year for a Poland-to-Ukraine pipeline carrying U.S. natural gas to Ukrainian officials and energy executives.
When it came time for Republicans to begin their questioning of Yovanovitch, Schiff immediately shot down an attempt to allow a more junior Republican woman, Rep. Elise Stefanik, to do so. When the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Devin Nunes, yielded his time to Stefanik, Schiff gaveled her down as she was trying to speak. Schiff cited internal rules only allowing the ranking member and the chairman to use their time themselves or cede it to their chief counsels.
Other Republican members of the committee eventually got their chance but seemed to squander most of it by letting their queries meander without an endgame. Steve Castor, the GOP chief counsel, seemed to be using kid gloves with the respected senior female diplomat.
Rep. Jim Jordan was credited with forcing a draw in the first impeachment round Wednesday, but his most-memorable zinger Friday was when he told Schiff that Republicans’ “indulgence” of him had worn out a long time ago.
Jordan was responding to Schiff’s effort to curtail his questioning.
“I have indulged you with extra time, but my indulgence is wearing out. Is there a question here?” Schiff said to the Ohio congressman.
“Our indulgence with you wore out a long time ago, Mr. Chairman. I can tell you that,” Jordan retorted.