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Yovanovitch says Trump administration has "undermined our democratic institutions"

Posted at 8:17 AM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-06 10:18:06-05

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch said the Trump administration "has undermined our democratic institutions" and urged Americans not to allow the U.S. "to become a country where standing up to our government is a dangerous act."

Yovanovitch, who testified in the House's impeachment inquiry, issued her warning in an op-ed published Thursday in The Washington Post. She was abruptly recalled from her post in Kiev in May because of a smear campaign orchestrated by "foreign corrupt interests" and President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, she told House investigators in November.

"[O]ur public servants need responsible and ethical political leadership," Yovanovitch, who retired last week, wrote in the op-ed. "This administration, through acts of omission and commission, has undermined our democratic institutions, making the public question the truth and leaving public servants without the support and example of ethical behavior that they need to do their jobs and advance U.S. interests."

Yovanovitch said that when she and other civil servants in the Trump administration were asked to testify before the House about activities "considered deeply wrong in regard to the nation of Ukraine," they did not hesitate to do so, "even in the face of administration efforts to silence us."

"We did this because it is the American way to speak up about wrongdoing," she wrote. "I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened with punishment or death. We must not allow the United States to become a country where standing up to our government is a dangerous act."

In the wake of her public testimony in November, Yovanovitch said "it has been shocking to experience the storm of criticism, lies and malicious conspiracies." But despite this, she has no regrets.

"Unfortunately, the last year has shown that we need to fight for our democracy," Yovanovitch wrote. "'Freedom is not free' is a pithy phrase that usually refers to the sacrifices of our military against external threats. It turns out that same slogan can be applied to challenges which are closer to home. We need to stand up for our values, defend our institutions, participate in civil society and support a free press."

Yovanovitch told lawmakers last year she was not given a reason for her ouster from her position in Kiev and said she felt threatened by Mr. Trump, who told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call that she was "bad news" and was going to "go through some things."

Mr. Trump was also heard in an April 2018 recording made by Lev Parnas, Giuliani's associate, speaking about Yovanovitch, saying "get rid of her" and "take her out."

Messages from Parnas turned over to the House Intelligence Committee last month also suggest Yovanovitch was being watched while in Ukraine. Giuliani, however, told CBS News he was unaware of purported efforts to monitor Yovanovitch, and Robert Hyde, a Republican donor who sent the messages to Kiev discussing her whereabouts, said he was "absolutely not" tracking her.

Authorities in Ukraine, however, launched a criminal investigation into whether Yovanovitch was illegally monitored.

Yovanovitch remained on the State Department's payroll after she was prematurely removed from her post, according to NPR, but officially retired from the foreign service after a 33-year career that spanned Republican and Democratic presidential administrations.