The Yovanovitch farce

I want to add two points to the ones Scott makes about the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch. First, Yovanovitch had nothing of significance to say about issues relevant to impeachment. Second, her testimony was an attempt by Adam Schiff to play the identity politics card.

Yovanovitch was not the ambassador to Ukraine during the period when the Trump administration withheld military aid. She has no knowledge as to why the aid was held up.

That’s the only issue of relevance to the impeachment proceedings. The proceedings aren’t about whether Yovanovitch should have been removed as ambassador. Schiff’s committee isn’t a human resources body or a personnel review board.

President Trump had the absolute right to remove Yovanovitch. To the extent Democrats believe her sacking somehow is part of a pattern of mistreating diplomats, that’s a matter for the Foreign Relations Committee.

Democrats may say that Yovanovitch’s removal is relevant because it was the first step in making U.S. policy towards Ukraine subservient to Trump’s political interests. It set the stage, so to speak.

But this argument collapses the moment one remembers that Yovanovitch was replaced by Bill Taylor (officially, he’s the chargé d’affaires, but he acts as ambassador). If there’s one thing on which Democrats and Republicans on Schiff’s committee agree, it’s that Taylor is an exemplary diplomat.

Taylor had been the ambassador to Ukraine. After leaving that post, he followed Ukrainian affairs closely. Based on my hours of observing Taylor and Yovanovitch, and without intending any disrespect towards the latter, I think Taylor is easily the more impressive of the two.

Most significantly for present purposes, Taylor is passionate about the need for the U.S. to support Ukraine against Russia. Indeed, before accepting the post of ambassador, Taylor insisted on (and received) assurances from Secretary of State Pompeo that the U.S. was committed wholeheartedly to supporting Ukraine.

As acting ambassador, Taylor pushed back against making military aid to Ukraine contingent on investigations of the Bidens. It was Taylor who told Gordon Sondland, wisely, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

The pushback was fully consistent with Taylor’s views and his persona. This is not the man Trump would have appointed if the removal of Yovanovitch was designed to pave the way for subordinating Ukraine policy to Trump’s political interests.

Democrats complain that Trump’s informal Ukraine team (Sondland, Secretary Perry, Kurt Volker, Rudy Giuliani) bypassed Taylor in helping Trump formulate Ukraine policy. This seems to have been the case to some extent. However, it’s the president’s right to obtain advice from whomever he wishes.

The key point here, though, is that Trump could, and presumably would, have bypassed the State Department had Yovanovitch remained ambassador. If anything, she would have been cut out of the process to a greater degree than Taylor was, given Trump’s (and Giuliani’s) low regard for her.

Thus, the fact that Trump bypassed his ambassador to some extent makes it less likely, not more, that he removed Yovanovitch because she was an obstacle to implementing a nefarious scheme. The fact that the new ambassador was ardently in favor of military aid to Ukraine and is a man of the highest integrity demonstrates that Yovanovitch wasn’t removed for this reason.

Because Yovanovitch had nothing relevant to add to the impeachment inquiry, we must ask why Schiff trotted her out as a witness. The answer, I think, is that she is a woman with a grievance against Trump.

In the build-up to Yovanovitch’s appearance, mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post weren’t even trying to conceal their glee that a woman would testify against Trump. That’s because the alleged “war on women” is the unifying theme of Democratic attacks against Republicans — not just against Trump, but even against Mitt Romney.

What could play better into this theme than a woman moaning on national television that Trump mistreated her?

Everyone involved knew that this was the Democrats’ game. The Republicans knew. That’s why they wanted Elise Stefanik to lead off the questioning of Yovanovitch. (Stefanik is an excellent questioner, as we have noted, but ordinarily the lead-off questions would have come from the GOP counsel or from the ranking member.)

Schiff knew, of course. That’s why he gaveled Stefanik down when she tried to lead off the questioning.

I believe that Trump’s conduct towards Ukraine raises serious concerns of impropriety. But believing this isn’t the same thing as believing that Adam Schiff is conducting a serious inquiry. If Schiff were conducting a serious inquiry, he would not have called Yovanovitch as a witness.

Yovanovitch’s appearance should be Exhibit A in support of the proposition that Schiff is conducting a show trial.

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