For those of us who dedicated our careers to public service, Marie Yovanovitch, the former Ambassador to Ukraine, stands proud as the epitome of what every public servant should aspire to be.
It became more apparent during her testimony before the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Oversight and Reform on October 11, 2019.
While we are not privy to her responses to questions asked during her appearance, her opening statement captures very completely that Yovanovich is a true patriot in every sense of the word.
Her opening statement goes on for 10 pages, but it will not be necessary to provide the full text to make my point. A few key highlights reveal how dedicated to public service she is and how seriously she takes her oath to protect and serve the Constitution of the United States and the people of this country.
In her opening statement, she shares that it has been a “great honor to serve the American people as a Foreign Service Officer, over six Administrations—four Republican, and two Democratic” and that she “served in seven different countries, five of them hardship posts, and was appointed to serve as an ambassador three times—twice by a Republican president and once by a Democrat.” Throughout her career, she states, she “stayed true to the oath that Foreign Service Officers take and observe every day: ‘that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;’ and ‘that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.’” She makes it clear that she “understood that oath as a commitment to serve on a strictly nonpartisan basis, to advance the foreign policy determined by the incumbent president, and to work at all times to strengthen our national security and promote our national interests.”
In her statement, Yovanovich discusses her background as a child of parents who fled both Communist and Nazi regimes. That experience of “war, poverty and displacement” allowed Yovanovich to develop her own set of values, principles and appreciation for the “freedom and democracy the U.S. represents.” From August 2016 until May 2019, she served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and said that the policy she defended was “fully embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, was to help Ukraine become a stable and independent democratic state, and with a market, economy integrated into Europe.”
Through her statement, she also demonstrated her knowledge of Ukraine, describing its current status as a “sovereign country, whose borders are inviolate and whose people have the right to determine their own destiny.” She continued to explain that “because of Ukraine’s geostrategic position bordering Russia on its east, the warm waters of the oil-rich Black Sea to its south, and four NATO allies to its west, it is critical to the security of the United States that Ukraine remain free and democratic and that it continue to resist Russian expansionism.”
Russia’s “malign intentions towards Ukraine” with its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its ongoing invasion of Eastern Ukraine should be extremely concerning to the United States and reflected in our policy towards Ukraine. According to Yovanovich, “if we allow Russia’s actions to stand, we will set a precedent that the United States will regret for decades to come.” Recognizing Russia’s involvement in Ukraine is critical to understanding and questioning what is behind the Trump administration’s abrupt decision to remove her as Ukraine ambassador in May of this year.
According to Yovanovich, supporting Ukraine’s integration into Europe and combating Russia’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine have anchored U.S. policy since 2014 and supported Ukraine’s desire “to be a part of Europe and live according to the rule of law.” That, according to the ambassador, was U.S. policy when she was “appointed Ambassador in August 2016, and reaffirmed as the policy of the current administration in early 2017.”
Also critical to U.S. policy in Ukraine is the fight against corruption. The Ukrainian people demanded to end that corruption, which forced the new government to take measures to fight the rampant corruption that long permeated that country’s political and economic systems. According to the ambassador, “we have long understood that strong anti-corruption efforts must form an essential part of our policy in Ukraine; now there was a window of opportunity to do just that.”
During the 2019 election, the Ukrainian people made it clear that they want a country where the rule of law is the system, corruption is tamed and people are treated equally. In that election, the Ukrainian voters overwhelmingly elected a man, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who said that ending corruption would be his number one priority. The problem comes from those who benefited from and who sought to hold on to the corrupt political system.
Now enter Rudy Giuliani, who, on behalf of his president and his reliance on individuals in Ukraine, sought to serve themselves rather than serve the Ukrainian people.
Yovanovich addressed the specific issues leading to her abrupt termination as Ukrainian Ambassador from her testimony: “I arrived in Ukraine on August 22, 2016, and left Ukraine permanently on May 20, 2019… I want to categorically state that I have never myself or through others, directly or indirectly, ever directed, suggested or in any other way asked for any government or government official in Ukraine (or elsewhere) to refrain from investigating or prosecuting actual corruption. As Mr. Lutsenko, the former Ukrainian Prosecutor General, has recently acknowledged, the notion that I created or disseminated a ‘do not prosecute’ list is completely false—a story that Mr. Lutsenko, himself, has since retracted. Equally fictitious is the notion that I am disloyal to President Trump.
“I have heard the allegation in the media that I supposedly told the Embassy team to ignore the president’s orders ‘since he was going to be impeached.’ That allegation is false. I have never said such a thing to my embassy colleagues or anyone else.
“Next, the Obama administration did not ask me to help the Clinton campaign or harm the Trump campaign, nor would I have taken any such steps if they had. I have never met Hunter Biden, nor have I had any direct or indirect conversations with him.
“And although I have met former Vice President Biden several times over the course of our many years in government, neither he nor the previous administration ever, directly or indirectly, raised the issue of either Burisma or Hunter Biden with me. With respect to Mayor Giuliani, I have had only minimal contacts with him—a total of three that I recall.
“None related to the events at issue. I do not know Giuliani’s motives for attacking me. But individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Giuliani may well have believed that their financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine. Finally, after being asked by the department in early March to extend my tour until 2020, I was then abruptly told in late April to come back to Washington from Ukraine ‘on the next plane…’
“I met with the Deputy Secretary of State, who informed me of the curtailment of my term. He said that the president had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018. He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause. I departed Ukraine for good this past May.
“Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the president, I was nevertheless incredulous that the U.S. government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.
“To make matters worse, all of this occurred during an especially challenging time in bilateral relations with a newly elected Ukrainian president. This was precisely the time when continuity in the Embassy in Ukraine was most needed.”
It seems somewhat likely that those two Ukrainian “clients” of Giuliani, who attempted to leave with a one-way ticket out of Dulles International Airport but were arrested, contributed to the mischaracterization of Yovanovich, leading to her dismissal. Not much use for an ambassador trying to combat corruption by those who seek to benefit from corruption. Not much room for due process either with the Trump administration but that, fortunately, came with the Congressional hearing.