WASHINGTON — On the ides of November, one woman's voice hushed the noise of the House.
An imperfect world rarely gives us perfect opposites. Marie Yovanovitch and Gordon Sondland are such a pair, called on different days to appear in the House impeachment inquiry.
The woman, an expert career diplomat, faced unrest and crossfire in hardship posts. The man, a brash newcomer to foreign policy, has some serious explaining to do on his role in seeking a shady presidential deal with Ukraine, now under grave scrutiny.
Yovanovitch, the American ambassador to Ukraine, recently faced a House panel alone to tell her story. The truth would sound unbelievable if she wasn't such a reliable narrator.
Her tone illuminated a deep, dark path into President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine for his own political gain. She left her post "devastated" — her time cut short, told to take the next plane home. She learned Trump himself was vocally "pushing for my removal."
"Why was it necessary to smear my reputation?" Yovanovitch asked. There was no answer, just silence under the chandeliers.
In a sad yet stoic statement, one odd word stood out. While ambassador, she said, the president had her "kneecapped" as she stood against corruption in a troubled country at war with Russia.
"Kneecapped" has street gang overtones, meaning a malicious wound in the knee, by gunshot. It sends an unmistakable message of intimidation.
Yovanovitch, known to friends as Masha, spoke softly, but her voice was heard round the world. I know because I was there, in the House hearing room. I sat by correspondents from other capitals: London, Berlin, Copenhagen.
Putting pieces of her long testimony together, Yovanovitch presented herself as a straight arrow who sympathized with the Ukrainian people's hope to be free from a hard history.
This made her an obstacle to an Oval obsession.
Using military aid as leverage, Trump demanded a "favor," namely a Ukrainian investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter. With Yovanovitch gone, the coast seemed clear to crush a 2020 political rival.
Trump did not literally have his ambassador kneecapped in Ukraine. But he got rid of her with a vague threat, uttering to the new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that "the woman" would "go through some things."
The personal grudge was put on display as Trump insulted Yovanovitch directly during her hearing. Even House Republicans were shocked at his tweet-street-talk. The Democrats, led by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called it witness intimidation.
The president as the Godfather was no pretty thing.
The panel will hear from Sondland on Wednesday. A crude talker, he's Trump's million-dollar donor and handpicked ambassador to the European Union — with zero experience. Embassy aides heard him tell Trump on a cellphone that Zelenskiy "loves your ass" and would do anything asked, which was not true.
Sondland's mistakes or wrongdoings in Ukraine will likely come through in testimony, unless his lawyers tell him to take the Fifth Amendment. (By the way, Ukraine is not in the EU.)
Sondland changed his story once, concerning what exactly he was doing in Ukraine at Trump's bidding. According to Yovanovitch's successor, seasoned diplomat and war hero William Taylor, Sondland aimed to press Zelenskiy to announce — on CNN — an investigation into the Bidens.
That was the "big stuff," Sondland told embassy aides. Not the hot war going on.
More than any other witness, Yovanovitch appeared as an elegy for expert experience in government, such as the Foreign Service, being undercut.
"The crisis has moved from the impact on individuals to an impact on the institution. The State Department is being hollowed out from within," Yovanovitch declared.
Without naming names, it emerged that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did nothing to defend the ambassador. Her clear gaze seemed to see through what happened to her.
The demoralized State Department is not alone. Pentagon chiefs are up in arms that Trump cleared three military men of war crimes, defying their advice. The CIA resents that Trump dismissed its conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Environmental and weather scientists are finding limits placed on research for public health and information.
As Yovanovitch is our witness, experts within the government may pave Trump's way out.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the creators.com webpage.
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