President Donald Trump brushed off claims he tried to intimidate former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as she spoke during a hearing on an impeachment inquiry into his presidency.
As Yovanovitch spoke in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Friday morning, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?”
He also noted out that administration officials, including State Department diplomats, serve at the pleasure of the president.
Later on Friday, Trump was asked about the tweet.
“I just want to have a total, I want freedom of speech,” Trump said at a White House event on health care after he was asked if his tweet was meant to intimidate her. “That’s a political process. The Republicans have been treated very badly. And I watched a little bit of it today. I wasn’t able to yesterday because we had the president of Turkey here, and I wasn’t able to watch much. I watched some of it this morning. I thought it was a disgrace.”
A reporter then asked if the tweets could be viewed as intimidation.
“I don’t think so at all,” Trump said. “I have the right to speak; I have freedom of speech, just as other people do,” Trump also told reporters.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a press conference that the tweet is an “attack on a witness,” adding: “We need to view the president’s actions today as part of a broader and incriminating act.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham also sent out a statement that denied claims from Democrats that Trump engaged in intimidation.
“The tweet was not witness intimidation, it was simply the President’s opinion, which he is entitled to,” she said. “This is not a trial, it is a partisan political process—or to put it more accurately, a totally illegitimate, charade stacked against the President. There is less due process in this hearing than any such event in the history of our country. It’s a true disgrace.”
She also retweeted a comment by attorney and author Jenna Ellis, who pointed out that if not for Schiff’s interrupting Yovanovitch’s testimony to read the tweet to her, she couldn’t have been intimidated.
“But for Schiff interrupting and READING the tweet TO HER, she wouldn’t have known,” Ellis wrote. “She was mid-testimony. How is someone possibly ‘intimidated’ by something they weren’t even aware of?”
But for Schiff interrupting and READING the tweet TO HER, she wouldn’t have known. She was mid-testimony. How is someone possibly “intimidated” by something they weren’t even aware of?
Come on. 🙄🙄🙄 pic.twitter.com/4ZqyeHQF8u
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllis45) November 15, 2019
Yovanovitch said Trump has the right to pick his ambassadors.
But she added: “I don’t disagree that the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time. I do wonder why it’s necessary to smear my reputation falsely.” On a phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky on July 25, Trump called her “bad news.”