House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted today that President Donald Trump’s tweets attacking Marie Yovanovitch while she was testifying against him amounted to “witness intimidation in real time.”
Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was ousted from her job in April, testified on Capitol Hill today. As she was speaking, Trump tweeted about her. And, what he had to say wasn’t complimentary.
In the first tweet, Trump claimed that Yovanovitch’s State Department career was less than exemplary.
Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
In a second tweet, he defended removing her from the Ukranian position, saying that it was his prerogative as POTUS.
“They call it ‘serving at the pleasure of the President,'” he wrote. He went on in the tweet to tout his foreign policy, comparing himself to former President Barack Obama by writing, “I have done far more with Ukraine than O.”
Schiff read the tweets aloud to Yovanovitch, who said that she found them “very intimidating.” Schiff told the former diplomat that “some of us here take witness intimidation very seriously.”
At least two high-profile Republicans, according to The Washington Post, also took umbrage with Trump’s tweets. New York’s Elise Stefanik, who referred to Yovanovitch as a “public servant,” said she disagreed with the tweet. Wyoming’s Liz Cheney said, “I don’t think the president should have done that.”
Schiff, for his part, made his objection known not only to the Committee, but also to the general public, via a tweet.
Right now, President Trump is watching our hearing and tweeting baseless attacks against Ambassador Yovanovitch.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) November 15, 2019
This is witness intimidation in real time. And we won’t stand for it. pic.twitter.com/2MngDNJUaw
On Fox News, Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel whose investigation into former President Bill Clinton led to Clinton’s impeachment in the 1990s, also took exception to Trump’s tweet.
“I must say that the president was not advised by counsel in deciding to do this tweet. Extraordinarily poor judgment,” Starr said.
Does This Meet The Legal Definition of Witness Intimidation?
Legal-aid website Nolo.com defines witness intimidation as “interfering with a witness’s testimony or cooperation in a criminal case,” and points out several actions that could meet that definition. Some of those actions include attempting to bribe the witness; threatening him (or her) or their family with physical harm; or simply asking a witness not to cooperate.
Whether or not Trump’s tweets count as witness intimidation would be up to a court to decide.
Trump, for his part, spent much of today continuing to tweet about the impeachment hearings, despite saying earlier that he wouldn’t be watching them. Since the hearings began, he’s released a memo of the phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; has tweeted videos of the hearings; and has attempted to talk up his administration’s accomplishments.