Sarah Kendzior is the co-host of the podcast Gaslit Nation and the author of the upcoming book Hiding in Plain Sight
“Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want.”
This proclamation, delivered in the opening statement of former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony to the House, encapsulates the trauma at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. It is not merely about Donald Trump, or Ukraine or the alleged act of extortion the President and his colleagues are accused of carrying out in the summer of 2019. It is about the Mr. Trump’s ceaseless and brutal effort to eliminate the inconvenient. What he finds inconvenient are the values that sustain democracy: truth, accountability and service to country over party.
Ms. Yovanovitch exemplified those values, and she was fired for them. Her story is the American dream brought to the same nightmare conclusion that America, as whole, faces under the Trump administration. Born in Canada to Ukrainian immigrants who fled both the Nazis and the Soviets, Ms. Yovanovitch moved to the United States as a toddler and joined the foreign service as an adult. She served in post-Soviet countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, battling corrupt systems reminiscent of those her own family fled. In the end, there was no escape: The “shady interests” she fought abroad had infiltrated her own government at home.
There is nowhere for Ms. Yovanovitch to go. There is no longer refuge in this world. Like many Americans, she lives in a simulacrum of democracy dependent on the refusal of elites to admit the severity of the crisis. Ms. Yovanovitch swore to tell the whole truth, but to tell the whole truth is to terrify everyone. To tell the whole truth is to say what officials gloss over but what citizens can see: This is apparently a transnational crime syndicate masquerading as a government.
"It sounded like a threat,” Ms. Yovanovitch told the Democratic counsel, referring to Mr. Trump telling Ukraine’s President that “she is going to go through some things” as a result of her seeming unwillingness to abide his plots.
"Did you feel threatened?"
"Yes. It’s not a precise phrase. It felt like a vague threat … It concerned me.”
Ms. Yovanovitch is a career diplomat. She spent her life carefully choosing her words, straddling a line between toughness and accommodation. As such, she was a solid witness, detailing horrors she endured with a quiet dignity that even Republicans seemed wary of piquing. But Mr. Trump felt no such restraint. Midway through her testimony, the President attacked her on Twitter, in an act Democrats consider to be attempted witness intimidation.
There is nowhere Ms. Yovanovitch can be safe, because Donald Trump is everywhere. His accomplices are everywhere, and when one of them gets imprisoned – such as Russian operative Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager who worked for Kremlin interests in Ukraine – others, such as Mr. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his indicted followers Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, take their place.
Democratic leaders claim they want to limit the scope of the impeachment proceedings to Mr. Trump’s 2019 Ukraine shakedown, but that’s both impossible and insulting. The 2019 Ukraine shakedown is a continuation of the 2016 election heist, which was a continuation of Mr. Trump’s apparent lifelong connection to the Kremlin and his schemes with corrupt actors from the former USSR. Limiting the impeachment scope does a grave disservice to people such as Ms. Yovanovitch, whose lives are endangered by the unwillingness of officials to examine crimes in context, and the refusal of institutions to hold perpetrators accountable.
Had Mr. Trump’s lifelong connections to transnational organized crime been highlighted during the 2016 election, had his suspected ties to Vladimir Putin not been laughed off by clueless pundits as “gaffes" and had criminals such as Mr. Manafort been held accountable in real time – Robert Mueller indicted Mr. Manafort for money-laundering schemes he did years before 2016, including when Mr. Mueller headed the FBI – perhaps Ms. Yovanovitch would be safer now. Perhaps all Americans would. Perhaps we could rely on basic assurances, such as the U.S. government having your back when you are threatened by a foreign power, instead of stabbing its own knife through it.
Ms. Yovanovitch joins a long list of threatened U.S. federal officials, some of whom will be testifying in the hearings. There will be an attempt to label them heroes. Do not mythologize them, as admirable as the intent may be. They are public servants whose patriotism and principle has become so rare, it now seems extraordinary. True justice would be for them to be the rule, not the exception. True justice would be Marie Yovanovitch to have a safe place to call home.