By: Abigail Tracy
For demoralized staffers, the former ambassador’s testimony felt like a turning point. It also raises existential questions for a diplomatic corps that serves at the president’s pleasure—including whether Mike Pompeo can salvage his credibility on the world stage after being exposed as another Trump stooge.
Even for diplomats numbed by years of Trump-induced whiplash, the revelation that their boss, Mike Pompeo, had sat quietly while the president trash-talked Marie Yovanovitch came as a nasty shock. For months rumors had swirled about why Ambassador Yovanovitch was unceremoniously recalled from her posting in Ukraine, where she found herself at the center of Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to coerce Ukrainian officials into investigating Joe Biden. But the sordid details of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, a rough transcript of which was recently made public, brought morale inside the State Department crashing to a new low.
“Folks were surprised to see a colleague as professional and talented as Masha Yovanovitch asked to leave Ukraine early. But sometimes that happens,” a former high-ranking State Department official told me. “That sentiment became shock, horror, and outrage when the presidential phone call came out.” Pompeo, after all, is tasked with defending U.S. diplomatic interests around the world—a mission that theoretically includes defending his staff from political corruption. “It is unconscionable that he would have been on the phone while one of his team was being trashed by the president of the United States,” said another former senior State official. “Not that I would have said that he should have interrupted the phone call, but there should have been something said somewhere along the way to support her and her integrity and everything else. He is a Trump quisling. What can I say?”
Yovanovitch’s decision to testify last week as part of a House Democratic impeachment inquiry, despite White House efforts to block her participation, made her something of a celebrity in Foggy Bottom. “I am not surprised that Masha did this because she is that sort of person. She is full of integrity and everything, but she did not dial it back at all,” said the second former official. “I was hoping, hoping, hoping that she would get the chance to testify because I knew that she would be very strong and really be very clear about how disappointing it was to not have the backing of the leadership.” Since Yovanovitch appeared before House lawmakers, this person told me, they have been hearing from diplomats all over the world about the veteran diplomat, asking to pass along their words of support. “I am getting it from everywhere. So are all of my friends… It is huge, it is huge. I mean, she is definitely the hero.”
Still, there has been much to digest about the sorry state of U.S. diplomacy in the Trump era. As Yovanovitch laid bare in her nine-plus hours of closed-door testimony, there are few corners of the State Department that have not been tainted by Trump’s influence or that of his political appointees. Perhaps most insidious has been the impact of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and other Trump henchmen who have been meddling in Ukraine. As has now been thoroughly reported, Trump was eager to impress upon Zelensky the importance of kicking up dust about Biden and the origins of the Mueller probe if he wanted to secure U.S. military aid—a potentially illegal quid pro quo that Trump insists was “perfectly fine and routine.”ADVERTISEMENT
Pompeo’s potential complicity in the scheme has not only thrust him into the center of the impeachment inquiry, but is also fueling doubts about his own legitimacy. “It is a question of how much longer Pompeo can purport to lead the State Department,” a former U.S. ambassador told me Monday. Any good will that Pompeo had inside Foggy Bottom has largely evaporated, this person said, adding that the secretary’s defenders have gone noticeably silent. Of course, Pompeo has spent two years cementing himself as Trump’s top diplomat, not America’s. “This whole Ukraine episode has shown that the goal was to destroy the institution, not to use the institution,” the ambassador continued. “I suppose he can continue, divorced from the institution, as long as he wishes.”
There is hope, however, that Yovanovitch’s decision to appear before Congress may have altered the political calculus for other diplomats grappling with their responsibilities as civil servants. “She didn’t get struck down by a thunderbolt. She was told she wasn’t allowed to testify, she went anyway, and here she is, a hero,” the former ambassador said. “I hope that it will just encourage more people to do the right thing.”
Already, Yovanovitch appears to have inspired others to step forward. Fiona Hill, the former White House adviser on Russia, appeared behind closed doors on Monday for nearly 10 hours, just days after the former ambassador to Ukraine. “That is the thing that feels like an inflection point, that somebody has got the guts to say what they know,” this person added. “And I don’t think that it is lost on a lot of people that it is women who have the guts.” Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, is also expected to appear before Congress on Thursday, despite earlier White House efforts to keep the Trump appointee quiet. And Michael McKinley, a widely respected veteran diplomat who served as a top aide to Pompeo before resigning last week, is going to appear for a transcribed interview before Congress, suggesting he was not subpoenaed.
“There is a willingness, even by career people, now to be much more assertive,” agreed Brett Bruen, a former foreign service officer. “The key error that Pompeo and Trump make is that they demand this loyalty to themselves, to their ideology, and not to the constitution… This is not about swagger, it is not about saving our foreign policy interests. It is about saving your asses.”
Source: Vanity Fair.