WASHINGTON (Reuters) - State Department leadership has damaged the institution by failing to resist “foreign and corrupt interests that apparently hijacked” U.S. policy towards Ukraine and by not defending its own diplomats, the former U.S. envoy to Ukraine said on Friday.
Without naming her boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch became the first senior diplomat to voice criticism before millions of TV viewers that colleagues have expressed only in private for fear of retaliation.
“At the closed deposition, I expressed grave concerns about the degradation of the Foreign Service over the past few years and the failure of State Department leadership to push back as foreign and corrupt interests apparently hijacked our Ukraine policy,” she told a hearing in the Democratic-led House of Representatives on impeaching Republican President Donald Trump.
Yovanovitch testified behind closed doors on Oct. 11 about Trump’s decision to recall her prematurely from Kiev in May following a smear campaign against her by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others.
Democrats say the White House orchestrated her removal to make it easier for Trump allies to persuade Ukraine to launch corruption investigations of Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
“I remain disappointed that the department’s leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong,” Yovanovitsh said.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Yovanovitch’s remarks.
While she did not mention him by name, Yovanovitch left little doubt that her criticism targeted Pompeo, who erected obstacles to bar U.S. diplomats from testifying before the impeachment inquiry. Many did so only under subpoena.
The inquiry is focussing on Trump’s request in a July 25 phone call that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy investigate Biden and his son. Federal law bars candidates from accepting foreign help in an election.
Trump has called the conversation “perfect” and stressed he has the right to remove ambassadors.
Yovanovitch said the failure to back diplomats undermined the State Department.
“As Foreign Service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is being degraded,” she said.
Saying the agency does not get the same respect as the military, Yovanovitch called it “the pointy end of the spear.”
“If we lose our edge, the U.S. will inevitably have to use other tools, even more often than it does today,” she said.
Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Writing by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Dan Grebler