WASHINGTON - Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who testified in the impeachment inquiry, said in an op-ed Thursday that President Donald Trump's administration has "undermined our democratic institutions."
Yovanovitch, who retired at the end of last month, was pulled from her post in Ukraine last April after what some of her former State Department colleagues testified was a "smear campaign" against her by Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. During the Senate impeachment trial, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said removing Yovanovitch cleared the way for Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into opening investigations for Trump's political benefit.
"When civil servants in the current administration saw senior officials taking actions they considered deeply wrong in regard to the nation of Ukraine, they refused to take part. When Congress asked us to testify about those activities, my colleagues and I did not hesitate, even in the face of administration efforts to silence us," Yovanovitch wrote in The Washington Post.
"We did this because it is the American way to speak up about wrongdoing."
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The day after the Republican-controlled Senate voted to acquit Trump on two articles of impeachment, Yovanovitch said the U.S. political system was more fragile than many Americans realize and "the last year has shown that we need to fight for our democracy."
"I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened with punishment or death. We must not allow the United States to become a country where standing up to our government is a dangerous act," she wrote.
She called on people "to stand up for our values, defend our institutions, participate in civil society and support a free press" even "when the odds seem against us, even when wrongdoers seem to be rewarded, because it is the right thing to do."
"I had always thought that our institutions would forever protect us against individual transgressors," she said. "But it turns out that our institutions need us as much as we need them; they need the American people to protect them or they will be hollowed out over time, unable to serve and protect our country."
The former career diplomat said she was shocked by "the storm of criticism, lies and malicious conspiracies" that her testimony sparked, though she added she had "no regrets."
As she was testifying on Nov. 15 before the House Intelligence Committee during the impeachment inquiry, Trump attacked Yovanovitch on Twitter, saying everywhere she served "turned bad." Yovanovitch told committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the tweet had a "very intimidating" effect.
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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
She defended the "integrity and professionalism" of State Department employees and encouraged people to join the Foreign Service. But she decried the lack of "responsible and ethical political leadership."
"This administration, through acts of omission and commission, has undermined our democratic institutions, making the public question the truth and leaving public servants without the support and example of ethical behavior that they need to do their jobs and advance U.S. interests," Yovanovitch wrote.
In a recent contentious interview with National Public Radio, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he has "defended every State Department official" serving under him, but he cut the interview short when he was pressed to give an example of how he had defended Yovanovitch.
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Last month, Pompeo said the State Department would "evaluate and investigate" text messages made public in the impeachment investigation. In one message Lev Parnas - a Republican donor and former Giuliani associate who has since been indicted on campaign finance charges - and Robert Hyde - a Trump supporter and congressional candidate - appear to discuss surveilling Yovanovitch.
Ukraine's interior ministry has also launched an investigation into the matter.
In a 2018 recording made by Parnas, Trump said he wanted to "get rid of her" after Parnas described Yovanovitch as a Clinton holdover who said he would be impeached.
"Get her out tomorrow," said the voice that was purportedly Trump's. "Take her out, OK. Do it."
Yovanovitch said in her op-ed on Thursday that despite the "deeply disturbing" events of the past year she is still "optimistic about our future."
"The events of the past year, while deeply disturbing, show that even though our institutions and our fellow citizens are being challenged in ways that few of us ever expected, we will endure, we will persist and we will prevail," she said.
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen, Bart Jansen and Jeanine Santucci
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump administration threatens democracy, Marie Yovanovitch says