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President Trump Faces Criticism For Recalling U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine


Marie Yovanovitch could be critical to the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. She's scheduled to appear before House committees next week. Yovanovitch was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until May. President Trump didn't think much of her. He called her, quote, "bad news" in that July phone call with Ukraine's president. Philip Gordon has held high-level posts at the State Department and National Security Council, and he doesn't agree with Trump.

PHILIP GORDON: I was shocked by that on a number of levels. You know, the first thing that shocked people about the call, obviously, is the notion of the president withholding military aid and trying to bully the Ukrainians into doing personal favors. This is, obviously, a big deal. But in the middle of all that, what struck me and, as I say, even shocked me was his willingness to disparage our ambassador to Ukraine in a call with a foreign leader, referring to her as the woman and saying she was bad news and then vaguely but, frankly, ominously saying to the president of Ukraine that she was going to go through some things.

CORNISH: Let's give her name. It's Marie Yovanovitch. Tell us about her. What's her reputation in the diplomatic community?

GORDON: So Marie Yovanovitch - and she goes by Masha. Masha was one of the most respected and longstanding members of our foreign service. She has, I think, been in the foreign service for over 30 years, served all around the world and most recently and in the most senior positions, obviously, as ambassador to Ukraine, until she was removed prematurely in May, but before that, also ambassador to Armenia and ambassador to Kyrgyzstan.

CORNISH: The State Department has said that the ambassador concluded her three-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv as planned, that there was no kind of retribution or she was not yanked back unceremoniously. Why are there doubts on that in the diplomatic community?

GORDON: My understanding is that Ambassador Yovanovitch had been expected to stay on in her position through the end of the summer. And then suddenly in May, there was a torrent of criticism, including a tweet by the president's son, Don Jr., calling her a joker and calling for her dismissal and a bunch of Fox News segments criticizing her. And then, lo and behold, she was called back, and the explanation was put out that this was as planned. But it was completely inconsistent with everything else we understood about her term and expected tenure in Ukraine. And the notion that this was done to coincide with a transition of power in Ukraine is very far from standard practice. That doesn't make any sense.

CORNISH: I can see your eyebrows raised from here about this whole story. And I guess what is the lesson that you think other State Department workers are taking from this? Is it the idea that you're vulnerable to attack from the president? Is it becoming a target of right-wing sites? Like, what is the thing that you think will have a chilling effect?

GORDON: The core problem here, which Congress is appropriately focusing on in the impeachment hearings, are primarily about, is the president abusing his power and what looks like withholding military assistance to a vulnerable partner country in order to advance his political aims? So that's No. 1, and that's front and center.

But not far behind is the idea which really threatens the foreign service that has served this country pretty well over the years - that senior diplomats should be part of that political agenda. And if they don't, they have to get out of the way. Their careers will be curtailed. And a lot of these people, you know, are now serving at research institutes and universities around town because they are not being used. And that, therefore, is the message that it looks like they are sending.

CORNISH: So play ball or get out.

GORDON: Play ball or get out. And then to find out on top of that the president is willing to disparage you and threaten, you know, things that might be coming your way; and on top of that, it now appears that the secretary of state was listening in on that call and, rather than defending his people, said nothing and did nothing and pretended like nothing happened and looked like he's part of it. And, you know, it takes a long time to build up an organization like this, but it can be destroyed very quickly. And I'm afraid that that's the direction in which we're going.

CORNISH: Philip Gordon, thank you so much for sharing your perspective.

GORDON: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.