Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives on Capitol Hill on Friday, Oct. 11.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives on Capitol Hill on Friday, Oct. 11. J.Scott Applewhite/AP

‘Take Action Now to Defend This Great Institution,’ Yovanovitch Implores Congress

The former ambassador to Ukraine warns of irreparable harm to U.S. interests as “loyal” civil servants come under attack.

In her opening statement on Friday to House lawmakers pursuing an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch offered an eloquent tribute to career civil servants and Foreign Service Officers, but it came with a warning that the “sacred trust” those public servants traditionally have had in the government they serve has eroded. 

“We make a difference every day on issues that matter to the American people—whether it is war and peace, trade and investment, or simply helping with a lost passport. We repeatedly uproot our lives, and we frequently put ourselves in harm’s way to serve this nation. And we do that willingly, because we believe in America and its special role in the world,” she wrote. 

Yovanovitch, whose parents fled the Communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany for freedom in the West, said she has a deep appreciation for democratic values: “Given my upbringing, it has been the honor of a lifetime to help to foster those principles as a career Foreign Service Officer.” While widely respected by her peers, the career diplomat with more than three decades of experience—including ambassadorships in Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Ukraine under three presidents—became the target of a smear campaign that led President Trump to recall her from Ukraine in May, despite assurances from senior officials at State that she had done nothing wrong.

Trump himself disparaged her in threatening language in a call with Ukraine’s new president in July. But as distressing as her personal experience has been over the last several months, it speaks to a much deeper problem at the State Department and has significant implications for American security. Her message to Congress was unambiguous: 

I must share the deep disappointment and dismay I have felt as these events have unfolded. I have served this nation honorably for more than 30 years. I have proudly promoted and served American interests as the representative of the American people and six different presidents over the last three decades. Throughout that time,I—like my colleagues at the State Department—have always believed that we enjoyed a sacred trust with our government. 

That basic understanding no longer holds true. Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees. We need to rebuild diplomacy as the first resort to advance America’s interests and the front line of America’s defense. I fear that not doing so will harm our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably. 

That harm will come not just through the inevitable and continuing resignation and loss of many of this nation’s most loyal and talented public servants. It also will come when those diplomats who soldier on and do their best to represent our nation face partners abroad who question whether the ambassador truly speaks for the President and can be counted upon as a reliable partner. The harm will come when private interests circumvent professional diplomats for their own gain, not the public good. The harm will come when bad actors in countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system. In such circumstances, the only interests that will be served are those of our strategic adversaries, like Russia, that spread chaos and attack the institutions and norms that the U.S. helped create and which we have benefited from for the last 75 years.