US Diplomats Fight Back Amid Probe 10/20 09:45
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Three years of simmering frustration inside the State
Department is boiling over on Capitol Hill as a parade of current and former
diplomats testify to their concerns about the Trump administration's unorthodox
policy toward Ukraine.
Over White House objections, the diplomats are appearing before impeachment
investigators looking into President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine and
they're recounting stories of possible impropriety, misconduct and mistreatment
by their superiors.
To Trump and his allies, the diplomats are evidence of a "deep state" within
the government that has been out to get him from the start. But to the
employees of a department demoralized by the administration's repeated attempts
to slash its budget and staff, cooperating with the inquiry is seen as a moment
of catharsis, an opportunity to reassert the foreign policy norms they believe
Trump has blown past.
"It's taken a while to understand just how weird the policy process has
become but it was inevitable," said Ronald Neumann, president of the American
Academy of Diplomacy. The group wrote a letter last month calling for the
administration to support career diplomats and protect them from politicization.
The State Department officials parading through Capitol Hill include
high-ranking diplomats with decades of experience serving both Republican and
Democratic administrations. Among them: Kurt Volker , who resigned as the
administration's special envoy to Ukraine after being named in the
whistleblower complaint that jumpstarted the impeachment inquiry.
Others who have testified behind closed doors include Marie Yovanovitch ,
the former ambassador to Ukraine who was pushed out of the post after a
concerted campaign by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani; Michael McKinley ,
who resigned after 37 years in the foreign service in part over treatment of
Yovanovitch; and Fiona Hill , a National Security Council staffer who worked
closely with the former Ukrainian ambassador.
Volker told investigators he did not believe there was anything improper in
his dealings in Ukraine. But the others have all spoken of their unease and
concern about Trump's approach to Ukraine and their testimony has largely
corroborated the whistleblower's complaint, which centered on a July phone call
between Trump and Ukraine's leader, as well as Giuliani's dealings in the
former Soviet republic.
Yovanovitch, who remains a State Department employee, said she was
"incredulous" at being recalled early from her post despite having been told
she did nothing wrong. She lamented that her experience is evidence that
American diplomats can no longer count on support from their government if they
are attacked by foreign interests.
"That basic understanding no longer holds true," she said according to the
text of her opening statement to lawmakers. "Today, we see the State Department
attacked and hollowed out from within."
McKinley said he was "disturbed by the implication that foreign governments
were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents."
Trump has long cast career government officials as part of the "deep state"
out to undermine him, associating the officials' service under Democratic
administrations as signs of their political leanings. That's despite the fact
that most longtime career officials have served under both Republicans and
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, argued last week that
the diplomats were disparaging Trump because they were upset that he was
imposing his political priorities on their work. He singled out in particular
McKinley, who entered the foreign service while Republican Ronald Reagan was in
the White House and had served under both presidents of both parties.
"Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the
Obama administration to the Trump administration," Mulvaney said. "And what
you're seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are
saying, 'You know what? I don't like President Trump's politics, so I'm going
to participate in this witch hunt that they're undertaking on the Hill'."
Former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called Mulvaney's assertion
"For them to be dismissed unfairly and accused of acting out of some
political motive I think is just wrong," said Burns, who is now president of
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"They are demonstrating that they are responsible, decent public servants
and that they have an obligation to tell the truth even when it isn't
convenient for the administration," he said. "It gives a lie to the deep state
caricature. These aren't people plotting behind anyone's back. They are
stepping up to do their jobs."
The White House has insisted the administration, including career officials,
would not participate in the impeachment investigation. Democrats have
compelled the testimony of most of the officials through subpoenas and the
State Department has so far not retaliated against those who have appeared.
Neumann, the American Academy of Diplomacy president, urged Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo to back up his staff if there are calls for them to be
"So far, Pompeo has failed to show loyalty to the people who work for him,"
he said. "But, he has another test. Does anything happen to those who testify?
If nothing happens, I would give Pompeo credit for having blocked it."
Pompeo has not spoken frequently about the inquiry except to say it is
unfair to the people who work for him because they are not allowed to bring
State Department lawyers with them to testify. Yet in a Friday interview with
Politico, he suggested his opposition to their appearances was not particularly
"I hope they go to tell the truth," Pompeo said. "And say things that are
accurate to the best of their knowledge and complete --- not only accurate, but
complete, and then I have every expectation that Congress will perform its
oversight function properly if the process is appropriate."
Two more diplomats get their turn to talk this week: William Taylor,
currently the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Philip Reeker, the acting
assistant secretary of state for Europe.