(Updated 4:50 p.m.) Under President Donald Trump, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch says that America resembled repressive regimes she’d seen overseas.
On Monday (May 9), Yovanovitch spoke about her memoir “Lessons From The Edge” at Pat Miller Square in the heart of Del Ray. The book documents her 33-year Foreign Service career that culminated with her being fired by Trump as the ambassador to Ukraine and her congressional testimony during his first impeachment.
“When I came back to the United States, I experienced… the smear campaign that was launched against me and other things,” Yovanovich said, “that felt like I was seeing some of the same things in the United States that I’d seen overseas, that we had a president who was using his office for personal gain, and the presidency is the highest office in the land.”
Yovanovitch worked for five presidents throughout her career, and began her ambassadorship of Ukraine under President Barack Obama in 2016. She served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, and retired from the State Department in 2020. She is now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a non-resident fellow at Georgetown University.
“Fast forward to the insurrection on January 6, and it was really very sobering that one of the things that I realized was we do have strong institutions, but they need us as much as we need them,” Yovanovich said. “We need people who are not just smart and competent, but people who are ethical, who work with integrity, and who will do the work of the people in the United States. And again, do it with integrity. When asked to do something that is wrong, they will say no, not because they are just loyal to the president of the the United States, they’ll say no because they are critical thinkers.”
Despite her disbelief over Trump’s election, for two years under the Trump administration she was largely left alone, she wrote. That was until 2019, when she said she became the target of a smear campaign by the administration to get her fired. She wrote that oligarchs and corrupt government officials will use disinformation to destroy competitors so effectively that the lies become more believable than the truth, and that the same tactics were being employed against her from Washington, D.C.
“I was being hung out to dry,” Yovanovitch wrote. “I had served five previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat. I had never seen anything like this.”
Five months after being removed from her post, Yovanovitch testified before the House Intelligence Committee during Trump’s first impeachment. As she testified, then-President Trump tweeted about her disparagingly, and Yovanovitch said it was “very intimidating.”
In her book, Yavonovich describes herself as an introvert, a behind-the-scenes operator who, before 2019, “never would have believed that anyone other than my family would find my story of interest,” she wrote. “But the reaction to my testimony changed that, and so I started writing, thinking that perhaps others might have something to gain from the story of my Foreign Service journey.”
Mayor Justin Wilson said that Alexandria is lucky to have public servants like Yovanovitch as a resident.
“The fragility of our democracy requires it that women and men are willing to stand up and defend it and defend it with courage,” Wilson said. “Oftentimes that integrity and that courage is buried somewhere deep in a bureaucracy that never sees the light of day. Nobody ever understands what actually happened. But sometimes that courage is required, not only to stand up to some of the most totalitarian regimes in the world, (but) sometimes even to the leader of the free world.”
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