Donald Trump, Corruption Fighter?

Republican defenders of Donald Trump have argued that he withheld congressionally mandated military aid to Ukraine and a promised White House meeting because he wanted assurances that Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was serious about fighting corruption.

Sworn testimony in the House impeachment inquiry on Friday obliterated that defense, revealing that Mr. Trump was interested in assurances of a very different kind.

David Holmes, an official in the American Embassy in Kiev, testified to lawmakers privately that he had overheard a telephone conversation in which the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, assured the American president that his Ukrainian counterpart “loves your ass” and will do “anything you ask him to,” including to open investigations into the family of Mr. Trump’s leading Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

Mr. Holmes said that he overheard the conversation while sitting at a restaurant in Kiev with Mr. Sondland. Mr. Trump was speaking so loudly, Mr. Holmes said, that the ambassador held the phone away from his ear and Mr. Holmes could hear Mr. Trump demanding to know if Mr. Zelensky had committed to the investigations. Thus, apparently, is diplomacy conducted at the highest levels of the Trump administration.

What a contrast that ham-fisted scene made with the dignified, professional appearance before the committee earlier in the day by Marie Yovanovitch, the nation’s top envoy to Ukraine until President Trump yanked her back without explanation this spring. She described how, as she sought to promote democracy and rule of law in Ukraine, the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, worked with a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor to trash her reputation and force her out of her post.

As George Kent, a top State Department official, put it in his own testimony on Wednesday, “You can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.”

For Mr. Trump, Ms. Yovanovitch’s determined pursuit of longstanding American anticorruption efforts was evidently a problem. It was impossible to square his treatment of the ambassador, a career Foreign Service officer with an exemplary record, and his conversation with Mr. Sondland with any claim that Mr. Trump was intent on advancing the rule of law, as opposed to his own political interest.

In fact, Mr. Holmes testified, Mr. Sondland told him that Mr. Trump did not care about Ukraine but only “big stuff” like the investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president.

As Ms. Yovanovitch testified about the smear campaign against her, Mr. Trump weighed in from the White House as though eager to confirm her story. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he tweeted, preposterously blaming her for the chaos in Somalia, one of several hardship posts in which she served.

Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, interrupted the questioning to let the ambassador know that the president was attacking her.

After reading Ms. Yovanovitch one of the belligerent tweets, Mr. Schiff asked: “What effect do you think that has on other witnesses’ willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?”

“Well, it’s very intimidating,” she said, visibly shaken.

Mr. Schiff assured her that “some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”

Translation: The president may just have earned himself an article of impeachment.

In a refreshing development, the ensuing criticism of Mr. Trump’s Twitter fit was bipartisan. Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, said the president’s tweeting “was wrong.”

“Extraordinarily poor judgment,” said Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel at the center of President Clinton’s impeachment, on Fox News. “Obviously this was quite injurious.” Fox News’ Bret Baier called it “a turning point in this hearing.”

Even an effort by Republican lawmakers on Friday to clear the president wound up underscoring how indifferent he was to wrongdoing by officials in Ukraine.

After Mr. Trump first spoke with Mr. Zelensky on April 21, to congratulate him on his electoral victory, the White House said Mr. Trump had expressed his commitment to work with Mr. Zelensky “to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.” But at the public hearing on Friday, Representative Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the committee, read a fuller account of the conversation that the White House had just released. Mr. Trump spoke about how well the United States was doing and that “When I owned Miss Universe … Ukraine was always very well represented.”

He spoke not a word about corruption.

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