Former U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine's Congressional Testimony NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer talks with Nicholas Burns, a former ambassador and professor at Harvard's Kennedy School, about Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's prepared remarks to Congress.

Former U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine's Congressional Testimony

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We're going to begin this hour with the House impeachment inquiry. Yesterday, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was on Capitol Hill for a deposition with three House committees. She was subpoenaed as part of the inquiry and against the Trump administration's wishes spoke with lawmakers. We don't know the details of what was discussed, but a number of outlets published Yovanovitch's prepared remarks. To get a better understanding of those remarks and what they could mean for diplomacy, we've called on Nicholas Burns. He's a career diplomat who has served in Democratic and Republican administrations, and he's currently a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Nick Burns, nice to have you on the program.

NICHOLAS BURNS: Thanks very much, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: In her remarks, Ambassador Yovanovitch claims she was told that President Trump had lost confidence in her abilities and there was, quote, "a concerted campaign against me and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018." Would you share your thoughts on her claim that the president targeted her before releasing her from the post?

BURNS: It's an unusual situation for an American ambassador to be removed in any case. It doesn't happen very often. But this is a particularly important case because her central charge in her statement yesterday was that private individuals working with Rudy Giuliani had essentially circumvented her embassy and her position in Ukraine. They'd gone to the White House to make complaints about her that were totally unsubstantiated because she was standing up against corruption in Ukraine. The central point she made yesterday is that government really suffers and our country suffers when private individuals operating for private gain circumvent what is clearly in the interests of the United States.

PFEIFFER: For anyone who might argue that since the State Department is under the executive branch, the president should be able to fire and hire whomever he wants for whatever reason, how do you feel about that argument?

BURNS: We serve at the pleasure of the president, so the president, of course, has the right to fire an ambassador. But we're a democratic country, and we're a country of laws. You don't fire an ambassador who is completely innocent. And to have this campaign launched against her, a 33-year veteran of the American Foreign Service - she served her country exceptionally well. I know her.

And one of her most profound points yesterday in her statement was the enormous damage this is doing to the American Foreign Service - the politicization of the Foreign Service and the fact that Foreign Service officers are not protected by the secretary of state. He should have defended her. He should have gone to President Trump and said it's unfair to remove an excellent ambassador like this. But Secretary Pompeo did not do that.

PFEIFFER: Well, to that point, do you see wider implications here for other diplomats? Or do you just see this as an isolated incident?

BURNS: Oh, no. I think there are much wider implications. On this Ukraine inquiry, there are real implications. There are foreign service officers who I think want to tell the truth about what happened in this Ukraine scandal. The White House will not allow them to testify to the House impeachment inquiry, and that's unfair to them. These are public servants who want to tell the truth. And there'll be a public gain in hearing their voice.

PFEIFFER: You've been urging people on Twitter to speak up. You wrote Yesterday, Ambassador Yovanovitch stood strong today, but she was all alone. Now is the time for the State Department leadership to stand by our career officers and permit those who know the full story on Ukraine to tell the truth to Congress and the public. Nick Burns, do you actually expect State Department leaders to do that - to speak up?

BURNS: I think right now, we cannot expect Secretary Pompeo to do that. He's had his opportunities. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't call upon the secretary of state and other leaders there to do the right thing - protect their employees, stand behind them and beside them against the efforts of some in the Trump administration to silence their voices. Foreign Service officers, all American government employees, take an oath to the Constitution to protect it and defend it. We don't take an oath - we never have - to the president of the United States, whoever that person is. The rule of law is now in question. And it's important that law-abiding officials of our government have a chance to tell the truth and to help the Congress find out where the truth lies.

PFEIFFER: That's Nicholas Burns, career diplomat and now a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Thank you very much.

BURNS: Thank you, Sacha.

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