Meet the ambassador at the center of the Ukraine scandal

Meet the ambassador at the center of the Ukraine scandal
Copyright 2019 CNN
Ambassador Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch -- "someone who has never been hungry for the spotlight," as one former State Department official described her -- has increasingly found herself there as new developments in the Ukraine controversy have come to light.

Ambassador Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch — “someone who has never been hungry for the spotlight,” as one former State Department official described her — has increasingly found herself there as new developments in the Ukraine controversy have come to light.

But the former top US diplomat in Ukraine, maligned as “bad news” by President Donald Trump and and known by her diplomatic peers as “one of the best,” may finally get to share her side of events on Friday at a scheduled deposition before three House committees.

Since being unexpectedly removed from her post in Kyiv in May, Yovanovitch has become increasingly ensnared at the center of the widening scandal.

“I would imagine for her this is pretty much worse than her worst nightmare in that not only are you being publicly criticized and condemned by your head of state but also the idea of all of this public attention. She’s a pretty reserved person,” the official told CNN.

Trump personally ordered Yovanovitch’s removal, according to The Wall Street Journal. She was accused without evidence by Rudy Giuliani — a former New York mayor and Trump’s personal attorney — and others of trying to undermine the President and blocking efforts to investigate Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump has twice disparaged Yovanovitch — once last week at the White House and another time in his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that,” Trump said to Zelensky, according to a rough White House transcript.

On Thursday, 10 Democratic senators called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to impede her testimony — and to come out and defend her.

“For months, Ambassador Yovanovitch faced political attacks based on disinformation and statements later proven to be false,” the senators wrote in a letter to the top US diplomat. “Throughout these events, you have said nothing publicly in her defense. You have not made a single remark defending Ambassador Yovanovitch or heralding her more than three decades of service to the American people.”

The diplomatic community has rallied behind Yovanovitch in the weeks since the contents of Trump’s call were disclosed, and some former diplomats have also called for the State Department and Pompeo to lend their public support to the career foreign service officer.

Retired US Ambassador Nicholas Burns called for “the higher levels of the State Department” to “come out and defend her.”

“They should say she was a good ambassador, she did what was asked. She did what her constitutional duty asked her to do, represent the United States ably and honorably,” Burns told CNN. “She deserves an apology, a public apology.”

Two major groups representing the diplomatic community issued statements in support of the diplomat, with the American Academy of Diplomacy stating that Trump’s comments in his call with Zelensky were “deeply troubling.”

The half dozen former State Department officials who spoke to CNN about the former ambassador to Ukraine all praised her skill and experience.

Yovanovitch was sworn in as ambassador to Ukraine in August 2016. Multiple former officials told CNN they thought she was an ideal choice to serve in Kyiv.

“Masha (Yovanovitch) knows that part of the world so well, speaks the languages, knows the issues cold,” retired US Ambassador James Melville told CNN. “They couldn’t have had a better ambassador than Masha.”

Yovanovitch was strongly committed to US foreign policy objectives in Ukraine and outspoken in highlighting corruption there, according to numerous former officials.

“She understood that corruption was the ‘Achilles heel,’ so to speak, of Ukraine,” a former State Department official who knows Yovanovitch told CNN. “And so Masha, by doubling down on corruption and making it kind of her leitmotif of her tenure as ambassador, was doing exactly what she should have been doing and what US policy has been in Ukraine for quite some time.”

As a small child, she immigrated with her parents to the United States.

“They survived poverty, war and displacement, and finally arrived in the United States, with me in tow, in search of freedom, opportunity, dignity and accountability,” she said in her 2016 Senate confirmation hearing.

Yovanovitch graduated with a degree in history and Russian studies from Princeton and has a master’s degree from the National War College.

She joined the foreign service in 1986 and went on to serve in ambassadorships under three presidents.