6. The President 's Intimidation of Witnesses
President Trump publicly attacked and intimidated witnesses who came forward to comply with duly subpoenas and testify about his conduct. The President also threatened and attacked an Intelligence Community whistleblower.
President Trump engaged in a brazen effort to publicly attack and intimidate witnesses who came forward to comply with duly subpoenas and testify about his conduct, raising grave concerns about potential violations of the federal obstruction statute and other criminal laws intended to protect witnesses appearing before Congressional proceedings. President Trump issued threats, openly discussed possible retaliation, made insinuations about witnesses ' character and patriotism, and subjected them to mockery and derision. The President 's attacks were broadcast to millions of Americans-- including witnesses ' families, friends, and coworkers-- and his actions drew criticism from across the political spectrum, including from his own Republican supporters.
It is a federal crime to intimidate or seek to intimidate any witness appearing before Congress. This statute applies to all citizens, including federal officials. Violations of this law can carry a criminal sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
This campaign of intimidation risks discouraging witnesses from coming forward voluntarily, complying with mandatory subpoenas for documents and testimony, and disclosing evidence that may support consideration of articles of impeachment.
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Department of State
As discussed above, President Trump removed Marie Yovanovitch as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine in May 2019 following a concerted effort by Rudy Giuliani, his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and others to spread false conspiracy theories about her. The smearing of the Ambassador was part of the larger campaign undertaken by Mr. Giuliani at President Trump 's direction and in his capacity as President Trump 's representative. During her deposition on October 11, Ambassador Yovanovitch explained that she felt threatened and" very concerned'' after she read President Trump 's statements about her during his July 25 call with President Zelensky, including President Trump 's claim that" she 's going to go through some things.''
On November 15, Ambassador Yovanovitch testified at a public hearing that she was" shocked'' and" devastated'' by the President 's statements about her:
I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner, where President Trump said that I was bad news to another world leader and that I would be" going through some things.'' So I was-- it was-- it was a terrible moment. A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction. I think, you know, even now, words kind of fail me.
Ambassador Yovanovitch was also asked about her reaction to the President 's that she would" go through some things.'' She acknowledged feeling threatened, stating:" It did n't sound good. It sounded like a threat.''
As Ambassador Yovanovitch was in the process of testifying before the Committee, President Trump an attack against her. He wrote:
Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President 's absolute right to appoint ambassadors.
During the hearing, Chairman Schiff asked Ambassador Yovanovitch for her reaction to the President 's attacks:
Q: Ambassador, you 've shown the courage to come forward today and testify, notwithstanding the fact you were urged by the White House or State Department not to; notwithstanding the fact that, as you testified earlier, the President implicitly threatened you in that call record. And now, the President in real-time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses ' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?
A: Well, it 's very intimidating.
Q: It 's designed to intimidate, is it not?
A: I-- I-- I mean, I ca n't speak to what the President is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.
Q: Well, I want to let you know, Ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.
In response to the President 's attacks, Rep. Liz Cheney, Chair of the House Republican Caucus, stated that the President" was wrong'' and that Ambassador Yovanovitch" clearly is somebody who 's been a public servant to the United States for decades and I do n't think the President should have done that.'' Rep. Francis Rooney, also a Republican, stated:" I do n't necessarily think it 's right to be harassing or beating up on our professional diplomatic service.''
Even after these rebukes, the President continued to attack and threaten Ambassador Yovanovitch. For example, in an interview on November 22, President Trump stated:" This was not an angel, this woman, okay? And there are a lot of things that she did that I did n't like. And we will talk about that at some time.''
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman, Director for Ukraine, National Security Council
On October 29, President Trump that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is a" Never Trumper.'' When asked by a reporter what evidence he had for his claim, the President responded:" We 'll be showing that to you real soon. Okay? '' President Trump continued attacking Lt. Col. Vindman during his testimony on November 19, seeking to question his loyalty to the United States. The President :" Lt. Col. Vindman was offered the position of Defense Minister for the Ukrainian Government THREE times! '' Allies of the President also questioned Lt. Col. Vindman 's loyalty to the country and amplified the smear.
For his part, Lt. Col. Vindman stated during his testimony:
I want to take a moment to recognize the courage of my colleagues who have appeared and are scheduled to appear before this Committee. I want to state that the vile character attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible.
Ambassador William B. Taylor, Jr., Chargé d'Affaires for U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Department of State On October 23, one day after Ambassador William Taylor 's deposition, the President sent a comparing" Never Trumper Republicans'' to" human scum.'' An hour later, he described Ambassador Taylor in a as a" Never Trumper.''
On October 25, the President discussed Ambassador Taylor 's testimony with reporters, and again dismissed the Ambassador as a" Never Trumper.'' After a reporter noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had hired Ambassador Taylor, the President responded:" Hey, everybody makes mistakes.'' He then had the following exchange about Ambassador Taylor:
Q: Do you want him out now as the top diplomat?
A: He 's a Never Trumper. His lawyer is the head of the Never Trumpers. They 're a dying breed, but they 're still there.
On the morning of November 13, just before Ambassador Taylor and George Kent testified at a public hearing, the President :" NEVER TRUMPERS! ''
Jennifer Williams, Special Advisor for Europe and Russia, Office of the Vice President
On November 17, two days before Jennifer Williams testified at a public hearing, President Trump sent a attacking her and stating that" she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I do n't know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack! '' During the hearing, Rep. Jim Himes asked Ms. Williams what impression the President 's had made on her. She responded:" It certainly surprised me. I was not expecting to be called out by name.'' Rep. Himes noted that the " surprised me, too, and it looks an awful lot like witness intimidation and tampering, and an effort to try to get you to perhaps shape your testimony today.''
Threats of Retaliation
The President suggested that witnesses who testified as part of the impeachment inquiry could face retaliation. For example, on November 16, the President sent a pair of indicating that three witnesses appearing before the impeachment inquiry could face dismissals as a result of their testimony. The President language he attributed to radio host Rush Limbaugh:" My support for Donald Trump has never been greater than it is right now. It is paramountly obvious watching this, these people have to go. You elected Donald Trump to drain the Swamp, well dismissing people lie Yovanovitch is what that looks like. Dismissing people like Kent... and Taylor, dismissing everybody involved from the Obama holdover days trying to undermine Trump, getting rid of those people, dismissing them this is what it looks like. It was never toing to be clean, they were never going to sit by idly and just let Trump do this! '' Rush L
Intelligence Community Whistleblower
In addition to his relentless attacks on witnesses who testified in connection with the House 's impeachment inquiry, the President also repeatedly threatened and attacked a member of the who filed an anonymous whistleblower complaint raising an" urgent concern'' regarding the President 's conduct. The whistleblower filed the complaint confidentially with the Inspector General of the , as by the relevant whistleblower law. Federal law prohibits the Inspector General from revealing the whistleblower 's identity. Federal law also protects the whistleblower from retaliation.
On September 9, the Inspector General notified Congress that this individual had filed a credible complaint regarding an" urgent concern,'' but that the Acting Direction of National Intelligence was withholding the complaint from Congress-- contrary to his statutory of obligation to have submitted the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees by no later than September 2. On September 13, 2019, the Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to the Acting Director of National Intelligence for the whistleblower 's complaint and other records.
On September 26, the Intelligence Committee received the declassified whistleblower complaint and made it available to the public.
That day, the President issued a chilling threat against the whistleblower and those who provided information to the whistleblower regarding the President 's misconduct, suggesting that they could face the death penalty for treason. President Trump stated:
I want to know who 's the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that 's close to a spy. You what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now. In response, the Committees warned President Trump to stop attacking the whistleblower, stating: The President 's today constitute reprehensible witness intimidation and an attempt to obstruct Congress ' impeachment inquiry. We condemn the President 's attacks, and we invite our Republican counterparts to do the same because Congress must do all it can to protect this whistleblower, and all whistleblowers. Threats of violence from the leader of our country have a chilling effect on the entire whistleblower process, with grace consequences for our democracy and national security. Yet the President 's attacks did not stop. Instead he continued to threatened the whistleblower, publicly questioned the whistleblower 's motives, disputed the accuracy of the whistleblower 's account, and encouraged the others to reveal the whistleblower 's identity. The President 's focus on the whistleblower has been obsessive, with the President making more than 100 public statements the whistleblower over a period of just two months. For example, the President stated: I want to meet not only my accuser, who presented SECOND & THIRD HAND INFORMATION, but also the person who illegally gave this information, which was largely incorrect, to the` Whistleblower.'' Was this person SPYING on the U.S. President? Big Consequences! ''
• I think it 's outrageous that a Whistleblower is a CIA agent.''
•" But what they said is he 's an Obama person. It was involved with Brennan; Susan Rice, which means Obama. But he was like a big-- a big anti-Trump person. Hated Trump.''
•" The Whistleblower got it sooo wrong that HE must come forward. The Fake News Media knows who he is but, being an arm of the Democrat Party, do n't want to reveal him because there would be hell to pay. Reveal the Whistleblower and end the Impeachment Hoax! ''
•" But the whistleblower should be revealed because the whistleblower gave false stores. Some people would call it fraud; I wo n't go that far. But when I read it closely, I probably would. But the whistleblower should be revealed.''
•" I think that the whistleblower is not a whistleblower. He 's a fake... Everybody knows who the whistleblower is. And the whistleblower is a political operative.'' In response to a request form the Committee Ranking Member Nunes to call the whistleblower to testify at an open hearing. Chairman Schiff underscored the danger posed by the President 's threats against the whistleblower and why the whist blower 's testimony was now unnecessary:
The Committee also will not facilitate efforts by President Trump and his allies in Congress to threated, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm. It remains the duty of the Intelligence Committee to protect whistleblowers, and until recently, this was a bipartisan priority. The whistleblower has a right under laws championed by this Committee to remain anonymous and to be protected from harm.
The impeachment inquiry, moreover, has gathered an ever-growing body of evidence-- from witnesses and documents, including the President 's own words in his July 25 call record-- that not only confirms, but far exceeds, the initial information in the whistleblower 's complaint. The whistleblower 's testimony is therefore redundant and unnecessary. In light of the President 's threats, the individual 's appearance before us would only place their personal safety at grave risk.
Until President 's Trump 's attacks on the whistleblower, Republicans and Democrats were united in protecting whistleblower 's right to report abuses of power and be free from retaliation. For example, Ranking Member Nunes, serving in 2017 as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, spoke in defense of whistleblowers, stating:" We want people to come forward and we will protect the identity of those people at all cost.'' He also stated: As you know, and I 've said several this several times, we do n't talk about sources at this committee... The good thing is, is that we have continued to have people come forward, voluntarily, to this committee and we want to continue and I will tell you that will not happen if we tell you who our sources are and people that come-- come to the committee. Other Republicans Members of Congress have opposed efforts to expose the whistleblower. For example, Senator Charles Grassley stated:
This person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard our and protected. We should always work to respect whistleblower 's request for confidentiality. Any further media reports on the whistleblower 's identity do n't serve the public interest-- even if the conflict sells more papers or attracts clicks. Senator Richard Burr, the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, affirmed that he would" never'' want the identity of the whistleblower revealed and stated," We protect whistleblowers. We protect witnesses in our committee.'' Senator Mitt Romney also called for support for the whistleblower 's rights, stating:"[ W] histleblowers should be entitled to confidentiality and privacy, because they play a vital function in our democracy.''