President Trump defended his Friday morning tweet attacking former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch during her testimony in House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, saying “I have freedom of speech just like other people do” and that he’s “allowed to speak up” if others are talking about him.
“You know what? I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech just like other people do, but they’ve taken away the Republicans rights,” Trump told reporters at the White House after making remarks on a health care initiative.
Pressed on whether his words can be considered intimidation of a witness, as Yovanovitch and Democrats have charged, Trump said no.
“I don’t think so at all,” he said.
Trump’s tweet came as the former ambassador testified about a smear campaign by Trump’s allies to oust her from her post in Kyiv.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) responded to the tweet in real-time, interrupting questioning from his staff counsel to read the president’s tweet aloud to Yovanovitch and asked for her reaction.
WATCH: Schiff read Trump's attempt at witness tampering via tweet.
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had *just* testified that she felt threatened by the President of the United States when Trump attacked her.
— Holly Figueroa O'Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) November 15, 2019
“I don’t think I have such powers,” Yovanovitch said with a slight laugh. “Not in Mogadishu, Somalia, not in other places.”
Asked what effect Trump’s tweet might have on future witnesses facing pressure from the White House not to testify, Yovanovitch described it as “very intimidating.”
Democrats on the committee and elsewhere in the House characterized Trump’s tweet as witness intimidation and suggested that it could be considered when mulling articles of impeachment later in the process.
Several legal experts told VOX on Friday that Trump’s tweet falls pretty clearly within our understanding of an impeachable offense.
According to the Department of Justice, intimidation of witnesses testifying before Congress is a crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1515(a)(1).
Fox News host Bret Baier called Trump’s attacks on the former Ambassador a “turning point” in the impeachment inquiry, saying that Trump may have added a new “article of impeachment real-time.”