President Trump defends tweet against impeachment witness

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WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives for testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the second impeachment hearing held by the committee, House Democrats continue to build a case against U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to link U.S. military aid for Ukraine to the nation’s investigation of his political rivals. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) --President Donald Trump says he wasn’t trying to intimidate a witness in the House impeachment inquiry with his tweet and he’s entitled to speak his mind as the investigation plays out.

Trump says of impeachment, "it's a political process, it's not a legal process.” He says: "I'm allowed to speak up.”

Trump tweeted critically about Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, as she was testifying Friday before the House Intelligence Committee.

Yovanovich said she found Trump’s message “very intimidating” and Democratic committee chairman Adam Schiff suggested it could be used as evidence against the president. He said: “some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”

The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine says a political ally of President Donald Trump suggested she “send out a tweet, praise the president” when it became clear she was abruptly losing her job.

Marie Yovanovitch described her exchange with Gordon Sondland at the House impeachment hearing Friday. She says she rejected the advice.

Sondland was a Trump campaign contributor who’d become a State Department envoy to the European Union but wielded influence over U.S. policy in Ukraine.

Yovanovitch said Sondland’s advice was to “go big or go home,” which he explained meant lauding Trump.

She says she didn’t do it because, “It felt partisan, it felt political” and inappropriate for an ambassador.

Yovanovitch was removed even though State Department officials told her there’d been no complaints about her job performance.

The White House says President Donald Trump’s tweets criticizing former U.S. Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch as she testified before the House as part of its impeachment inquiry was “not witness intimidation.”

Trump has drawn criticism for tweeting early in Yovanovitch’s testimony that everywhere the career diplomat was posted “turned bad.”

Yovanovitch said the tweets were “very intimidating” to her and other witnesses.

But White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham says Trump did nothing wrong. She says in a statement that the tweets were “simply the President’s opinion, which he is entitled to.”

She’s also criticized the hearing as a “partisan political process” and “totally illegitimate, charade stacked against the President.”

A Republican lawyer has asked former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch about efforts by Ukrainian officials to undermine Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

GOP lawyer Steve Castor cited a 2016 op-ed in The Hill newspaper, written by Ukraine’s then ambassador to the U.S., which criticized Trump for comments that appeared to suggest Russia's annexation of Crimea was valid. Ukraine strongly opposes the annexation.

Castor said the op-ed showed that Ukrainian officials supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign, adding that the ambassador “said some nasty things" about Trump in the op-ed and on Twitter.

Yovanovitch replied, "Sometimes that happens on social media.''

Her comment came hours after Trump attacked Yovanovitch on Twitter as she began her testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Trump tweeted, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.’’

Democrats call the tweet witness intimidation.

**Continuing coverage**

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