Cowardice and graft are abundant. As the Republic weathers an existential crisis unlike anything in our history, we are flooded each day with new examples of once-trusted figures selling their souls. Those charged with representing us are compromised, and turn to protect themselves at our expense. It is easy in the moment to identify the traitors, the grifters, the weak, sniveling sycophants. They fill our vision.
Difficult times also produce heroes. It’s important to recognize them when they emerge.
Over the past two weeks as the House impeachment inquiry has moved into its public phase, we’ve been treated to a spectacle of courage. Career public servants, sworn to protect us, have lived up to their oath at great cost and under significant threat. In particular, Marie Yovanovitch and William Taylor have placed their careers on the line to protect the American Republic in a powerful demonstration of integrity. Their example gives us hope.
Marie Yovanovitch is a career diplomat who was serving as the US Ambassador to Ukraine until earlier this year. Trump abruptly removed her from office over her refusal to cooperate with a scam orchestrated by Rudy Giuliani and his now-indicted Ukrainian business associates. Their goal was to buy the support of Ukrainian officials in a smear campaign against Joe Biden. As their bizarre project fell apart, they went so far as to attempt to extort the new Ukrainian President.
Yovanovitch had long been a thorn in the side of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko. She had pressed the Prosecutor to meet with FBI agents who wanted to share evidence regarding money laundering and other crimes committed by powerful Ukrainian officials. The Ambassador repeatedly urged Lutsenko to end his efforts to silence and punish former prosecutors who had attempted to clean up the country’s investigative agencies. The Ambassador’s campaign did not serve the interests of the Trump Administration, because it undermined Russian goals in Ukraine.
At the hinge of Giuliani’s original plan was an effort to buy the cooperation of a discredited former Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. Giuliani wanted to bring Shokin to the US for a publicity tour in which he would accuse Biden and other US officials of seeking to block Ukrainian investigations of powerful Americans. There is no evidence for these claims, but the Trump Administration needs sound-bites, not evidence.
Administrators declined Shokin’s visa application over his history of corruption, asking for clarification of the applicant’s purpose (a 221G denial). Since the applicant’s purpose was to come to the US to commit a crime, he was reluctant to submit further details.
Giuliani went around the State Department, getting the White House to intervene. However, even under pressure from the President, neither State nor the Ambassador would budge.
Next Giuliani began a domestic campaign among right wing media collaborators to get the Ambassador removed. This past spring, he arranged for the embattled, then-current Ukrainian Prosecutor General Lutsenko to grant an interview with John Solomon, an editor at The Hill. Solomon is a former Fox News and Washington Times contributor and enthusiastic purveyor of Clinton conspiracy theories. In his tenure at The Hill he’s turned the site into another fake news outlet.
In March Solomon published a now-infamous interview with Lutsenko in which he repeated outrageous claims against the Ambassador without seeking a single element of corroborating evidence. That interview was then promoted among the right wing fake news infrastructure, with star turns on Hannity and Ingraham’s shows.
When Yovanovitch sought support from the State Department in fighting the false claims, no one would risk the inevitable retribution from the White House. EU Ambassador Sondland, a wholly unqualified billionaire donor to the President urged her to express public support for Trump or see her career ended. She refused.
In April, Yovanovitch was recalled to Washington where Secretary Pompeo told her he could no longer protect her. She resigned as Ambassador, but the Republican campaign of harassment against her wouldn’t stop there.
After a new President was elected in Ukraine in March, Lutsenko was fired. Now all of the work Giuliani had invested in the country was in danger of being lost. He cooked up his Hail Mary, a plot that National Security Advisor John Bolton derided as a “drug deal.” Trump himself would lean directly on the new Ukrainian President, threatening to withhold critical military aid unless the President would announce an investigation of Biden.
William Taylor, the new interim Ambassador to Ukraine was horrified by what he saw unfolding and refused to cooperate. Taylor is a West Point graduate who served in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam, where he earned the Bronze Star. He has served an number of diplomatic posts, including tours in Kabul and Baghdad. Taylor was previously appointed Ambassador to Ukraine by George W. Bush. He became a noisy nuisance inside the State Department when he learned of the President’s extortion campaign against the new Ukrainian leader.
Taylor immediately began to document the corrupt “irregular channel” of diplomacy being pursued by figures like Giuliani, Secretary Perry and Senator Johnson, exploring means of profit and extortion available in this wobbling young democracy. He battled internally against the extortion scheme, seeking to get aid for Ukraine released. And as soon as Congress began its investigation, Taylor cooperated against resistance from the State Department.
Meanwhile, the campaign against Yovanovitch was heating up. The President even mentioned her directly in his notorious call with the Ukrainian President, explaining:
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. She’s going to go through some things.
Defamatory claims against Yovanovitch were amplified on conservative news outlets by Giuliani and the President’s idiot son. Groundwork was being laid for a bureaucratic lynching, like the one unleashed on FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, which could threaten her pension.
Yovanovitch and Taylor have given us a gift. If the Trump Administration survives, they’ll pay for their courage with their careers, and possibly their livelihoods. They know that this Administration, and its compromised Justice Department, will seek to destroy them professionally and financially. Yet they put themselves on the line to protect their country, to protect us.
Amid this national outbreak of calumny and greed, we have to celebrate our lonely heroes. A courageous few have risked everything to protect us. If we’re fortunate, others will join them. We can honor them by doing everything in our power to fight this menace and build a better future.