The Corner

Politics & Policy

A U.S. Ambassador

Marie Yovanovitch while U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, December 1, 2017 (Gleb Garanich / Reuters)

Today, I have an Impromptus column, which has a variety of items, as is this column’s job. I begin with (possibly) the Comment of the Year. It comes from an NFL coach, and involves Mozart. I end with a great name — or at least an unusual spelling — encountered in the Milwaukee airport.

Among the items in between are a few on Ukraine. One of them actually involves Tom Cruise. I would like to add another, here on the Corner. The specific subject is Marie Yovanovitch, who was our ambassador to Ukraine until President Trump had her removed last May.

In his now-famous phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president, Trump said, “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.” He also said — mysteriously, portentously — “She’s going to go through some things.”


Yovanovitch is a veteran diplomat who, prior to her stint in Kiev, was ambassador in two other former “republics” of the Soviet Union: Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. The daughter of immigrants, she grew up speaking Russian. (Her parents had fled both Nazis and Communists.) She has the kind of education that makes her suspicious, to many: the Kent School and Princeton. Also the National War College of the National Defense University.

Denizens of TrumpWorld — most prominently Rudy Giuliani — were agitating for her firing. You can read about this in a report from the Wall Street Journal, here. She was not doing enough about the Bidens. On Fox News, Joe diGenova said she had bad-mouthed the president — “without providing evidence,” according to the Journal. Don Jr. called her a “joker.”


Asked last Thursday why he had recalled Yovanovitch from Ukraine, President Trump said, “I heard very bad things about her. And I don’t know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her, but I heard very, very bad things about her for a long period of time. Not good.”

Not good? Bad news? Maybe that is right — maybe Yovanovitch was a disgraceful, unprofessional ambassador, not just in Ukraine but in all her posts. Or maybe she was something else. Obviously, many Americans need her to be a hate figure right now. But other Americans can form their own opinions. Yovanovitch is scheduled to testify before the House on Friday.

A question, beyond the specific matter of Marie Yovanovitch: What is the role of a U.S. ambassador? What, or whom, is she the ambassador of? The president, personally? Or the country, generally? Is she more like a personal emissary or a national representative? This area has always been murky, I believe.

So it is with other positions — attorney general, for example. Like ambassadors, the attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president. That is, the president can nominate and remove them, all of them. But what, or whom, does the AG work for? The president, personally? As in, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” Or the country at large? Or some delicate blend?

Our system has worked well for a couple of centuries. But, as many have pointed out, much depends on the character of the people in office, not just on the laws and regulations. There is always “the human factor” (h/t Graham Greene).


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