The notes of the call between US president Donald Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, released today by the White House, has got lots for readers to chew on. There’s Trump’s request for a “favor” and mentions of presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s son, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and attorney general William Barr, all of which add fuel to the impeachment inquiry opened this week by the House.
But there’s another figure that lurks between those political flash points—someone only called “the ambassador” or “the woman.”
Trump: 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. […]
Zelensky: […] On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine as far as I recall her name was Ivanovich. It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.
Trump: Well, she’s going to go through some things. […]
The woman’s name is Marie Louise Yovanovitch. She became the US ambassador to the Ukraine in 2016, when Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, was president. Yovanovitch started getting some political attention in March when she called on the Ukrainian government to do more to fight corruption. The Ukrainian government retaliated just a few weeks later—the nation’s top prosecutor claimed that Yovanovitch had given him a list of names that he should not prosecute. Republicans clamored for her recall, though multiple government sources told Foreign Policy that the claims were unfounded. Democrats spoke out in Yovanovitch’s favor. But in May, the Republicans prevailed; by the end of the month, Yovanovitch had been pushed from her post just two months before she was initially scheduled.
Trump’s phone call with Zelensky happened just two months after Yovanovitch was recalled, so it’s hard to imagine that the president doesn’t remember Yovanovitch’s name (Zelensky even prompts him). Instead, it sounds more like a derogatory remark, a slur in which the word “nasty” is implied, especially when considered in the context of his many previous insults hurled at women about how he perceives their comportment or their physical appearance. Even women appointed by Trump, including Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Ivanka Trump, appear only safe in their positions as long as they don’t attempt to cross Trump in any way.
Yovanovitch diverged, came under fire, lost her position, and became the Voldemort of a now-infamous political phone call.