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Profiles in courage: the State Department

I watched closely as State Department Foreign Service officers have stepped forward to give their sworn depositions behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee. To most, I assumed, they were unknown career diplomats who serve our country in postings at state and around the globe.

I had never heard of Marie L. Yovanovitch, the ousted ambassador to Ukraine, reportedly called back to State in order to give Rudy Giuliani and Trump an open field to carry out what has been characterized as a “shadow foreign policy,” its intent being not to advance and assist this nascent democracy and critically important ally, but to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe and Hunter Biden.

In fact, in the now infamous July 25 phone call to Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, embedded with the word “though,” 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.” Then added, ominously, “She’s going to go through some things.” Yovanovitch did.

I had never heard of career diplomats William B. Taylor, the top American ambassador in Ukraine, or George P. Kent, deputy secretary of state. Like Yovanovitch, they had stepped forward and like her they received explicit directives from the White House to defy Congress’ requests for their closed-door testimony. Each of them chose instead to honor the congressional subpoenas and gave damning accounts of what they viewed as the administration’s Ukrainian policy, one driven by fabulist conspiracy theories and self-serving machinations.

Trump and Giuliani knew that the recently elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, in desperate need of military assistance to push back on what has been four years of Russian aggression, could be extorted into assisting Trump with his re-election campaign. If Latin works, well, let’s go with “quid pro quo,” meaning this for that: military hardware for investigations into the Bidens.

As well, I had never heard of diplomat Michael McKinley, who advised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and who recently resigned because he believed the State Department was being used for political gain by the president.

So, when the House Intelligence Committee held its first open hearing on the impeachment of Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors, it first called diplomats Taylor and Kent, who said publicly and with conviction that in their opinion, and these are my words, not theirs, Ukraine’s foreign policy had been hijacked by Trump and the ubiquitous Giuliani.

I watched as these diplomats (Yovanovitch appeared last Friday), who are the very definition of patriotism and decades-long service to country, speak their truths in the face of powerful voices that had attempted to block their appearances while disparaging their character. Trump accused them of being “never Trumpers,” “human scum,” and denizens of the “Deep State,” meaning, in Trump-speak, a geography riven by saboteurs whose malevolent intent is to obstruct the president’s agenda.

Their very presence, their testimony, required an abiding bravery (both are still with the State Department). They are fully aware that they stand in a place – a divide – between the State Department and this administration, which has cut its budget and systematically attempted to diminish its global policy role.

One final tangential point: I am profoundly reassured to know that there are people of decency and integrity and intrepidity representing the United States here and abroad. Given what has been revealed about this White House, the corruption and lawlessness of this president and his enablers in his administration and Congress, I fear less for our democracy.

And, finally, let me touch again on the words “decency” and “measured” as made manifest by these diplomats. I think that we as a nation yearn to know that if there is in fact a “deep state,” let it be replete with such dedicated individuals.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.