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U.S. Diplomats Rally Behind Former U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine


Three House committees have sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding documents they say he has refused to produce. They've also informed him that they have set deposition dates for five State Department officials. One of them is the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. She was recalled weeks before her tenure was up, and Democrats call it a political hit job. Current and former U.S. ambassadors have been rattled by the way President Trump treated her. Now they are rallying behind her. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Retired ambassador Ronald Neumann was shocked when reading the notes from Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. In it, Zelenskiy says Trump was the first one to tell him that Marie Yovanovitch was a bad ambassador. Trump responded by saying, quote, "she's going to go through some things." Neumann says that threatening tone was deeply troubling.

RONALD NEUMANN: I mean, presidents have been unhappy with ambassadors for many reasons. But to undercut the message an ambassador has been delivering with a foreign leader and to suggest that you're going to retaliate against that ambassador is appalling.

KELEMEN: The State Department's union calls this a time of great stress and rancor in American politics and called on Americans to respect the nonpartisan, nonpolitical work of U.S. foreign service officers. Neumann, a former ambassador to Afghanistan who now runs the American Academy of Diplomacy, puts it more bluntly.

NEUMANN: You know, I've been in four wars for our country - one as an infantry officer, three as a diplomat being shot at. And I find it disgusting that people who have never risked anything for this nation are busy bullying subordinates who are professionals and who've taken an oath to the Constitution that's the same oath as the military.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is defending the State Department's role in Ukraine, saying his team is focused on helping the new Ukrainian president to crack down on corruption.


MIKE POMPEO: It'd be a good thing for the Ukraine. It'd be a good thing for Europe. It would push back against Russia in important ways as well if we could achieve that objective. And the State Department has been working tirelessly to try and achieve that objective. And a long way to go; a lot of work yet to do. But everything I've seen that our team has tried to do has been aimed squarely at that foreign policy goal.

KELEMEN: Since he came to office, Pompeo has talked about bringing back the State Department's swagger. At one point, he unveiled a huge billboard spelling out what he describes as the department's professional ethos. Ambassador Neumann says he believes Pompeo cares about the institution, but he's in an administration that seems to hold professionals in contempt.

NEUMANN: We've spent a hundred years developing a qualified professional diplomacy, and this administration is ripping it apart.

KELEMEN: It's not just the political attacks on Yovanovitch that has Neumann and other former diplomats worried. A recent inspector general report paints a damning picture of political retribution by Trump appointees against career staff at the State Department.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEON INDIAN'S "SLUMLORD'S RE-LEASE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.