On Saturday, Adam Rawnsley argued in The Daily Beast that one simple action by President Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani was the "tipping point" that caused the Ukraine scandal to spiral out of control into impeachment: His "trash-talking" of U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
According to Rawnsley, the testimony of National Security Council official Fiona Hill shows that that action, and Trump's subsequent decision to fire Yovanovitch, changed everything.
"In testimony released on Friday, Hill said Yovanovitch’s departure was an important pivot point in the Ukraine scandal timeline 'because it was after she was removed from her position that you started to see, you know, more of this activity,'" wrote Rawnsley. "Most witnesses who’ve testified in the impeachment inquiry have described Yovanovitch’s firing as the regrettable loss of a talented diplomat but not necessarily the most significant event in the push for a quid pro quo with Ukraine. But Hill’s argument makes sense and it’s not hard to see why."
"When Giuliani helped axe Yovanovitch, he created a vacuum that allowed a hatchet man like Sondland to fill and occupy an outsized role in Ukraine policy," wrote Rawnsley. "As Hill testified, 'this is also in the period where, rather unexpectedly,' Sondland told National Security Council officials that 'he had been assigned to be in charge, at least in interim fashion, of the Ukraine portfolio.'"
"As soon as Sondland started proclaiming himself the lead on Ukraine, Hill started to notice an end run around the National Security Council taking place," continued Rawnsley. "Hill and National Security Adviser John Bolton had held off on offering an invitation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but then learned that Sondland had pushed to send a letter dangling the possibility of one shortly after Zelensky’s inauguration and Yovanovitch’s official departure in May."
Additionally, he wrote, "Yovanovitch’s firing left no one in doubt that Giuliani could get away with calling the shots on Ukraine and that even senior officials close to the president were powerless to stop him."
"For staffers on the National Security Council, a Rudy-led whisper campaign wasn’t just a threat to careers but personal safety as well," continued Rawnsley. "Fiona Hill reminded House members that she was one of a handful of NSC staff who had received death threats after alt-right pundits amplified disparaging conspiracy theories about them and their alleged disloyalty to the Trump administration. 'Many people were hounded out of the National Security Council because they became frightened about their own security,' she said. It’s little surprise then that Yovanovitch’s ouster had what Hill called a 'devastating effect on the morale of all of the teams that I work with across the interagency.'"
Yovanovich's departure, then, was the critical moment that career national security officials knew a takeover was in progress — and the wheels started turning to stop it.