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Former Ambassador On Ukraine And Diplomacy


Key point in the impeachment inquiry is the recall of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. President Trump called her bad news in that now famous phone call with Ukraine's president. The Wall Street Journal says that Trump himself ordered her recall. More than 50 women who served as U.S. ambassadors have now signed a statement in defense of their colleague - one of them is Nancy McEldowney. She served as ambassador to Bulgaria and also director of the Foreign Service Institute, joins us in our studios.

Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.

NANCY MCELDOWNEY: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: U.S. ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, and they represent a particular administration's foreign policy. Wasn't President Trump well within his rights to call back his ambassador from the Ukraine?

MCELDOWNEY: Every president has the ability to call back an ambassador. Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of presidents. But the key point here is that American diplomacy and our professional diplomats are there. Their primary job is to serve American national interests, not to help build up partisan or personal advantage.

I don't have inside knowledge of what happened in the Ukraine matter, but it's clear to me that Yovanovitch was following the instructions that she was given by the State Department and she may have run afoul of whatever scheme Rudy Giuliani and likely the president were trying to play out in Ukraine.

Diplomacy is not a partisan issue between Democrats and Republicans. It's about serving American national interests. And I'm confident that's what Yovanovitch was trying to do.

SIMON: The letter you and other foreign service professionals signed seemed to express particular concern about the implications, possible implications for replacing Ambassador Yovanovitch might have for the entire foreign service.

MCELDOWNEY: That's right. The letter was signed for two reasons; first, because many of the signatories know Yovanovitch, know her to be a person of impeccable integrity, someone who has served for more than three decades - both Republicans and Democrats - and has always done so with great distinction and received numerous awards and accolades for her work. But there's a larger issue here that goes beyond Yovanovitch.

If President Trump can fire one ambassador, one career official because he - they get in the way of a partisan agenda, what does that mean for the rest of the diplomatic corps, for all of our professional diplomats and, frankly, for all federal employees who are following an ethical code, who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and who are duty bound to both call out and refuse orders that they find either immoral or illegal?

SIMON: Let me try to anticipate an argument that others might make. That's what elections are about. That's why you hold elections and elect different administrations. And it's up to them to determine what foreign policy is. And the president says this isn't about Joe Biden, it's about corruption.

MCELDOWNEY: Elections are indeed important, and that's why Joe Maguire - the top intelligence official in our government - has said that the greatest security threat facing our nation right now is ensuring the integrity of our elections and preventing foreign interference. For the president of the United States to ask the government of Ukraine and now the government of China to interfere in our elections by collecting dirt, opposition research on his political opponents is a violation, first, of the law but also of the very core of what our country stands for, what our democracy is built upon.

SIMON: And - in half a minute we have left, what in your mind is the obligation of a professional diplomat when they are asked to do that?

MCELDOWNEY: When a diplomat encounters something that they believe is immoral or illegal, they need to call it out. That's why the whistleblower laws exist. There are procedures in place for people to object. And if they are not able to get further traction in that way, then they're obliged to resign.

SIMON: Nancy McEldowney former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and a longtime career diplomat, thanks so much for coming in to see us today.

MCELDOWNEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.