NOEL KING, HOST:
A lot of people were scrutinizing the rough transcript of President Trump's call with the Ukrainian president that the White House released yesterday. For some diplomats, the detail that really stood out in that call is that President Trump disparaged an American ambassador to a foreign leader. NPR's Martin Kaste has been looking into that.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: In the rough transcript of the call released by the White House, President Trump brings up Marie Yovanovitch, the recently departed U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. He doesn't seem to remember her name, but he says, quote, "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," unquote.
DANIEL FRIED: I was appalled that the president of the United States would attack one of his own ambassadors with a foreign leader.
KASTE: That's Daniel Fried, who spent 40 years in the Foreign Service and is now with the Atlantic Council. He's well-acquainted with Marie, or Masha, Yovanovitch. She's a career diplomat who served both Democratic and Republican administrations.
FRIED: She's known as scrupulous, diligent, disciplined and honest.
KASTE: So what turned Trump against her? It seems to have started with a letter. In May of 2018, then-Congressman Pete Sessions, Republican from Texas, reportedly wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that he'd heard that the ambassador had expressed, quote, "disdain" for the Trump administration. Nothing much happened for about 10 months until the issue suddenly appeared on Fox News. Here's one of their commentators, Joe diGenova, in March.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOE DIGENOVA: The current United States ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, has bad-mouthed the President of the United States to Ukrainian officials.
KASTE: DiGenova's appearances on Fox were amplified by contemporaneous coverage and other conservative sites which played up allegations by Ukraine's top prosecutor that the U.S. ambassador had told him not to pursue certain cases, a claim that was never substantiated and which the State Department dismissed as an outright fabrication. But the allegations against her were even retweeted by the president's son, Donald Trump Jr.
DANIEL DREZNER: It literally is, in some ways, an echo chamber.
KASTE: Daniel Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He says these conservative media stories may have prompted the White House to order the ambassador home.
DREZNER: Or it's also possible that Trump's allies in the State Department were watching Fox News, saw this and decided that it was worth pulling her back sooner rather than later in order to pre-empt Trump ordering them doing it.
KASTE: When the news broke in May of Yovanovitch's return, the State Department said she was completing her assignment as planned. Democratic lawmakers said she was being recalled early because of what they termed a political hit job. Yovanovitch, who didn't respond to requests for comment, is now a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University. Daniel Drezner says this whole affair has added to a sense of gloom among America's career diplomatic corps, which he describes as dispirited, demoralized and thinning out.
Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.