Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert on the National Security Council, will criticize Republicans on Thursday for propagating what she calls a “fictional narrative” that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 elections, according to a copy of her opening statement for the impeachment hearing.
The impeachment inquiry centers on the accusation that President Donald Trump withheld a White House visit for Ukraine’s president and security aid for the country as leverage to push the government to announce investigations into his political rivals and to validate the claim that Ukraine conspired to help Democrats in the 2016 election.
Hill calls the claim a fake story invented by Russian intelligence services to destabilize the United States and deflect attention from their own culpability.
“In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests,” Hill plans to say, according to her testimony. “These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes.”
In her opening statement, Hill will urge the committee to focus on Trump’s actions instead of the conspiracy theories put forth by Republicans.
“If the president, or anyone else, impedes or subverts the national security of the United States in order to further domestic political or personal interests, that is more than worthy of your attention,” Hill plans to say, according to her testimony. “But we must not let domestic politics stop us from defending ourselves against the foreign powers who truly wish us harm.”
Hill is also expected to testify Thursday morning about the reaction of her boss, John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, to the pressure campaign on Ukraine led in part by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. She has said in past, closed-door testimony that Bolton considered Giuliani a “hand grenade” that would eventually blow everyone up.
In her opening statement, Hill takes a veiled swipe at Bolton’s refusal to testify in the impeachment inquiry, saying that she plans to answer questions about “what I saw, what I did, what I knew, and what I know” about the Ukraine situation before she left the National Security Council last summer.
“I believe that those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and moral obligation to provide it,” she plans to say in a likely reference to Bolton.
Before the day’s hearing began, the president posted a string of angry tweets about Democrats and the impeachment investigation.
The Democrats leading the impeachment investigation are “human scum,” he said.
The public hearings over the last week are “the most unfair hearings in American History.” And, “never in my wildest dreams” did he think his name would be linked to the “ugly word, Impeachment!”
Trump also revived his complaints about the special counsel investigation into whether his campaign or aides were involved in Russia’s election interference.
Hill can detail how Bolton saw Giuliani as a “hand grenade” meddling in Ukraine policy.
In previous closed-door testimony, Hill described in detail a July 10 White House meeting during which Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told Bolton that he was working with Giuliani to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats in exchange for a White House meeting for the country’s new president.
Bolton was so disturbed that he abruptly ended the meeting and instructed Hill to tell the National Security Council’s top lawyer about what Sondland, Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, were up to, Hill has testified. Bolton told Hill that he was not “part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”
Later, Hill said Bolton told her that “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”
Hill left the White House before the July 25 call between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine. But Democrats believe her account could be crucial in helping to establish that top White House officials like Bolton felt the pressure campaign was inappropriate, and that Mulvaney was deeply involved in it.
Sondland said in Wednesday’s hearing that Hill’s account of the July 10 meeting did not “square with my own.”
Hill has said that Sondland bragged that Trump put him in charge of Ukraine policy.
Democrats are looking to Hill to corroborate Wednesday’s testimony by Sondland that he pressured Ukraine to announce investigations at Trump’s direction.
“We followed the president’s orders,” Sondland told lawmakers, testifying that it was well understood at the White House and throughout the Trump administration that a White House meeting for Zelenskiy was contingent on whether he agreed to announce investigations into Trump’s political rivals.
Sondland also said he came to conclude that a package of military aid for Ukraine was linked to the investigations. But Republicans seized on Sondland’s assertion that he was never explicitly told that by Trump or anyone else.
Hill told lawmakers in her previous testimony that when she confronted Sondland, whose official portfolio did not include Ukraine, about his authority over issues related to the country, he told her that his power came directly from Trump.
She said she asked Sondland “who has said you’re in charge of Ukraine, Gordon?” according to the transcript of her testimony released by the House Intelligence Committee. “And he said, the president. Well, that shut me up, because you can’t really argue with that.”
An embassy official who overheard a Trump-Sondland phone call is expected to recount a memorable conversation.
William B. Taylor Jr., the top diplomat in Ukraine, testified last week that he had only recently become aware of a cellphone call between Trump and Sondland overheard by one of his aides. On Thursday, that aide, David Holmes, who works in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, will testify in a public session.
In closed-door testimony, Holmes told lawmakers that he overheard Trump, who was speaking loudly, asking Sondland whether Zelenskiy was “going to do the investigation.” Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and political donor turned ambassador, told Trump that Zelenskiy “loves your ass,” and would conduct the investigation and do “anything you ask him to,” according to Holmes’ statement.
In Holmes’ account, Sondland later told him that Trump cared only about “big stuff that benefits the president” like the “Biden investigation” into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. Sondland largely confirmed that account on Wednesday but said he did not recall specifically mentioning Biden.
Democrats believe the conversation helps establish that the president was preoccupied with persuading Ukraine to publicly commit to investigations that benefited him politically. They want Holmes to describe the scene in detail.