Analyst Fiona Hill denounces ‘fictional narrative’ that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in 2016 US election

Updated November 22, 2019 08:30:46

Photo: Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, appears at a House Intelligence Committee hearing. (Reuters: Loren Elliott)

A former White House analyst has warned Republican politicians to quit pushing a “fictional” narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election, as they defend President Donald Trump during an impeachment probe.

Key points:

  • Donald Trump is being investigated for allegedly using US foreign policy for personal gain
  • Russia expert Fiona Hill said the US ambassador to the EU was doing Mr Trump’s bidding
  • Dr Hill said Mr Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was once described as a ‘hand grenade’

Fiona Hill, a career expert on Russia, and David Holmes, a State Department official in Kiev who was a late addition to the probe, are capping an intense week of testimony.

The impeachment inquiry focuses on allegations that Mr Trump sought investigations of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son in return for $US391 million in US military aid ($576 million), and a White House visit the new Ukrainian President wanted that would demonstrate his backing from the West.

It also focused on the notion that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in 2016 election, which Mr Trump also urged Kiev to investigate.

Mr Holmes testified that he came forward after overhearing Mr Trump ask about “investigations” during a phone call with US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, at a Kiev restaurant this summer.

Mr Holmes said he realised “those events potentially bore on the question of whether the President did, in fact, have knowledge that those senior officials were using the levers of our diplomatic power” to push Ukraine to investigate his rivals.

As Mr Holmes was delivering opening remarks, Mr Trump tried to undercut the career diplomat’s account of overhearing the conversation.

External Link: I have been watching people making phone calls my entire life. My hearing is, and has been, great. Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!

The President tweeted that while his own hearing was “great” he had never been able to understand another person’s conversation that was not on speaker. “Try it,” he suggested.

Mr Holmes also testified about his growing concern as Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer, orchestrated Ukraine policy outside official diplomatic channels. It was a concern shared by others, he testified.

“My recollection is that Ambassador Sondland stated, ‘Every time Rudy gets involved he goes and f***s everything up’.”

The President instructed his top diplomats to work with Mr Giuliani, who was publicly pursuing investigations into Democrats, according to Mr Sondland and others testifying during the week of public hearings.

David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine speaking into a microphone. Photo: Mr Holmes testified that Mr Giuliani orchestrated Ukraine policy outside official diplomatic channels. (AP: Andrew Harnik)

The inquiry was sparked after another call, on July 25, when Mr Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favour”.

A still-anonymous whistleblower’s official government complaint about that call led the House to launch the current probe.

‘We are running out of time to stop them’

Dr Hill is a distinguished Russia analyst who took a break from the think-tank world to serve as a national intelligence officer from early 2006 to late 2009.

She took another leave from the Brookings Institution in early 2017 to join the White House’s National Security Council at the start of the Trump administration, a decision that raised eyebrows at the time.

In her testimony, she stressed she was “non-partisan” and has worked under Republican and Democratic presidents.

Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, left, and David Holmes in a hearing room. Photo: Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, left, and David Holmes, a US diplomat in Ukraine, are sworn in. (AP: J. Scott Applewhite)

“I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests,” Ms Hill said in prepared opening remarks to the House Intelligence Committee.

She warned that Russia was gearing up to intervene again in the 2020 US election.

“We are running out of time to stop them,” she said.

Mr Trump has told others testifying in the inquiry that Ukraine tried to “take me down” in the 2016 election.

“I have no interest in advancing the outcome of your inquiry in any particular direction, except toward the truth,” Dr Hill said.

But she said the conclusion by US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the US election “is beyond dispute”.

“I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimise an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian Government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia —attacked us in 2016,” she said.

Mr Trump, as well as Republicans on the panel, including ranking GOP Republican Devin Nunes of California, continue to advance the idea that Russian interference was a “hoax,” and that it was Ukraine trying to swing the election, part of a desperate effort by Democrats to stop Mr Trump’s presidency.

“That is the Democrats’ pitiful legacy,” Mr Nunes said in his opening remarks.

He called it all part of the same effort, from “the Russia hoax” to the “shoddy sequel” of the impeachment inquiry.

The witnesses testifying publicly have all previously appeared for private depositions, most having received subpoenas compelling their testimony.

Bolton wanted no involvement in ‘drug deal’

Mr Holmes, speaking about the July 26 call between Mr Trump and Mr Sondland, the day after the President’s call with Mr Zelenskiy, has told investigators he heard Mr Trump ask: “So he’s going to do the investigation?”

According to Mr Holmes, Mr Sondland replied that Mr Zelenskiy “will, quote, ‘do anything you ask him to’”.

Dr Hill said national security adviser John Bolton told her separately he did not want to be involved in any “drug deal” Mr Sondland and Mr Trump’s acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were cooking up over the Ukrainian investigations Mr Trump wanted.

The Russia expert told the impeachment hearing that she realised that Mr Sondland was not only operating outside official diplomatic channels, but carrying out instructions from Mr Trump.

“He was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security policy,” Dr Hill said.

Mr Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and donor to Mr Trump’s inauguration, appeared before the investigation on Wednesday (local time) in a marathon session.

He declared that Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani explicitly sought a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine, leveraging an Oval Office visit for political investigations of Democrats. But he also came to believe the trade involved much more.

Mr Sondland testified it was his understanding the President was holding up nearly $US400 million in military aid, which Ukraine badly needs with an aggressive Russia on its border, in exchange for the country’s announcement of the investigations.

Later on Wednesday, another witness undercut a main Republican argument — that Ukraine did not even realise the money was being held up.

The Defence Department’s Laura Cooper testified that Ukrainian officials started asking about it on July 25, the day of Mr Trump’s phone call with Mr Zelenskiy, when he first asked for a “favour”.

In Moscow on Wednesday (local time), Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was pleased that the “political battles” in Washington had overtaken the Russia allegations.

“Thank God. No-one is accusing us of interfering in the US elections anymore. Now they’re accusing Ukraine,” Mr Putin said.

AP/Reuters

Topics: donald-trump, us-elections, government-and-politics, world-politics, united-states, russian-federation, ukraine

First posted November 22, 2019 05:07:41