/Fiona Hill criticizes Republicans for pushing ‘fictional narrative’ on Ukraine

Fiona Hill criticizes Republicans for pushing ‘fictional narrative’ on Ukraine

GOP lawmakers have sought to legitimize Trump’s skepticism of Ukraine by casting the country’s government as “out to get” Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Nunes has sought to depose Alexandra Chalupa, a former Democratic National Committee official whom Nunes has accused of colluding with Ukraine to undermine Trump in 2016. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has rebuffed the request.

In addition to Hill and many of Trump’s own national security officials, other witnesses for the impeachment inquiry have similarly rejected Nunes’ claims.

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told investigators that one particular data point Nunes often highlights — an effort to dig up dirt on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman — was actually a campaign to tar Ukraine’s former pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Nunes has also cited a 2016 op-ed by Ukraine’s then-ambassador to the U.S., who criticized Trump for suggesting that Russia had a right to annex Crimea, a move that drew international condemnation. Yovanovitch said “isolated incidents” do not support the idea that the Ukrainian government launched an effort to damage Trump in 2016.

Hill sounded the alarm more broadly about Russia’s aggression in the region, in addition to its ongoing efforts to interfere in U.S. elections and weaken America’s global influence. She argued that Russia has largely achieved its goals.

“The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today,” she said. “Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career foreign service is being undermined.”

Hill, who was the top Russia hand on the National Security Council until July, warned that Moscow’s “ security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election.”

Hill’s appearance before the House Intelligence Committee comes as Democrats are taking what may be their final shot to buttress their case that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine, through Giuliani, to investigate his political rivals.

Lawmakers leading the impeachment inquiry say they are more confident than ever they have clinched their case against Trump — while Republicans continue to assert there is no direct evidence implicating the president in a Ukraine scheme.

On Thursday, investigators turned to Hill to amplify her account as a White House insider who attended key meetings on Ukraine and reported her concerns about Giuliani’s efforts to a superior.

Sitting alongside Hill was David Holmes, a minor player in the inquiry but one who supplied key evidence. Holmes overheard a phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, during which Trump audibly asked about the status of his desired investigations.

Trump pushed back against Holmes Thursday morning as he was reading his opening statement.

“Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I’ve even tried, but to no avail.”

Neither witness was expected to produce the type of testimony that Sondland provided Wednesday, when he told lawmakers that Trump, through Giuliani, had authorized a quid pro quo with Ukraine, denying the country’s new president a White House meeting until he announced an investigation targeting former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Sondland also indicated that a slew of senior officials knew about the effort, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Pompeo and Perry on Wednesday pushed back on Sondland’s claim.

Hill’s closed-door testimony represented a crucial break for Democrats in the nascent stages of the investigation. She revealed that her boss, former national security adviser John Bolton, worried about a “drug deal” that Mulvaney and Sondland were involved in. He also called Giuliani a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up” over his efforts to smear Yovanovitch, according to Hill.

Trump removed Yovanovitch from her post in May and attacked her during a phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, on July 25.

Hill also testified about Sondland’s conduct, alleging that he attended meetings about Ukraine that were not in his purview. And she said she confronted him after a July 10 White House meeting during which Sondland raised the prospect of Trump’s investigations directly with Ukrainian officials.

Hill also called Sondland a counterintelligence risk, noting that he often used his personal cell phone for official business.

Holmes, meanwhile, told investigators behind closed doors last week that he overheard Sondland speaking by phone with Trump at a restaurant in Kyiv, during which Trump asked about the status of “the investigations.” According to Holmes, Sondland replied that the Ukrainians were “gonna do it,” and that Zelensky “loves your ass.”

Holmes also said it was possible that the Russians intercepted the phone call, which took place at an outdoor cafe on an unsecure cellphone. According to Holmes, Sondland told him that Trump only cares about “‘big stuff’ that benefits the president, like the ‘Biden investigation’ that Giuliani was pushing.”

Sondland said Wednesday he had no reason to doubt Holmes’ account, but he could not recall specifically mentioning the Bidens.

Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.

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