Fiona Hill, President Trump’s former top adviser on Russia, and David Holmes, an embassy official in Kyiv, will testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee.CreditCredit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times
Here’s what you need to know:
Swiping at Trump, Hill urges Republicans to abandon ‘fictional’ claim Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert on the National Security Council, arriving to testify on Thursday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert on the National Security Council, criticized Republicans on Thursday for propagating what she calls a “fictional narrative” that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 elections, in her opening statement for the impeachment hearing.
The impeachment inquiry centers on the accusation that President 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 former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and the claim that Ukraine conspired to help Democrats in the 2016 election.
Ms. 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,” Ms. Hill said. “These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes.”
In her opening statement, Ms. Hill urged the committee to focus on Mr. 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,” Ms. Hill said. “But we must not let domestic politics stop us from defending ourselves against the foreign powers who truly wish us harm.”
Ms. Hill is also expected to testify Thursday morning about the reaction of her former boss, John R. Bolton, to the pressure campaign on Ukraine led in part by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. She has said in past, closed-door testimony that Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser, called Mr. Giuliani a “hand grenade” that would eventually blow everyone up.
In her opening statement, Ms. Hill took a veiled swipe at Mr. Bolton, contrasting her willingness to answer questions in the impeachment inquiry with her former boss’s refusal to testify.
“I believe that those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and moral obligation to provide it,” she said.
Holmes testified that it was his ‘clear impression’ that Trump withheld security aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden.
David Holmes, a top aide in the United States Embassy in Kyiv, told lawmakers on Thursday that he became convinced by the end of August that Mr. Trump had frozen security aid for Ukraine because he was seeking to pressure the country to commit to an investigation into Mr. Biden.
Mr. Holmes said his assessment came after he drafted and sent a cable to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on behalf of William B. Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, attempting to explain the importance of the security assistance to Ukraine.
“By this point,” Mr. Holmes said, “my clear impression was that the security assistance hold was likely intended by the president either as an expression of dissatisfaction that the Ukrainians had not yet agreed to the Burisma/Biden investigation or as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so.”
Burisma is a Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, on its board.
Mr. Holmes told lawmakers that it remains critical for the United States to support Ukraine in its efforts to confront Russian aggression, saying: “Now is not the time to retreat from our relationship with Ukraine, but rather to double down on it.”
President Trump lashed out on Twitter, casting doubt on Holmes’ account of an overheard phone call.
As Mr. Holmes began testifying, President Trump took aim at his credibility, suggesting there was no way he could have heard what he claims to have picked up in a loud cellphone conversation between Mr. Trump and Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union.
In his testimony on Thursday, Mr. Holmes was repeating an account he has given impeachment investigators privately of a call he overheard in which the president was asking Mr. Sondland whether Ukraine was going to do the investigations he wanted, and Mr. Sondland said they were.
The call is an important piece of evidence because it demonstrates that Mr. Trump himself was directing members of his administration to push the Ukrainians for the investigations, but the president on Thursday sought to cast doubt on its authenticity.
Even 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!”
Mr. Trump also revived his complaints about the special counsel investigation into whether his campaign or aides were involved in Russia’s election interference.
An embassy official who overheard a Trump-Sondland phone call is testifying about a memorable conversation.
Mr. Holmes is testifying a week after William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, told lawmakers last week that he had recently become aware of a July cellphone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Sondland that was overheard by one of his aides.
Mr. Holmes told lawmakers that he overheard Mr. Trump, who was speaking loudly, asking Mr. Sondland whether Mr. Zelensky was “going to do the investigation.” Mr. Sondland told Mr. Trump that Mr. Zelensky “loves your ass,” and would conduct the investigation and do “anything you ask him to,” Mr. Holmes said.
In Mr. Holmes’s account, Mr. Sondland later told him that Mr. Trump cared only about “big stuff that benefits the president” like the “Biden investigation” into Mr. Biden’s son. Mr. Sondland did not dispute that account when he testified on Wednesday, but said he did not recall specifically mentioning Mr. Biden.
Democrats believe the conversation helps establish that the president was preoccupied with persuading Ukraine to publicly commit to investigations that benefited him politically.
Hill can detail how Bolton saw Giuliani as a ‘hand grenade’ meddling in Ukraine policy.
In previous closed-door testimony, Ms. Hill described in detail a July 10 White House meeting during which Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told Mr. Bolton that he was working with Mr. Giuliani to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats in exchange for a White House meeting for the country’s new president.
Mr. Bolton was so disturbed that he abruptly ended the meeting and instructed Ms. Hill to tell the National Security Council’s top lawyer about what Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, were up to, Ms. Hill has testified. Mr. Bolton told Ms. Hill that he was not “part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”
Later, Ms. Hill said that Mr. Bolton told her that “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”
Ms. Hill left the White House before the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. But Democrats believe her account could be crucial in helping to establish that top White House officials like Mr. Bolton felt the pressure campaign was inappropriate, and that Mr. Mulvaney was deeply involved in it.
Mr. Sondland said in Wednesday’s hearing that Ms. 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 Ms. Hill to corroborate Wednesday’s testimony by Mr. Sondland that he pressured Ukraine to announce investigations at Mr. Trump’s direction.
“We followed the president’s orders,” Mr. Sondland told lawmakers, testifying that it was well understood at the White House and throughout the Trump administration that a White House meeting for Mr. Zelensky was contingent on whether he agreed to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals.
Mr. Sondland also said he came to conclude that a package of military aid for Ukraine was linked to the investigations. But Republicans seized on Mr. Sondland’s assertion that he was never explicitly told that by Mr. Trump or anyone else.
Ms. Hill told lawmakers in her previous testimony that when she confronted Mr. 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 Mr. Trump.
She said she asked Mr. 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.”
Before then, catch up on some important background on the impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump repeatedly pressured Mr. Zelensky to investigate people and issues of political concern to Mr. Trump, including the former vice president. Here’s a timeline of events since January.
A C.I.A. officer who was once detailed to the White House filed a whistle-blower complaint on Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Zelensky. Read the complaint.
Who Are the Main Characters in the Whistle-Blower’s Complaint?
President Trump’s personal lawyer. The prosecutor general of Ukraine. Joe Biden’s son. These are just some of the names mentioned in the whistle-blower’s complaint. What were their roles? We break it down.
Congressman: “Sir, let me repeat my question: Did you ever speak to the president about this complaint?” Congress is investigating allegations that President Trump pushed a foreign government to dig up dirt on his Democratic rivals. “It’s just a Democrat witch hunt. Here we go again.” At the heart of an impeachment inquiry is a nine-page whistle-blower complaint that names over two dozen people. Not counting the president himself, these are the people that appear the most: First, Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani. According to documents and interviews, Giuliani has been involved in shadowy diplomacy on behalf of the president’s interests. He encouraged Ukrainian officials to investigate the Biden family’s activities in the country, plus other avenues that could benefit Trump like whether the Ukrainians intentionally helped the Democrats during the 2016 election. It was an agenda he also pushed on TV. “So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden.” “Of course I did!” A person Giuliani worked with, Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s former prosecutor general. He pushed for investigations that would also benefit Giuliani and Trump. Lutsenko also discussed conspiracy theories about the Bidens in the U.S. media. But he later walked back his allegations, saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. This is where Hunter Biden comes in, the former vice president’s son. He served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company run by this guy, who’s had some issues with the law. While Biden was in office, he along with others, called for the dismissal of Lutsenko’s predecessor, a prosecutor named Viktor Shokin, whose office was overseeing investigations into the company that Hunter Biden was involved with. Shokin was later voted out by the Ukrainian government. Lutsenko replaced him, but was widely criticized for corruption himself. When a new president took office in May, Volodymyr Zelensky, Zelensky said that he’d replace Lutsenko. Giuliani and Trump? Not happy. They viewed Lutsenko as their ally. During a July 25 call between Trump and the new Ukrainian president, Trump defended him, saying, “I heard you had a prosecutor who is very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair.” In that phone call, Trump also allegedly asked his counterpart to continue the investigation into Joe Biden, who is his main rival in the 2020 election. Zelensky has publicly denied feeling pressured by Trump. “In other words, no pressure.” And then finally, Attorney General William Barr, who also came up in the July 25 call. In the reconstructed transcript, Trump repeatedly suggested that Zelensky’s administration could work with Barr and Giuliani to investigate the Bidens and other matters of political interest to Trump. Since the whistle-blower complaint was made public, Democrats have criticized Barr for dismissing allegations that Trump had violated campaign finance laws during his call with Zelensky and not passing along the complaint to Congress. House Democrats have now subpoenaed several people mentioned in the complaint, as an impeachment inquiry into the president’s conduct continues.
President Trump’s personal lawyer. The prosecutor general of Ukraine. Joe Biden’s son. These are just some of the names mentioned in the whistle-blower’s complaint. What were their roles? We break it down.CreditCredit…Illustration by The New York Times
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