Home News Fiona Hill Testifies ‘Fictions’ on Ukraine Pushed by Trump Help Russia – The New York Times

Fiona Hill Testifies ‘Fictions’ on Ukraine Pushed by Trump Help Russia – The New York Times

41 min read
0
12
Loading...
 


WASHINGTON — A former White House Russia expert on Thursday sharply denounced a “fictional narrative” embraced by President Trump and his Republican allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election, testifying that the claim was a fabrication by Moscow that had harmed the United States.

The expert, Fiona Hill, tied a pressure campaign on Ukraine by Mr. Trump and some of his top aides to an effort by Russia to sow political divisions in the United States and undercut American diplomacy. She warned Republicans that legitimizing an unsubstantiated theory that Kyiv undertook a concerted campaign to interfere in the election — a claim the president pushed repeatedly for Ukraine to investigate — played into Russia’s hands.

“In the course of this investigation,” Dr. Hill testified before the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, “I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”

Dr. Hill’s account was an indirect rebuke of the president, as she outlined how some of Mr. Trump’s team carried out a “domestic political errand” in opposition to his foreign policy. She also underscored the national security consequences, noting that “right now” Russia was seeking to interfere in the 2020 election and that “we are running out of time to stop them.”

“These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes,” said Dr. Hill, the British-born daughter of a coal miner who became a United States citizen and the White House’s top Europe and Russia expert.

She added that Russia readily exploited partisan divisions to undermine the United States from within.

Both Dr. Hill and David Holmes, a top aide in the United States Embassy in Kyiv, detailed what they understood to be a concerted campaign that linked a White House meeting and vital military assistance to an announcement by Ukraine’s president that his country would investigate 2016 election interference and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Image
Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

“Investigations for a meeting” is how Dr. Hill described her understanding of the deal laid out by the president’s inner circle, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer; Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union; and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.

The testimony came as Democrats sought to clarify the stakes of the impeachment proceedings after two weeks of detail-heavy hearings. Dr. Hill and Mr. Holmes may well have been the final public witnesses called by the committee, which has begun compiling a written report of its findings to present to the House Judiciary Committee as soon as next month.

The House adjourned for Thanksgiving after the session, and it appeared all but certain that lawmakers would vote to impeach a president for only the third time in American history, and most likely along party lines.

At the White House, Republican senators loyal to Mr. Trump huddled with senior presidential aides and the White House’s top lawyer to begin charting out a Senate trial. Separately, Mr. Trump lunched with another group of Republican senators, including two occasional critics, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, though the topic of his impeachment only briefly came up.

On another front, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, signaled his intent to use the Judiciary Committee to mount an aggressive defense of Mr. Trump by focusing on Mr. Biden. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mr. Graham asked for documents and communications with the former vice president, his son Hunter Biden, other officials from the Obama administration and former President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine.

During the hearing on Thursday, Republicans bristled at Dr. Hill’s accusation, and after several tangled rounds of questioning, they used their time to push back on her suggestion that they refused to accept Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

“Needless to say, it’s entirely possible for two separate nations to engage in election meddling at the same time, and Republicans believe we should take meddling seriously by all foreign countries,” said Representative Devin Nunes of California, the panel’s top Republican.

Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, went further, turning Dr. Hill’s words around to accuse Democrats of advancing Russia’s interests by pressing forward on the divisive process of impeachment.

“They are doing exactly what Dr. Hill talked about,” Mr. Jordan said, quoting from her opening statement: “The impact of a 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart.”

In 2017, American intelligence officials released a report concluding that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered a state-sponsored campaign to try to influence the 2016 presidential election. No evidence has emerged that there was a similar effort by Ukraine.

Dr. Hill conceded during her testimony that Ukraine had “bet on the wrong horse” during the 2016 election, seeking to curry favor with Hillary Clinton in the belief she would win. But she added that Ukraine was hardly the only country that did so.

“The difference here, however, is that hasn’t had any major impact on his feelings toward those countries — not that I have seen,” Dr. Hill said, referring to Mr. Trump.

Despite Republican claims to the contrary, Democrats gained new information that could bolster their case.

Under the Republican counsel’s questioning, Dr. Hill said she confronted Mr. Sondland in July about his failure to coordinate with other members of the administration on his actions regarding Ukraine. She said she understood only later that Mr. Sondland was part of a group of high-ranking officials, including Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Pompeo, who were “being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security, foreign policy — and those two things had just diverged.”

Mr. Holmes said it was his “clear understanding” by the end of August that Mr. Trump had frozen $391 million in vital security aid to pressure Ukraine to commit to announcing an investigation into Mr. Biden and his family.

“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 with the Ukrainians who 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 on its board.

Mr. Holmes also offered a detailed account of a phone call he overheard between Mr. Trump and Mr. Sondland in Kyiv on July 26, a day after Mr. Trump directly asked President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine for the investigations.

Mr. Holmes said he heard the president ask Mr. Sondland if Mr. Zelensky would conduct the inquiries he sought. Mr. Sondland assured Mr. Trump that “he’s going to do it,” and that the Ukrainian leader would do “anything you ask him to.” Afterward, Mr. Holmes testified, the ambassador told him Mr. Trump did not care about Ukraine, only about “big things” like the investigations.

A day after Mr. Sondland laid out an extensive campaign to secure the political investigations, both witnesses said they had no doubt what Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani were seeking. Dr. Hill and Mr. Holmes both testified that references to investigating Burisma by Mr. Giuliani and other government officials were, in Dr. Hill’s words, “code for the Bidens.”

Video

bars
0:00/7:03
7:03

transcript

Admit It: You Don’t Know How Impeachment Works. We Can Help.

Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.

“Impeachment by its nature, it’s a political process.” “What people think is going to happen can turn out to be very different from what happens.” “Because it has to do with elected officials holding another elected official to account for their conduct.” When the framers of the Constitution created a process to remove a president from office, they were well … kind of vague. So to understand how it’s going to play out, the past is really our best guide. “I think we’re just all in for a really crazy ride.” Collectively, these New York Times reporters have covered U.S. politics for over 150 years. “I’m also a drummer in a band, so …” They’ve reported on past impeachment inquiries. “Yea, I’m lost in Senate wonderland.” And they say that the three we’ve had so far have been full of twists and turns. “The president of the United States is not guilty as charged.” In short, expect the unexpected. First, the process. Impeachment is technically only the initial stage. “Common misconceptions about impeachment are that impeachment by itself means removal from office. It doesn’t. The impeachment part of the process is only the indictment that sets up a trial.” The Constitution describes offenses that are grounds for removing the president from office as bribery, treason and — “They say high crimes and misdemeanors, which, really, is in the eye of the beholder.” “The framers didn’t give us a guidebook to it. They simply said, that the House had the responsibility for impeachment and the Senate had the responsibility for the trial.” One of the things missing from the Constitution? How an impeachment inquiry should start. And that has generally been a source of drama. Basically, anything goes. “In fact, in the Andrew Johnson case they voted to impeach him without even having drafted the articles of impeachment.” For Richard Nixon, his case started with several investigations that led to public hearings. That part of the process went on for two years, and yielded revelation after revelation, connecting Nixon to a politically-motivated burglary at D.N.C. headquarters — “… located in the Watergate office building.” — and its subsequent cover-up. “Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?” “I was aware of listening devices. Yes, sir.” “This was a shocker. Everybody in the White House recognized how damaging this could be.” As the House drafted articles of impeachment, Nixon lost the support of his party. “O.K., I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.” “I was asked to write the farewell piece that ran the morning after Nixon resigned. And this is what I wrote: The central question is how a man who won so much could have lost so much.” So for Nixon, it more or less ended after the investigations. But for Bill Clinton, that phase was just the beginning. “This is the information.” An independent counsel’s investigation into his business dealings unexpectedly turned into a very public inquiry about his personal life. “The idea that a president of the United States was having an affair with a White House intern and then a federal prosecutor was looking at that, it was just extraordinary.” That investigation led to public hearings in the House Judiciary Committee. “When the Starr Report was being delivered to Congress it was a little bit like the O.J. chase, only a political one. There were two black cars. They were being filmed live on CNN. They were heading towards the Capitol. We were watching it and a little bit agog.” Public opinion is key. And the media plays a huge part in the process. This was definitely true for Clinton. “You know it was just a crazy time. We worked in the Senate press gallery.” “All your colleagues are kind of piled on top of each other.” “We had crummy computers, the fax machine would always break. The printer would always break.” After committee hearings, the House brought formal impeachment charges. “It was very tense. I thought that the Saturday of the impeachment vote in the House was one of the most tense days I’d experienced in Washington.” And it turned out, also, full of surprises. “The day of impeachment arrived, everyone’s making very impassioned speeches about whether Bill Clinton should or should not be impeached and Livingston rises to give an argument for the House Republicans. He started to talk about how Clinton could resign.” “You, sir, may resign your post.” “And all of a sudden people start booing and saying, ‘Resign, resign’!” “So I must set the example.” “He announced he was resigning because he had had extramarital affairs and challenged President Clinton to do the only honorable thing, in his view —” “I hope President Clinton will follow.” “— to resign as well, so there was all this drama unfolding even in the midst of impeachment.” Then it went to the Senate for trial. The Constitution gets a little more specific about this part. “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is supposed to preside over that trial.” “Rehnquist, he showed up in this robe he had made for himself, which had gold stripes on the sleeves because he liked Gilbert and Sullivan.” “The Senate is the actual jury.” “You will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws. So help you, God.” “This is a copy of the rules of the Senate for handling impeachment. They’re actually very specific.” “Meet six days a week.” “Convene at noon. The senators have to sit at their desks and remain quiet in their role as jurors. And not talk, which trust me, is going to be a problem for some of the senators who are used to talking all the time.” It’s just like a courtroom trial. There are prosecutors who present the case against the president. “That was perjury.” Only, they’re members of the House, and they’re called managers. Then the senators, or the jurors, vote. And things are still, unpredictable. “The options are guilty or not guilty. But there was one senator —” “Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania.” “Under Scottish law, there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty and not proved.” “— which is not a thing.” “And everybody just looks, you know, how do you even record that vote?” In the end, there were not enough votes to oust Clinton. “What’s amazing about this whole thing to me wasn’t so much the constitutional process. It was that it felt to me like the beginning of really intense partisanship, the weaponization of partisanship.” And here’s the thing: An impeachment charge has never gotten the two-thirds majority it needs in the Senate to actually oust a president from office. “So you could end up having a situation where the president is impeached, acquitted and runs for re-election and wins re-election.” And that would be a first. “This is my ticket to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. I don’t think you’ll find these on StubHub.”

Video player loading
Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.CreditCredit…Photo illustration by Aaron Byrd

Mr. Sondland and Kurt D. Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, had both said under oath this week that for months they believed Burisma was merely a reference to Mr. Trump’s interest in eliminating rampant corruption in Ukraine.

“It is not credible to me at all that he was oblivious,” Dr. Hill said of Mr. Sondland’s insistence that he did not realize that Burisma meant Biden.

Dr. Hill also offered the most precise account to date of an awkward White House meeting with Ukrainian officials on July 10 that ended abruptly after Mr. Sondland told the visiting officials that they would need to commit to investigations.

John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, stiffened in his chair when Mr. Sondland made the comment, and he quickly cut off the meeting, she said. After the meeting ended, Mr. Sondland explained precisely what he was up to, Dr. Hill testified, referring to a deal with Mr. Mulvaney.

“That he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney that in return for investigations, this meeting would get scheduled,” she said.

The testimony on Thursday capped the first public impeachment hearings in two decades. Over two weeks, the Intelligence Committee heard from a dozen witnesses who described how Mr. Trump and his allies inside and outside the government shunted aside official American policy toward Ukraine in favor of an unorthodox, politically charged campaign.

In an impassioned speech closing Thursday’s session, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the Intelligence Committee chairman, said it was clear to him the president had abused his power and tried to bribe another nation. He drew a direct comparison to Watergate, the scandal that took down President Richard M. Nixon, pleading with Republicans to confront an “unethical president” who believes he is “above the law.”

But neither Mr. Schiff’s appeals nor witness testimony has made a visible dent in the president’s Republican support in the House, where lawmakers offered a variety of defenses, including that there was no proof that Mr. Trump had done anything wrong.

One of Mr. Trump’s few Republican critics, Representative Will Hurd of Texas, conceded that testimony had shown that the Trump administration “undermined our national security and undercut Ukraine,” but said that it was not enough to justify impeachment.

“An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear and unambiguous,” Mr. Hurd said. “And it’s not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I have not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Loading...
 

Check Also

Greenland Ice: They'll Have to 'Invent New Upper Scenario' – Newser

Loading...   (Newser) – Greenland’s ice sheet is melting so fast that researche…