Former National Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill appeared Thursday and said that she, too, has been watching the impeachment hearings. And she told Congress that after everything that’s come out, it wasn’t until Wednesday, while watching US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testify about his efforts to influence Ukraine policy on President Donald Trump’s behalf, that it dawned on her what this whole scandal has been about.
Hill testified that she had been extremely angry with Sondland for cutting her and others out of Ukraine policy, and she made sure he knew it. He described her at one meeting shaking with fury about the lack of coordination within the White House when it came to the Ukraine negotiations.
“I had not put my finger on that at the moment, but I was irritated with him and angry with him that he wasn’t fully coordinating. And I did say to him, ‘Ambassador Sondland, Gordon, I think this is all going to blow up.’ And here we are.”
Dismantling a “fictional narrative” and so much more
Dismissed and dismantled Republicans’ “fictional narrative” about 2016
Remember Trump’s repeated expressions of doubt about the intelligence community’s findings about Russian election interference in 2016? Hill, a Russia expert and notable critic of Vladimir Putin, also came to the hearing on a mission to destroy the idea, pushed by Republicans and Trump, that Ukraine tried to take Trump down in 2016.
“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill testified.
Then she dropped the hammer: “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Expressed concerns about Ukraine policy
Hill talked about her own concerns regarding Ukraine policy, particularly after the pivotal July 10 meeting where Sondland talked about deliverables in front of Ukrainians.
She also made a really important point: Lots of world leaders and ambassadors dismissed and ridiculed Trump before he was elected. But it did not lead to demonstrable changes in US policy toward all those countries. It did for Ukraine.
John Bolton’s “drug deal” and “hand grenade”
Hill acted as a sort of proxy for John Bolton, her former boss and the former national security adviser. She again explained how Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was running an unofficial Ukraine policy for Trump, and Bolton — the top national security official in the White House — was sometimes out of the loop.
She got on the record that Bolton thought Sondland’s efforts on Ukraine were a sort of “drug deal” and she popularized the idea that Bolton felt Rudy Giuliani was a kind of “hand grenade” that would blow everyone up. Hill explained both of those phrases dead-pan in her British coal miner daughter’s accent (she also shared her immigrant story, which has been a theme in these hearings).
Defended Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman
Why Ukraine matters
Burisma = Bidens
Hill: “It was very apparent.”
Morrison (Hill’s successor at the NSC): “I googled it.”
Sondland: “I kinda figured it out by July-August, but didn’t see Giuliani’s TV hits or tweets.”
Volker: “No, never until the scandal broke.”
Important to note here that the two people in charge of US-Ukraine policy were those who claim not to know what has since become very clear. And both said they regretted not making the connection and, if they had, would have raised concerns of their own.
Thursday’s hearings may have been the final bit of public witness testimony in Trump’s impeachment. Here’s what each side offered as closing arguments.
Republicans: It’s a show trial
Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, dismissed the entire process.
NUNES: What you see in this room over the past two weeks is a show trial. The planned result of three years of political operations and dirty tricks. Campaigns waged against this President. And like any good show trial, the verdict was decided before the trial ever began. … Democrats only needed a pretext, when their Russian dossiers and investigations failed to do the job, they moved to Plan B, the Ukraine hoax.
Democrats: More serious than Watergate
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said Trump’s Ukraine scandal is far worse than Watergate. He then argued that then, Republicans turned on their President, whereas now they are protecting him.
SCHIFF: What we’ve seen here is far more serious than a third rate burglary of the Democratic headquarters. What we’re talking about here is the withholding of recognition in that White House meeting, the withholding of military aid to an ally at war. That is beyond anything Nixon did. The difference between then and now is not the difference between Nixon and Trump. It’s the difference between that Congress and this one.
Were any minds changed?
If there was a Republican who could potentially be persuaded to turn on Trump, it might be Rep. Will Hurd, the Trump-critical Texan who is leaving office rather than fight for his border seat. On Thursday, he did not sound convinced by the testimony.
HURD: An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear and unambiguous and it’s not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I’ve not heard evidence proving the President committed bribery or extortion. I also reject the notion that holding this view means supporting all the foreign policy choices we have been hearing about over the last few weeks.
A very impeachment Christmas
Democrats have an important choice now that the Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings have seemingly concluded. They can pursue testimony and documents that the White House is blocking, or take what they’ve seen and draw up articles of impeachment.
“They keep taking it to court and no, we’re not going to wait until the courts decide,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday. “That might be information that’s available to the Senate in terms of how far we go and when we go, but we can’t wait for that because again it’s a technique. It’s obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress, so we cannot let their further obstruction of Congress be an impediment to our honoring our oath of office.”
“We cannot be at the mercy of the courts,” she said.
That leaves Democrats in the position of voting to impeach Trump without hearing from his top aides or seeing key documents — which would speed things up.
Impeachment by Christmas Day? Maybe
CNN’s Capitol Hill team reports that the House could vote to impeach Trump by Christmas Day.
What happens next?
The House Intelligence Committee, along with two other panels, are writing a report detailing their findings, which is expected to serve as the basis for articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee will consider.
What could the articles of impeachment include?
Democrats say they are still debating the size and scope of the articles, which are likely to focus on abuse of power, obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress and bribery.
Up in the air with Gordon Sondland
After a full day of testimony, he slept through dinner and awoke as the aircraft made its final approach into Brussels Thursday morning, just missing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who had been in town until late Wednesday for a NATO summit.
On the Impeachment Watch podcast
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats want to impeach him for it. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.