Two White House witnesses in the Democrats' impeachment inquiry implicated acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE in an alleged effort to press Ukraine for investigations sought by President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE’s personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiThree Democrats call for investigation into Sidney Powell to move 'swiftly' Fox News bans Rudy Giuliani from appearing: report Alabama official dismisses Lindell claim that 100K votes were flipped from Trump to Biden: 'It's not possible' MORE, according to transcripts of their private testimony released Friday.
Former National Security Council (NSC) official Fiona Hill described a meeting with Ukrainian officials on July 10 during which U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said he had an agreement with Mulvaney that a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president would be contingent on Kiev launching investigations.
“Sondland, in front of the Ukrainians, as I came in, was talking about how he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations. And my director for Ukraine was looking completely alarmed," Hill told three House committees on Oct. 15, according to the 446-page transcript of her closed-door deposition.
Hill said that then-national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right Ex-Trump adviser Bolton defends Milley: 'His patriotism is unquestioned' MORE was so alarmed by what transpired during the meeting, where Mulvaney was not present, that he directed her to report it to NSC’s lawyer, John Eisenberg.
“He made it clear that he believed that they were making, basically, an improper arrangement to have a meeting in the White House, that they were predicating the meeting in the White House on the Ukrainians agreeing, in this case, based on the meeting on July 10th, to restart investigations that had been dropped in the energy sector,” Hill testified.
“You go and tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you’ve heard and what I’ve said,” Hill said, quoting Bolton.
Another NSC official, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, also tied Mulvaney to the effort to push Kiev to commit to the investigations, according to the transcript of his Oct. 29 testimony that was also released on Friday.
Vindman said Sondland spoke of a conversation with Mulvaney during which they agreed the investigations were “required in order to get a meeting.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Testimony from Hill and others have illuminated the unusual role played by Giuliani and other Trump officials in crafting U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Giuliani had been pushing for investigations by Kiev into 2016 election interference as well as Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE, as a board member.
Trump raised investigations into the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server and the Bidens during a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — a phone conversation that triggered an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that's at the center of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong on the call and described it as “perfect,” accusing Democrats of a partisan effort to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential election and damage him politically. The White House has also insisted there was no quid pro quo in the president’s interactions with Ukraine, pointing to the rough transcript released of the call.
The testimony of Hill, who stepped down as Trump's top analyst on Russia on the NSC staff in August, contributes to a body of evidence that the administration sought to dangle a White House meeting as a way to press Ukraine to pursue investigations.
Hill also said that based on the White House transcript and other details of her interactions, it appeared that administration officials were trying to turn “a White House meeting into some kind of asset."
House Democrats are also investigating whether the administration used security aid to Ukraine as a cudgel to encourage Kiev to pursue investigations that could benefit Trump politically. Some witnesses, including Sondland, have described the White House meeting with Ukrainian officials, as well as security assistance to Ukraine, as being contingent on Kiev pursuing investigations.
Hill’s testimony paints a picture of Sondland operating under the blessing of Mulvaney, inserting himself in Ukraine foreign policy and elevating his position as acting chief of staff as he sought to secure commitments from Kiev before granting a White House meeting.
Hill recalled an occasion in which Sondland raised Mulvaney’s name during a “testy exchange,” while also claiming that he was “filling in” for Bolton, who was serving as Trump’s national security adviser at the time.
Hill also described Sondland as meeting regularly with Mulvaney. She said that Mulvaney’s office made sure Sondland was on the list to attend Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration, despite him not being put on the original list compiled by staff at the NSC.
Trump on Friday sought to distance himself from Sondland, telling reporters at the White House: “I hardly know the gentleman.”
The deposition transcripts cast further scrutiny on Mulvaney just hours after he defied a House subpoena to testify in connection with the impeachment inquiry.
An official working on the inquiry said Mulvaney's outside counsel informed House investigators “one minute” before his scheduled deposition that he would not appear, citing White House claims of immunity from compelled congressional testimony.
Mulvaney is viewed as a key witness in the impeachment inquiry for various reasons, including his involvement in decisions about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine that was held up over the summer as Trump administration officials pushed for the investigations.
The aid was eventually released, and Kiev never made a public statement about pursuing investigations as Sondland and others had pushed for, allegedly at the direction of Giuliani.
Hill described communications about the hold on security assistance as unusual, echoing others by saying the Office of Management and Budget gave no reason for the hold and did not consult other departments on the decision. Hill, like other witnesses, said she was told the hold came at the direction of Mulvaney.
At a press conference last month, Mulvaney indicated to reporters that the aid was held up in part because the administration wanted Ukraine to investigate the DNC server.
Mulvaney later walked back the remarks, saying there “never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server” and accusing the media of “misconstruing” his remarks.