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Ex-Trump aide on Russia testifies for 10 hours as part of impeachment inquiry

President Trump’s former Russia adviser testified under subpoena for roughly 10 hours on Monday as Democrats try to dig into how allies of the president tried to circumvent official policy on Ukraine as part of the impeachment inquiry.

Fiona Hill, who served as Trump’s top analyst on Russia on the National Security Council staff until this summer, is the third witness to appear for a closed-door session before the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry, following former Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker and former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

{mosads}While lawmakers largely declined to comment on the specifics of Hill’s testimony, Democrats asserted that Hill corroborated what they described as a concerted effort by Trump allies who were pushing for the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens to remove Yovanovitch from her post in May.

At the center of that effort, they say, was the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

“Rudy Giuliani has clearly been a leading force for the administration in defining a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. There was an official foreign policy, which was attempting to counter corruption in Ukraine,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “So you had two foreign policies that were working completely against each other.”

Hill had stepped down in July, days before Trump’s now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that rests at the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. According to a government whistleblower, Trump threatened to withhold almost $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine unless Zelensky agreed to investigate corruption charges against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

The timing of Hill’s departure suggests she might have few insights into the question of whether there was any quid pro quo transmitted on that July 25 phone call. But she had worked closely with Yovanovitch and was expected to convey concerns about the abrupt removal of the Ukrainian ambassador, which both the whistleblower and later Yovanovitch herself said was politically motivated.

Emerging from the long-drawn deposition, Democrats said Hill’s testimony only bolsters the allegations that Trump and those in his closest orbit had pressured foreign officials to tarnish a domestic political adversary for the purpose of boosting his reelection chances next year. They also characterized her as a highly credible civil servant — one Republicans would have difficulty discrediting.

“Her recall of meetings and content and who was there, with such specificity, was in some ways extraordinary,” Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said afterward. 

“A true patriot,” he added. “I found her to be very credible.” 

Hill’s testimony comes after Yovanovitch testified last Friday that Trump allies staged a “concerted campaign” against her based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

Yovanovitch told House investigators that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told her that she had “done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.”

Hill is the first witness in a busy week of closed-door sessions scheduled by the Democrats.

George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of State, is scheduled to be deposed Tuesday, though it’s unclear if the administration will attempt to block his appearance. 

Michael McKinley, a former State Department adviser who resigned last week, is scheduled to testify on Wednesday.

Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, is set to appear on Thursday after the State Department blocked him from testifying last week. But he has since agreed to appear after House Democrats issued a subpoena for his testimony.

Sondland, in text messages provided the committees by Volker, denied to another top diplomat in Ukraine that military aid was being held up as a “quid pro quo.” The Washington Post first reported over the weekend that Sondland plans to say that his message was based on a phone call with Trump. 

Republicans blasted Democrats for continuing to hold witness interviews behind closed doors instead of in public while certain aspects of each testimony are leaked to media outlets.

Democrats defended the closed-door sessions as a way to prevent witnesses from aligning their testimonies. 

“There’s a reason why investigations and grand jury proceedings, for example, and I think this is analogous to a grand jury proceeding, are done out of the public view initially,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, adding that lawmakers may call some witnesses to public hearings as well.

“But we want to make sure that we meet the needs of the investigation and not give the president or his legal minions the opportunity to tailor their testimony, and in some cases fabricate their testimony, to suit their interests,” Schiff said.

But Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) argued the selective media leaks about witnesses’ testimony aren’t reflective of a grand jury proceeding and echoed other Republicans in calling for publicly releasing transcripts of each closed-door session.

“In a grand jury trial, you don’t come out and leak anything that you heard that’s favorable to try to have a story spun as positively as you can,” Zeldin said.

Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) predicted that the transcripts would be released eventually.

In the meantime, Heck said, Trump and his allies “are darn lucky these weren’t public.”

Tags Adam Schiff Denny Heck Donald Trump Harley Rouda Jamie Raskin Joe Biden Kurt Volker Lee Zeldin Rudy Giuliani Ukraine
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