WASHINGTON — America met Fiona Hill on Thursday.
A formidable and disarming ex-White House national security adviser, Hill outmaneuvered Republicans at the likely final House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearing against President Donald Trump.
The Russia expert commandeered the national spotlight to tell the conspiracy-minded members on the committee — she didn’t use the word Republican and she didn’t have to — to stop peddling that Ukraine, not Russia, was interfering in the 2016 election.
To do so is to advance “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
A teller of what she called the “unfortunate truth,” Hill had been watching the impeachment proceedings and observed how the Republicans at the hearings kept pushing the Ukraine government meddling in U.S. elections conspiracies.
Hill warned that “Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”
The Republicans have been bringing up an op-ed a former Ukraine ambassador wrote in 2016 against Trump as an important piece of evidence of Ukraine government interference in the U.S. presidential election. Hardly, said Hill.
“The Ukrainian government, again you know they wouldn’t have done very well at the bookies,” Hill said. Like officials from “many” other nations, “they had bet on the wrong horse. They had bet on Hillary Clinton winning the election. And so, you know, they were trying to curry favor with the Clinton campaign. It’s quite evident here.”
In 2016, foreign officials “said some pretty disparaging and hurtful things about President Trump, and I can’t blame him for feeling aggrieved about them,” Hill said.
Unless some surprise new witness or documents surface, the House Intelligence panel wrapped up its hearings Thursday. Hill emerged as a headliner. A coal miner’s daughter, she was born in England and educated at Harvard, becoming a citizen in 2002.
The committee next will write a report and kick impeachment to the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans on the Intel panel conceded Thursday that Trump’s impeachment and a Senate trial is almost certain.
A string of witnesses testified these past days to the essential Trump scheme: He used the presidency to help his 2020 reelection campaign by pressuring — directly or indirectly, through other players, such as Rudy Giuliani — a new Ukraine government to investigate potential political rival Joe Biden. The hearings have put this on the historic record.
Hill started as the Senior Director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council in April 2017. She left the White House on July 19. Previous testimony and depositions revealed that Hill and Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, had a blowup on July 10.
That was over a White House meeting where Sondland — in front of two representatives of the new Ukraine government — told them their president would get a much sought Trump meeting if the investigations were announced.
GOP counsel Steve Castor asked Hill about that fight.
Hill related in reply how she had earlier “testy encounters” with Sondland. After considering Sondland’s side of the story — it unfolded when he testified on Wednesday — Hill told the panel she concluded Sondland was right.
That’s how diplomats work. They are diplomatic.
In a June 18 testy exchange, Hill said, “I actually said to him, ‘Who put you in charge of Ukraine?’ And I mean, I’ll admit I was a bit rude, and that’s when he told me the president, which shut me up.
“And this other meeting, it was about 15, 20 minutes, exactly as he depicted it was. I was actually, to be honest, angry with him, and you know, I hate to say it, but often when women show anger it’s not fully appreciated. It’s often, you know, pushed onto emotional issues, perhaps, or deflected onto other people.
After listening to Sondland, Hill said he was “absolutely right, because he was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.” The italics are mine.
“So he was correct. And 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.”