Former National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill on Monday became the first person who worked in the White House to be deposed by lawmakers in the spiraling impeachment probe into Donald Trump.
Hill, the president’s former top adviser on Russia and Ukraine, is set to tell House investigators that the pressure campaign involving Rudy Giuliani to oust career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch constituted “an egregious abuse of the system” by Trump allies looking to “remove a perceived obstacle”. That’s according to The New York Times, whose Peter Baker spoke to a person familiar with Hill’s plans.
Last week, Yovanovitch delivered what, by almost every account, was a damning indictment of the events that led to her ouster.
The campaign to have Yovanovitch removed was spearheaded by Giuliani and a pair of associates who were arrested last week trying to flee the country. The two men – Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman – have been photographed with Trump and Don Jr. and worked with Ukrainian contacts to spin a story which they then sold to former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions. Sessions pushed for Yovanovitch’s removal. He has denied wrongdoing and last week pledged to donate campaign contributions from Parnas and Fruman to charity. Giuliani is said to be under investigation by Manhattan prosecutors for his lobbying ties to Ukraine.
The Times‘s Baker notes that the White House did not attempt to prevent Hill from showing up before lawmakers, but did trade letters with her attorney “about precedents regarding the confidentiality of presidential communications”.
Given that, Baker says she “may limit answers regarding direct interactions with the president… but her testimony is being highly anticipated, in part because she has a long history as a skeptic of Vladimir Putin who nonetheless worked for two years for Mr. Trump, who has made friendship with Mr. Putin a high priority”.
According to a source who spoke to NBC, Hill will confirm to Congress that Giuliani and Gordon Sondland “circumvented the National Security Council and the normal White House process to pursue a shadow policy on Ukraine”.
Sondland’s text messages (turned over to Congress by former special envoy Kurt Volker) are a key piece of evidence in the impeachment inquiry. He will go before lawmakers later this week. According to the Washington Post, Sondland plans to say that the last text in the following already infamous exchange with charge d’affaires Bill Taylor was written by Trump:
As noted in these pages repeatedly, the delay between Taylor’s midnight “I think it’s crazy” warning and Sondland’s boilerplate response nearly five hours later, suggests the reply was scripted by The White House.
The cache of text messages delivered by Volker also finds he and Sondland drafting a statement for Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky that would have committed the country to pursuing investigations of Trump’s political rivals including Joe and Hunter Biden.
Initially, the Trump administration tried to block Sondland from appearing on Capitol Hill. Democrats subsequently issued a subpoena. Sondland gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and his account of events could be highly damaging for Trump and especially Giuliani, who now seems likely to be fingered as the fly in the proverbial ointment.
Getting back to Hill, she is expected to tell Congress that she did not support the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. According to people familiar with her version of events, she did not see the point. She left her role just six days before the call.
Hill, the Times says, told John Bolton about Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine and expressed concern that official avenues and policy were being habitually subjugated to the machinations of what amounted to a shadow State department run by the former New York mayor.
Bolton, it’s believed, agreed that there was ample reason to be alarmed. He was fired on the same day the texts shown above were sent.