“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up”, John Bolton reportedly instructed Fiona Hill to tell the head attorney for the National Security Council earlier this year, as it became clear that the EU ambassador (and Trump donor) along with Rudy Giuliani were knee-deep in a clandestine effort to compel a foreign government to interfere with the 2020 US election.
Hill – the president’s former top adviser on Russia and Ukraine – was deposed on Monday as part of the House impeachment inquiry.
The probe centers around Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy in Kyiv, conducted with the assistance of two Florida businessmen who were arrested last week and charged with a hodgepodge of campaign violations. The two men – Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman – sought to orchestrate the ouster of career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch, in part through an influence operation involving former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions. (Sessions has denied wrongdoing.) Yovanovitch discussed Giuliani’s role in ending her mandate in Ukraine with lawmakers last week.
The impeachment probe recently zeroed in on Sondland and former special envoy Kurt Volker, who turned over a cache of text messages to lawmakers earlier this month.
Those texts are damning in the extreme, and clearly show Sondland and Volker 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.
Bolton – who was fired on the very day some of the most inflammatory texts were sent – was said to be concerned about Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine.
Hill confirmed his consternation on Monday in her testimony.
“Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Giuliani”, The New York Times writes. According to Hill, Bolton once described Giuliani as “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up”. (And you can trust John on that, because he’s a man who knows about blowing stuff up.)
As expected, Hill told lawmakers that Giuliani eschewed official avenues and habitually subjugated formal channels to the machinations of what amounted to a shadow State department run by the former New York mayor.
Trump’s official advisers were “aware of the rogue operation yet powerless to stop it”, the Times writes, summarizing what Hill reportedly told Congress, and adding the following especially poignant color:
[Sondland] told her that he was in charge of Ukraine, a moment she compared to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.’s declaration that he was in charge after the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt, according to those who heard the testimony.
According to whom, she asked.
The president, he answered.
George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state, was scheduled to testify on Tuesday and former Mike Pompeo advisor Michael McKinley – who resigned last week – will head to Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Hill spoke to lawmakers in a secure room for nine hours on Monday. Matt Gaetz attempted to listen in on the deposition, but was ultimately removed. He admitted to having no claim on a right to be present for the proceedings.
At one point, Hill detailed a July 10 meeting in Bolton’s office, where Sondland, Volker and Rick Perry gathered with two Ukrainians, who were anxious to schedule a pow wow between Trump and Zelensky. When Bolton hesitated, Sondland blurted out that Mick Mulvaney had already struck a deal for the two presidents to meet, contingent on Ukraine opening the investigations sought by Trump.
And yes, that is just as damning as it sounds. According to multiple press reports, Mulvaney was instructed to delay $400 million in military aid to Ukraine just a week prior to the call with Zelensky. He then conveyed that to State and the Pentagon. That delay would have been ordered within days of the meeting described by Hill.
When Sondland mentioned the agreement in front of Bolton, Hill told lawmakers that John immediately ended the discussion, at which point Sondland asked the group to accompany him to another room to chat further. At that point, Hill says, she was instructed by Bolton to go with them and report back on what was discussed.
According to Hill, she overheard Sondland mention Burisma and Giuliani to the Ukrainians. As the Times writes, Hill then rushed “back upstairs and reported the encounter to Bolton, who promptly instructed her to report the issue to John Eisenberg, a deputy White House counsel and the chief legal adviser for the National Security Council”.
Eisenberg, you might recall, was warned by a veritable procession of national security officials about the contents of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president.
“One official who had listened on the call went ‘immediately’ to Eisenberg [and] by the end of the next day, at least two others who had either heard the call or seen the rough transcript had also done so”, The Washington Post reported last week.
There is no definitive account of what he did next, but as WaPo went on to say, “the absence of any clear action by Eisenberg or others may have contributed to decisions by White House insiders to relay their concerns to a CIA employee who assembled the information they supplied into a whistleblower complaint”.
By the time the call between Trump and Zelensky took place, Hill had already left her position.