WASHINGTON — Closing out a week of public hearings for the impeachment inquiry, two foreign officials delivered riveting testimony Thursday.
Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert on the National Security Council, and David Holmes, an aide in the U.S. embassy in Kiev, detailed in their testimonies clear understandings that President Donald Trump, with the assistance of his personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani, pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr to conduct investigations into his political opponent and the 2016 elections in exchange for an Oval Office meeting and a lift on nearly $400 million in security aid.
“On a June 28 call with President Zelensky, Ambassador Taylor, and the Three Amigos (Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, special envoy Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry), it was made clear that some action on a Burisma/Biden investigation was a precondition for an Oval Office meeting,” Holmes said William Taylor, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told him.
Holmes also testified that Trump knew certain “senior officials were using the levers of our diplomatic power to induce the new Ukrainian President to announce the opening of a criminal investigation against” former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter’s ties to the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Both Holmes and Hill said it was clear to everyone that Burisma and Biden were one in the same.
Hill classified the conduct as a “domestic political errand.” She commanded the hearing room as she testified about her exposure to this “errand,” particularly through her “testy” dealings with European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who testified Wednesday.
“He wasn’t coordinating with (the NSC) because we weren’t doing the same thing that he was doing,” Hill said. “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.”
Corroborating one of the most revealing bits of information from Sondland’s testimony Wednesday, Hill said Sondland told her he was briefing Trump, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security advisor John Bolton about his dealings with Ukraine. Sondland said Wednesday “everyone was in the loop.”
Hill also was quick to dispel conspiracy theories that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
“These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes,” Hill said. “(Russian) President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a Super PAC. They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives.”
By meddling in the 2016 elections and U.S. politics thereafter, Hill said, Russia’s ultimate goal was to create major party divides and foster questions of the legitimacy of the presidency, whether Trump or Hillary Clinton had won — which Hill said Russia successfully achieved.
Unseating Republican arguments that no harm was done because the security aid for Ukraine the White House froze was eventually released without the announcement of a Biden investigation, Holmes said there were still issues of importance to Ukraine at stake that could lead to quid pro quo.
“Although the hold was lifted, there were still things they wanted, they weren’t getting, including an oval office meeting,” Holmes said. “I think that continues to this day, they still need us moving forward. This doesn’t end with the lifting of the security assistance hold.”
Multiple officials have testified that U.S. security aid and continued support is essential to support Ukraine from Russian aggression and as they build a new, corrupt-free government.
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.