Aide says ambassador on ‘political errand’ for Trump

  • Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, right, testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Manuel Balce Ceneta

  • Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

  • David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, returns from a break to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, are sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, during a public impeachment hearing into whether President Donald Trump tried to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to an investigation of a political opponent. AP

  • President Trump walks to the Marine One helicopter after speaking to the media Wednesday, en route to Texas. AP

  • Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, pauses as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, listen to former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

  • Ambassador Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, center, appears before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

  • Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (Andrew Harrer/Pool Photo via AP) Andrew Harrer

Published: 11/21/2019 6:10:55 PM

In riveting testimony, a former national security official declared Thursday that a U.S. ambassador carried out a controversial “domestic political errand” for Donald Trump on Ukraine, an allegation undercutting a main line of the president’s defense in the impeachment inquiry.

Fiona Hill told House investigators she came to realize Ambassador Gordon Sondland wasn’t simply operating outside official diplomatic channels, as she and others suspected, but carrying out instructions from Trump.

“He was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy,” she testified, “and those two things had just diverged.”

Hill’s comment followed a blistering back-and-forth during questioning from Republicans at the House hearing.

Testimony from Hill and David Holmes, a State Department adviser in Kyiv, capped an intense week in the historic inquiry and reinforced the central complaint: that Trump used foreign policy for political aims, setting off alarms across the U.S. national security and foreign policy apparatus.

Democrats allege Trump was relying on the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election as he sought investigations in return for two things: U.S. military aid that Ukraine needed to fend off Russian aggression, and a White House visit the new Ukrainian president wanted that would demonstrate his backing from the West.

One by one, Hill, a Russia expert at the White House’s National Security Council until this summer, took on Trump’s defenses.

She and Holmes both told House investigators it was abundantly clear Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was pursuing political investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden in Ukraine.

“He was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would, you know, probably come back to haunt us and in fact,” Hill testified. “I think that’s where we are today.”

And Hill stood up for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Army officer who testified earlier and whom Trump’s allies tried to discredit.” He remains at the White House National Security Council.

At one point, Republicans interjected, trying to cut off Hill’s response as she flipped the script during the afternoon of questioning. The GOP lawmakers had been trying to highlight her differences with Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who delivered damaging testimony Wednesday about what he said was Trump’s “quid pro quo” pursuit of the political investigations.

“You may not like the witness’ answer, but we will hear it,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the committee.

The Republican lawmakers eventually wound down their questions but continued with mini-speeches decrying the impeachment effort. Democrats, in turn, criticized Trump’s actions.

Hill, a former aide to then-national security adviser John Bolton, sternly warned Republican lawmakers – and implicitly Trump – to quit pushing a “fictional” narrative that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in U.S. elections.

Trump has told others testifying in the inquiry that Ukraine tried to “take me down” in the 2016 election. Republicans launched their questioning Thursday reviving those theories.

Hill declared: “I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine – not Russia – attacked us in 2016.”

Her testimony also raised fresh questions whether Bolton, who has yet to defy White House orders for officials not to testify, would appear in the inquiry. In what was seen as a nudge to her former boss, Hill said those with information have a “moral obligation to provide it.”

The landmark House impeachment inquiry was sparked by a July 25 phone call, in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for investigations into Biden and the Democratic National Committee. A still-anonymous whistleblower’s official government complaint about that call led the House to launch the current probe.

Hill and Holmes both filled in gaps in previous testimony and poked holes in the accounts of other witnesses. They were particularly adamant that efforts by Trump and Giuliani to investigate the Burisma company were well-known by officials working on Ukraine to be the equivalent of probing the Bidens. That runs counter to earlier testimony from Sondland and Kurt Volker, the former Ukraine special envoy, who insisted they had no idea there was a connection.

Holmes, a late addition to the schedule, also undercut some of Sondland’s recollections about an extraordinary phone call between the ambassador and Trump on July 26, the day after the president’s call with Ukraine. Holmes was having lunch with Sondland in Kyiv and said he could overhear Trump ask about “investigations” during a “colorful” conversation.

After the phone call, Holmes said Sondland told him Trump cared about “big stuff,” including the investigation into the “Biden investigation.” Sondland said he didn’t recall raising the Bidens.

During Thursday’s testimony, the president tweeted that while his own hearing is “great” he’s never been able to understand another person’s conversation that wasn’t on speaker. “Try it,” he suggested.

Holmes also testified about his growing concern as Giuliani orchestrated Ukraine policy outside official diplomatic channels. It was a concern shared by others, he testified.

“My recollection is that Ambassador Sondland stated, “Every time Rudy gets involved he goes and f---s everything up.”

Holmes testified that he grew alarmed throughout the year, watching as Giuliani was “making frequent public statements pushing for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 election and issues related to Burisma and the Bidens.”




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