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‘Hateful calls, conspiracy theories’: What Fiona Hill told impeachment investigators

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POLITICO scoured Hill’s deposition for the following new or illuminating nuggets. Check back for updates throughout the day.

Democrats’ highlights of Hill’s testimony | Full transcript

‘I am not part of whatever drug deal’

Hill described Bolton as furious over the political machinations — and eager to distance himself from them.

That was especially clear on July 10 at the White House as Ukrainian officials met with him and other U.S. counterparts. That day, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, raised the possibility of the Ukrainians pursuing investigations, ostensibly of Trump political rivals such as Joe Biden.

Bolton ordered Hill to report what happened to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg.

Hill recounted that Bolton told her, in what she described as a direct quote: “‘You go and tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and [acting White House Chief of Staff Mick] Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you’ve heard and what I’ve said.”

So she went to talk to Eisenberg, another potential witness House Democrats have been eager to talk to.

Hill felt the pressure of conspiracy theories, too.

Hill was not a pro-Trump ideologue when she was asked to join the new Republican administration; she was, rather, a respected academic well-known for her expertise on Russia.

But that marked her as an outsider, and she was accused of being insufficiently loyal to Trump and possibly even a tool of George Soros, the liberal billionaire who is frequently a bogeyman for the right. The attacks on Hill, which she said included death threats, were similar to those leveled at Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whose ouster has been a focus of the impeachment inquiry.

It seemed “extraordinarily easy” for people to make such “baseless claims,” Hill said.

“My entire first year of my tenure at the National Security Council was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories, which has started again, frankly, as it’s been announced that I’ve been giving this deposition, accusing me of being a Soros mole in the White House, of colluding with all kinds of enemies of the president, and, you know, of various improprieties,” Hill said.

One explanation for the motivations behind such attacks? Hill theorized it was the ”business dealings of individuals who wanted to improve the investment positions inside of Ukraine itself.”

Hill also said that her understanding was that Yovanovitch’s removal was because of the result “of the campaign that Mr. Giuliani had set in motion.”

John Bolton was not a fan of Rudy Giuliani

Hill said that in the spring, amid signs that Trump was unhappy with Yovanovitch, she discussed the ambassador’s plight with Bolton, and that he looked “pained.”

He said, “Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up,” according to Hill.

Bolton, however, “made it clear that he didn’t feel that there was anything that he could personally do about this.”

But Bolton made it clear he didn’t want U.S. officials to meet with Giuliani, and by mid-July, he appeared to be monitoring Giuliani’s activities closely, Hill said.

Such comments from Hill are why lawmakers have wanted to depose Bolton. But so far, he’s been resisting.

Giuliani’s goals in Ukraine: Investigations and business

Hill described Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine as a “package of issues” that included the launch of an investigation into Burisma — a company whose board included former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter — and aiding the “business interests of his own associates.”

Those associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were indicted on campaign finance charges shortly before Hill’s testimony.

“My jaw dropped when I saw the indictments of these two gentlemen, of Fruman and Parnas. So it becomes clear that they were certainly up to no good. But that was what I was already hearing,” Hill said.

Some colleagues, Hill said, had warned her that “these guys were notorious in Florida and that they were bad news.” She said that she already understood at this point that Parnas and Fruman were Giuliani’s associates.

A meeting that became ‘an asset’?

Hill left the NSC roughly a week before the July 25 phone call in which Trump pushed Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Still, she said she was “shocked” to read the memorandum that detailed the conversation. “I sat in an awful lot of calls, and I have not seen anything like this,” Hill told lawmakers. “And I was there for two and a half years. So I was just shocked,” she said.

Investigators are trying to find out if Trump had used a hold on military aid to Ukraine as a type of leverage against the government in Kyiv. But Hill said she was struck by the possibility that Trump might deny the Ukrainians something else they really wanted: an Oval Office meeting between the presidents.

“There seems to be an awful lot of people involved in, you know, basically turning a White House meeting into some kind of asset,” Hill said.

Hill said she became convinced that a White House meeting for Zelensky had become conditioned on the investigation.

“It was pretty blatant. So, I mean, I found that I couldn’t realIy explain that away with an alternate explanation,” she said. “So that’s what I mean about being, you know, quite shocked.”

Hill described Sondland as a counterintelligence risk

Hill revealed that she was increasingly frustrated by her interactions with Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, who described himself to her as Trump’s “point-man” in Europe.

She said Sondland would routinely give out Hill’s personal cell phone number to contacts seeking a meeting with her or John Bolton.

“I actually went to our Intelligence Bureau and asked to have a sit down with him and explain that this was a counterintelligence risk, particularly giving out our personal phone numbers,” Hill said.

Hill also said Sondland wasn’t being properly briefed before high-level diplomatic meetings.

“[H]e was often meeting with people he had no information about. It’s like basically driving along with no guardrails and no GPS on an unfamiliar territory,” she said.

Hill stands up for Volker

Among those caught up in the Ukraine affair is Kurt Volker, a former Foreign Service officer who accepted a political appointment as the special envoy for Ukraine negotiations.

Volker decided that U.S. officials were better off engaging Giuliani than ignoring him — that he could perhaps convince Giuliani to stop spreading conspiracy theories. In other words, Hill said, Volker thought he could “manage” Giuliani.

Hill didn’t agree with that, she said, “because the more you engage with someone who is spreading untruths, the more validity you give to those untruths.”

But when asked if Volker had “always acted with integrity” and in the American interest, Hill said that “he did.”

From the start, Trump was drawn to a ‘false’ Ukraine-2016 theory

Even as U.S. intelligence agencies and others became certain it was Russia that had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, the man who won it was inclined to pin the blame on Ukraine.

Hill said that as far back as 2017, Trump’s first year in office, top aides to the president, including then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster sought to draw him away from that idea.

Hill testified that Tom Bossert, a former Trump national security aide, had briefed Trump on the 2016 election interference and advised him that the theory about Ukraine was false.

“Basically, Tom and others who were working on cybersecurity laid out to the president the facts about the interference,” she said.

Hill said she knew Ukraine let Kilimnik escape to Russia

Hill told investigators that it was known to her, based on a report she read while on the NSC, that Ukraine allowed Konstantin Kilimnik — who indicted in 2018 by Mueller for witness tampering — to escape across the border to Russia.

Kilimnik, a close associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, has been eyed as a go-between for Manafort and pro-Russia Ukrainians that Manafort had previously worked for.

Hill said she had known Kilimnik when she worked at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, which had a relationship with the organization Kilimnik was affiliated with at the time.

“All of my staff thought he was a Russian spy,” she said,

Though staffers wondered whether Kilimnik’s escape was connected in any way to the Trump administration’s decision to provide arms to Ukraine, Hill said she had no information to support that theory.

Hill spars with GOP questioners, and says she’s not ‘Anonymous’

Trump’s defenders in Congress have been trying to get at any biases the witnesses may have. They weren’t going to get too far with Hill.

She said in response to questions from Republicans that she was neither pro nor anti-Trump, but rather was “agnostic” and thought it was important to “serve your country.” She also said she’s not “Anonymous,” the unnamed senior administration official who wrote a New York Times op-ed critical of Trump and has a new book out on the president.

Hill grew exasperated as Republicans pressed her on the origins of the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, saying it was a false distraction and a “rabbit hole” that’s playing to Moscow’s advantage.

“It doesn’t mean to say that other people haven’t also been trying to do things, but the Russians were who attacked us in 2016, and they’re now writing the script for others to do the same,” Hill said. “And if we don’t get our act together, they will continue to make fools of us internationally.”

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