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Analysis after Fiona Hill and David Holmes' impeachment testimony

Ex-White House Russia expert Fiona Hill and U.S. embassy in Ukraine official David Holmes testified Thursday about Trump and Ukraine.

Thursday marked the fifth day of public hearings in the House's impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, featuring testimony from one current and one former Trump administration official.

Fiona Hill, a former top Russia expert for the White House, and David Holmes, a senior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, testified at a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee which started around 9 a.m. ET and, after a lengthy break for some House votes, ended around 4 p.m. ET.

Trump impeachment highlights:

Trump impeachment explained.

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Transcript of Trump's conversation with the Ukrainian president

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Holmes: Sondland said of Giuliani, ‘Dammit Rudy. Every time Rudy gets involved, he goes and f---s everything up’

David Holmes, a career foreign service officer who overheard a phone call between President Donald Trump and E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland in July, said that Sondland slammed Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine during a meeting in May. 

Holmes said in his opening statement before the House Intelligence Committee that Sondland’s comment came during a preliminary meeting of the U.S. delegation to Zelesnkiy’s inauguration in Ukraine. 

“At one point during a preliminary meeting of the inauguration delegation, someone wondered aloud about why Mr. Giuliani was so active in the media with respect to Ukraine," Holmes said. "My recollection is that Ambassador Sondland stated, “Dammit Rudy. Every time Rudy gets involved, he goes and f---s everything up. 

Sondland testified before the committee about his role in Ukraine on Wednesday. 

Holmes, counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, said in his opening statement that the situation at the embassy “changed dramatically” in March 2019. 

“Specifically, the three priorities of security, economy, and justice, and our support for Ukrainian democratic resistance to Russian aggression, became overshadowed by a political agenda being promoted by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a cadre of officials operating with a direct channel to the White House,” Holmes said. 

Embracing allegations by a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Holmes said that Giuliani smeared Marie Yovanovitch, who had served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and who testified before the House Intelligence Committee last Friday. 

“Mr. Giuliani was also making frequent public statements pushing for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 election and issues related to Burisma and the Bidens. For example, on May 1, 2019, The New York Times reported that Mr. Giuliani had 'discussed the Burisma investigation, and its intersections with the Bidens,'” Holmes said. 

Holmes added, “The barrage of allegations directed at Ambassador Yovanovitch, a career ambassador, is unlike anything I have seen in my professional career.”

An unexpected Jay Leno reference

Fiona Hill and David Holmes are sworn in

Image: Fiona Hill  David Holmes
Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, takes the oath with David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S Embassy in Kyiv, before testifying to a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Nov. 21, 2019.Loren Elliott / Reuters

Schiff speaks during the House Intelligence Committee hearing

Image: House Intelligence Committee
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (second from left) speaks during the House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Nov. 21, 2019. Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

Trump denounces impeachment, media coverage

Schiff and Nunes deliver last opening statements of the week

Schiff is using his opening statement to discuss the concerns Hill had expressed in her prior, closed-door testimony of the parallel Ukraine policy process overseen by Rudy Giuliani.

He’s also summarizing how Holmes has testified privately that he overheard the phone conversation in which Trump asked Sondland if Ukraine would investigate the Bidens and a conspiracy related to the 2016 election.

Schiff wrapped up by hinting at what House Democrats might do next in their impeachment inquiry.

“In the coming days, Congress will determine what response is appropriate," Schiff said. "If the president abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort or bribe a vulnerable ally into conducting investigations to aid his re-election campaign and did so by withholding official acts — a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid — it will be up to us to decide whether those acts are compatible with the office of the presidency,” he said.

Nunes, on the other hand, accused Democrats of utilizing a “carousel of accusations” against Trump that change “by the day.”

He also said that Trump “had good reason to be worried about election meddling” by the Ukrainians — a debunked conspiracy theory that Hill, according to her prepared remarks, will demolish as “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

Read the full text: Holmes' opening statement

Fiona Hill and David Holmes arrive to testify before the House Intelligence Committee

Image: Fiona Hill, David Holmes
Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, arrive to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 21, 2019.Alex Brandon / AP

Read the full text: Fiona Hill's opening statement

Fiona Hill, the former White Hill official who is one of the foremost U.S. experts on Russia, is set to testify publicly Thursday as part of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Appearing to take aim at Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, she will accuse lawmakers of echoing Russian propaganda by fomenting the "fictional narrative" that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election, according to her prepared testimony obtained by NBC News.

Here's the full text as prepared for delivery.

Former White House aide Fiona Hill appears to take aim at GOP lawmakers for ignoring Putin election threat

Former White House official Fiona Hill on Thursday will accuse lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee of echoing Russian propaganda by fomenting the "fictional narrative" that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election, according to her prepared testimony obtained by NBC News.

Hill, one of the foremost U.S. experts on Russian President Vladimir Putin, appears to take aim at Republicans on the panel, led by ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes of California, who have repeatedly questioned witnesses about alleged efforts by Ukrainians to hurt President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.

She will say during her impeachment testimony that "some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia" and its spy services didn’t attack the U.S. in 2016" and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did."

"In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests," Hill plans to say. "I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia —attacked us in 2016."

Read the full story.

What does Giuliani's longtime go-between know about Rudy's work in Ukraine?

In July, Rudy Giuliani was desperate for more information about Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine.

So he turned to his longtime go-between for Ukrainian deals, a 44-year-old New York-based businessman named Vitaly Pruss.

According to Pruss, Giuliani asked him to call Pruss' close friend, the owner of Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company that formerly had Hunter Biden on its board. Giuliani wanted to know if the owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, would meet with him to talk about Biden.

But Zlochevsky made it clear "he wanted nothing to do with it," Pruss told NBC News in an interview at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan.

Among the unresolved mysteries in the impeachment saga is how Giuliani, the president's lawyer and a man with little known background in foreign policy, became the White House's point man on Ukraine. The answer in part lies with his relationship to Pruss, who has acted as the former New York mayor's political and business matchmaker in the former Soviet Union for years.

Read the story.

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OPINION: Trump impeachment inquiry bombshells imperil Republicans' evidence defense

Did President Donald Trump abuse his power when he pressured Ukraine into announcing investigations that would benefit him personally? This, in a nutshell, is the question at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

Democrats say Trump wanted Ukraine to announce an investigation into the company Burisma, which would allegedly implicate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and to investigate (debunked) allegations that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election in order to help Hillary Clinton.

On Wednesday, Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, backed up this assessment, clearly and repeatedly explaining Trump’s role in this scandal. Even Ken Starr said that it was “one of those bombshell days." But Republicans have yet to budge from their line of attack. The GOP has been trying to rebut a stream of increasingly compelling evidence by arguing — absurdly — that the case against Trump falls apart if no witnesses actually heard Trump say he himself intended to pressure the Ukrainians to launch the investigation, or if no witnesses personally watched Trump pressure the Ukrainians.

In other words, conservatives in the House are trying to persuade the American people that unless Trump signs a confession or is caught on video actually telling someone to commit an impeachable act, there is no case against him. This, of course, is absurd. People are often found to have committed wrongful acts without having confessed or without, say, the act being caught on video. Indeed, most of the time, people don’t confess or mention to someone that they intend to commit a wrongful act.

Read the full piece.