Analysis after Fiona Hill and David Holmes' impeachment testimony

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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.

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Hill: Russia’s interest 'is to delegitimize the president'

After an opening statement that largely focused on how Russia has “perpetrated and propagated” the “fictional narrative” that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, Hill is prompted by Schiff to expand on Russia’s prerogatives.

Russia’s interest “is to delegitimize the president,” Hill explained. Their goal was to put whoever became president in 2016 — Trump or Clinton — “under a cloud.” She says that the misinformation Moscow has put forth about Ukraine and the 2016 election advances that goal.

Holmes lays out damage to Ukraine

Holmes: Sondland told State Dept. staffer CNN interview was 'supposed' to occur in mid-September

Holmes said in his opening statement that he and his colleagues were concerned after the hold on U.S. aid to Ukraine was lifted on Sept. 11 that Zelenskiy had committed “in exchange for the lifting” to give a requested CNN interview. 

Holmes said that they received several indications that the CNN interview would occur. On Sept. 13, Holmes said one of his colleagues received a phone call from Sondland.

“My Embassy colleague texted me regarding the call that, ‘Sondland said the [Zelenskyy] interview is supposed to be today or Monday [Sept 16] and they plan to announce that a certain investigation that was ‘on hold’ will progress. [Sondland’s aide] did not know if this was decided or if [Sondland] is advocating this. …’”

Ultimately, the CNN interview never occurred. 

Holmes says he tried to raise Ukraine's profile

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

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