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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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Fiona Hill speaks of the 'moral obligation' she felt to testify

Hill gave an eloquent response to an angry speech from Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who continued to claim that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and accused Democrats of attempting a coup. Wenstrup also said that hatred makes people blind and that hyperpartisanship is not healthy in a democracy. 

Hill, however, responded in a measured tone by explaining that she and others are testifying to discuss the facts and they are not partisan. 

"All of us who came here under a legal obligation also felt we had a moral obligation to do so. We came here as fact witnesses," she said. "We are here to relate to you what we saw, what we heard and what we did and to be of some help to all of you to make a momentous decision here. We are not the people who make that decision."

She said interference from any government is bad and that unity in America is important to thwart any attempts to do so. 

Hill says she’s still being harassed on Twitter, defends Yovanovitch

Hill said the harassment she previously testified to last month is still ongoing. She said she’s “constantly” dealing with her address being posted.

“This could happen to any single person in this room,” Hill said. “We have to find ways of combating this. Again, this gets back sadly to things that our adversaries can exploit.”

She and Holmes both lamented what they said was a “smear campaign” to oust Ambassador Yovanovitch. 

Removing an ambassador is always the president’s prerogative, Hill said, “I just did not see why it was necessary to malign Ambassador Yovanovitch.”

 

6 things we learned from Fiona Hill and David Holmes' testimony

Holmes and Hill were the last witnesses to testify this week following days of public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry.

Hill, a career Russia expert, focused much of her testimony on using her considerable knowledge of Moscow to shed light on various issues at the center of the inquiry, while Holmes laid out additional details about the critical July 26 call he overheard between Trump and Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Here is what we've learned from today's public hearings — so far.

Hill: By July 10, it was clear Burisma was ‘code for the Bidens’

Hill said that by July 10, it was very clear to her that any mention of the gas company Burisma was associated with investigations into the Bidens.

While answering a question from Schiff, Hill recounted the events of July 10, when Ukrainians met with U.S. national security officials at the White House, including then-national security adviser John Bolton, Hill, U.S. ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and NSC official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. 

Hill has testified that Bolton abruptly cut a first meeting in his office short because Sondland brought up investigations. Afterward, Hill said some of the officials took a photo outside the White House and went back inside to the Ward Room to speak further with the Ukrainians. 

Bolton told Hill to go down to the room and find out what was being discussed, Hill has testified. 

“When I came in, Gordon Sondland was basically saying, ‘We have a deal here’" that there would be a White House meeting [between Trump and Zelenskiy if the Ukrainians announced the investigations, Hill said Thursday. 

Hill said that during that time, Rudy Giuliani was speaking about Burisma and the Bidens “over and over again” on TV. 

“By this point, it was clear that Burisma was code for the Bidens because Giuliani was laying it out there,” she said. 

Fiona Hill and David Holmes answer questions from Intelligence Committee members

Fiona Hill, a former national security aide, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill on Nov. 21, 2019.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Holmes shoots down Jordan on Sondland-Trump call

In one of the most contentious moments of the hearing so far, Rep. Jim Jordan shouted at Holmes while lamenting that Ukrainian Amb. Bill Taylor hadn’t during his closed-door testimony brought up the call Holmes testified to overhearing between the president and Ambassador Sondland. He first mentioned the call during his public testimony earlier this week.

Holmes fired back, claiming that the call was unremarkable to Taylor because he already knew the president was seeking an investigation into Bidens.

“It was not news for him,” Holmes said. “Of course that’s what’s going on, of course the president is pressing for a Biden investigation. There was nodding agreement.”

Holmes said the call was a “touchstone experience for me that validated what we believed,” but said he wasn’t surprised it wasn’t for Taylor.

“He was involved in a number of other interactions that you’ve outlined that brought him to the same conclusion,” Holmes concluded.

Hill blasts dual loyalty trope as 'deeply unfair'

Schiff asked Hill to discuss her feelings about the dual loyalty trope that has been used to try to discredit other witnesses, such as Lt. Col. Vindman, whose family immigrated from Ukraine. Hill is an immigrant from the United Kingdom and sharply retorted that America is a country of immigrants and “this is really what makes America great.”

She said that she does not feel any loyalty to the British monarchy and that her loyalty is to America, and she said the same can be said about a lot of naturalized citizens in U.S. foreign service.

Holmes shuts down conspiracy theory about ‘black ledger’

Holmes on Thursday shot down a conspiracy theory pushed again by Nunes during the hearing.

Nunes asked Holmes if he has met with Serhiy Leshchenko, who previously served in Ukraine’s Parliament and is now an investigative journalist. Holmes said that he has met with him but said he’s not aware, as Nunes claimed, that Leshchenko had provided information to a Fusion GPS operative. 

Asked if he knows what the “black ledger” is, Holmes responded in the affirmative. They were secret papers released in 2016 that showed Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, made $12.7 million in cash payments to Paul Manafort, one of Trump’s 2016 campaign chairmen. 

Nunes asked if the black ledger contains credible information — a reference to the conspiracy theory, which holds that the ledger is a fabrication cooked up by Ukrainians to damage Trump's campaign.

“Yes,” Holmes said. 

“The black ledger is credible?” Nunes said incredulously, attempting to get Holmes to clarify.

“Yes,” Holmes repeated. 

Nunes claimed that former special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t find it credible. Asked if he disputed Mueller’s supposed findings, Holmes said: “I’m not aware that Bob Mueller did not find it credible. I believe it was used in other corrupt proceedings. Its credibility was not questioned in those proceedings.”

Nunes then said that Leschenko’s motivation was to “go after a Trump campaign official,” but Holmes rejected that, saying only that his motivation that he always expressed was “to expose corruption in Ukraine.” 

Hill describes blowup with Sondland

Hill described increasingly vexatious interactions with Sondland, saying that she often had terse exchanges with him because she felt that she and other national security officials were being left out of what he was doing in Ukraine. 

She said often when women express anger it is not well received and was characterized as women being "emotional." She said she confronted Sondland, asking him who put him in charge to which he told her "the president."

That "shut me up," she said.

But, she conceded, Sondland was right because he was being drawn into a "domestic political errand," an apparent reference to the pressure campaign on Ukraine, and that official NSC channels were being deliberated usurped. She said she told Sondland, “I think this is all going to blow up."

"And here we are," she noted.