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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.

Trump impeachment highlights:

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Transcript of Trump's conversation with the Ukrainian president

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Hill says Sondland had to know Burisma meant Biden

Hill testified that Sondland was 'not credible' when he testified it was not clear to him that when Burisma was uttered there was a connection to Biden. 

“It was clear that Burisma was code for the Bidens because Giuliani was laying it out there,” she said under questioning from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y. 

Holmes shoots back at GOP accusation that he showed 'indiscretion' in sharing Trump phone call

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, on Thursday suggested that David Holmes was wrong to share information about the phone conversation he overheard on July 26 between Trump and Sondland. 

"I would argue that the information is unflattering to the president, unflattering to the ambassador and that your discretion is at odds here," Conaway said. 

Conaway said that Holmes testified that he shared the information about the key phone conversation where Trump and Sondland discussed "investigations. Conaway said that lawmakers, however, "couldn’t figure out" from Holmes’ deposition how many people he spoke to. 

Conaway then asked Holmes "to articulate that in the future, when he’s privileged" to certain circumstances that would be embarrassing to the president, to not share it with others. 

Holmes shot back, “Sir, I think it was Gordon Sondland who showed indiscretion by having that conversation over a public phone line.”

What do these names have in common? asks GOP

Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, right, and Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, both Republicans, listen as Fiona Hill testifies on Thursday. Andrew Harrer / Pool via AFP - Getty Images

Outgoing Rep. Hurd says he hasn't heard impeachable conduct

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, used his questioning period to make clear he will not support impeachment, saying the case against Trump lacks compelling evidence of wrongdoing.

Hurd said: "An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear and unambiguous, and it's not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I have not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion."

Hurd also chided the president, characterizing his July phone calls as “inappropriate.” "I disagree with this bumbling foreign policy,” Hurd said.

Early on, Hurd — who's retiring and has publicly disagreed with Trump at times — was seen as one of the few Republicans who might have sided with Democrats on the issue of impeaching Trump.

A moment of levity about a decades-old haircut

Speier, in a moment of levity, told Hill that she’d come across a news article over the course of the day’s hearing that told a story about Hill’s childhood that demonstrated her toughness.

An 11-year-old Hill, The New York Times reported, had one of her pigtails set on fire by a boy in her school while she was taking a test. Hill, the newspaper said, “put the fire out with her hands, and finished the test.”

Hill smirked and said the incident “had some very unfortunate consequences.”

“My mother gave me a bowl haircut,” she said. “I looked like Richard III,” referring to the 15th century British monarch.

The exchange offered a moment of levity in an otherwise long and winding public hearing.

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