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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.

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Schiff closes with searing criticism of Republicans who 'cower' to Trump and Watergate comparison

Closing what is, at the moment, the last scheduled public hearing in the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment inquiry, Schiff took direct aim at his Republican counterparts, slamming them for “gratuitous” attacks on witnesses like Hill, Holmes and, before them, Vindman.

“They don’t question the facts,” Schiff said. “So why attack?”

And, raising his voice, he ripped Republicans for falling in line behind Trump — especially when it comes to his refusal to stand up to Russia.

“They’ll show indignation today, but they will cower when they hear the president questioning the very conclusions our intelligence community has reached” on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Schiff said.

Later, he summarized the case his party has attempted to build against Trump. He discussed everything from Trump’s attacks on Yovanovitch to how, “in all the companies in all the world, Rudy Giuliani just happened to be interested in this one” — referring to Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden sat.

“That’s absurd,” Schiff said. 

Over his lengthy statement, he also compared Trump’s defense to how Richard Nixon defended himself during the Watergate scandal.

“This is the ‘I’m not a crook' defense,” Schiff said, referring to Trump’s “no quid pro quo” statements.

In closing, Schiff said that “this president believes he is above the law.”

“In my view there is nothing more dangerous,” he added.

“We are better than that,” he exclaimed — and adjourned the hearing.

GOP goes MIA

Ranking member Nunes questions witnesses as Chairman Schiff listens

Rep. Devin Nunes questions witnesses as Schiff listens during the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 21, 2019.Andrew Harrer / Pool via Reuters

Nunes closes with summary of yearslong effort to oust Trump

The Steele dossier. The Russia investigation. And many other things.

In his closing statement, Nunes reached back to the 2016 campaign and brought up every which way he felt Democrats and "Never Trumpers" have made efforts to beat Trump in recent years.

That included, not least of all, the ongoing impeachment inquiry and the whistleblower complaint that helped prompt it. Nunes called the latter a “pretext” for Trump’s political opponents “to do what they’ve been trying to do for years.”

“Oust him from office,” Nunes said. 

“What you’ve seen in this room over the last two weeks is a show trial,” he added, the “result of political operations and dirty tricks.”

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.”