For­mer se­cu­rity of­fi­cial un­der­cuts Trump im­peach­ment in­quiry de­fence

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD -

LISA MASCARO, MARY CLARE JALONICK AND ERIC TUCKER WASHINGTON — In riv­et­ing tes­ti­mony, a for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial de­clared Thurs­day that a U.S. am­bas­sador car­ried out a con­tro­ver­sial “do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal er­rand” for Don­ald Trump on Ukraine, an al­le­ga­tion un­der­cut­ting a main line of the pres­i­dent’s de­fence in the im­peach­ment in­quiry. Fiona Hill told House in­ves­ti­ga­tors she came to re­al­ize Am­bas­sador Gor­don Sond­land wasn’t sim­ply op­er­at­ing out­side of­fi­cial diplo­matic chan­nels, as she and oth­ers sus­pected, but car­ry­ing out in­struc­tions from Trump. “He was be­ing in­volved in a do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal er­rand, and we were be­ing in­volved in na­tional se­cu­rity for­eign pol­icy,” she tes­ti­fied, “and those two things had just di­verged.” Hill’s com­ment fol­lowed a blis­ter­ing back-and-forth dur­ing ques­tion­ing from Re­pub­li­cans at the House hear­ing. Tes­ti­mony from Hill and David Holmes, a State Depart­ment ad­viser in Kyiv, capped an in­tense week in the his­toric in­quiry and re­in­forced the cen­tral com­plaint: that Trump used for­eign pol­icy for po­lit­i­cal aims, set­ting off alarms across the U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy ap­pa­ra­tus. Democrats al­lege Trump was re­ly­ing on the dis­cred­ited idea that Ukraine rather than Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion as he sought in­ves­ti­ga­tions in re­turn for two things: U.S. mil­i­tary aid that Ukraine needed to fend off Rus­sian ag­gres­sion, and a White House visit the new Ukrainian pres­i­dent wanted that would demon­strate his back­ing from the West. One by one, Hill, a Rus­sia ex­pert at the White House’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil un­til this sum­mer, took on Trump’s de­fences. She and Holmes both told House in­ves­ti­ga­tors it was abun­dantly clear Trump’s lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani was pur­su­ing po­lit­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Democrats and Joe Bi­den in Ukraine. “He was clearly push­ing for­ward is­sues and ideas that would, you know, prob­a­bly come back to haunt us and in fact,” Hill tes­ti­fied. “I think that’s where we are to­day.” And Hill stood up for Lt. Col. Alexander Vind­man, the Army officer who tes­ti­fied ear­lier and whom Trump’s al­lies tried to dis­credit.” He re­mains at the White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. At one point, Re­pub­li­cans in­ter­jected, try­ing to cut off Hill’s re­sponse as she flipped the script dur­ing the af­ter­noon of ques­tion­ing. The GOP law­mak­ers had been try­ing to high­light her dif­fer­ences with Sond­land, the am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union who de­liv­ered dam­ag­ing tes­ti­mony Wed­nes­day about what he said was Trump’s “quid pro quo” pur­suit of the po­lit­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The Repub­li­can law­mak­ers even­tu­ally wound down their ques­tions but con­tin­ued with mini-speeches de­cry­ing the im­peach­ment ef­fort. Democrats, in turn, crit­i­cized Trump’s ac­tions. Hill, a for­mer aide to then­na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton, sternly warned Repub­li­can law­mak­ers — and im­plic­itly Trump — to quit push­ing a “fic­tional” nar­ra­tive that Ukraine, rather than Rus­sia, in­ter­fered in U.S. elec­tions. Trump has told oth­ers tes­ti­fy­ing in the in­quiry that Ukraine tried to “take me down” in the 2016 elec­tion. Re­pub­li­cans launched their ques­tion­ing Thurs­day re­viv­ing those the­o­ries. Hill de­clared: “I refuse to be part of an ef­fort to le­git­imize an al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tive that the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment is a U.S. ad­ver­sary, and that Ukraine — not Rus­sia — at­tacked us in 2016.” Her tes­ti­mony also raised fresh ques­tions whether Bolton, who has yet to defy White House or­ders for of­fi­cials not to tes­tify, would ap­pear in the in­quiry. In what was seen as a nudge to her for­mer boss, Hill said those with in­for­ma­tion have a “moral obli­ga­tion to pro­vide it.” The land­mark House im­peach­ment in­quiry was sparked by a July 25 phone call, in which Trump asked Ukraine Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy for in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Bi­den and the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. A still-anony­mous whistle­blower’s of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment com­plaint about that call led the House to launch the cur­rent probe. Hill and Holmes both filled in gaps in pre­vi­ous tes­ti­mony and poked holes in the ac­counts of other wit­nesses. They were par­tic­u­larly adamant that ef­forts by Trump and Gi­u­liani to in­ves­ti­gate the Burisma com­pany were well-known by of­fi­cials work­ing on Ukraine to be the equiv­a­lent of prob­ing the Bi­dens. That runs counter to ear­lier tes­ti­mony from Sond­land and Kurt Volker, the for­mer Ukraine spe­cial en­voy, who in­sisted they had no idea there was a con­nec­tion. Holmes also un­der­cut some of Sond­land’s rec­ol­lec­tions about an ex­tra­or­di­nary phone call be­tween the am­bas­sador and Trump on July 26, the day af­ter the pres­i­dent’s call with Ukraine. Holmes was hav­ing lunch with Sond­land in Kyiv and said he could over­hear Trump ask about “in­ves­ti­ga­tions” dur­ing a “colour­ful” con­ver­sa­tion. Af­ter the phone call, Holmes said Sond­land told him Trump cared about “big stuff,” in­clud­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the “Bi­den in­ves­ti­ga­tion.” Sond­land said he didn’t re­call rais­ing the Bi­dens. Dur­ing Thurs­day’s tes­ti­mony, the pres­i­dent tweeted that while his own hear­ing is “great” he’s never been able to un­der­stand an­other per­son’s con­ver­sa­tion that wasn’t on speaker. “Try it,” he sug­gested. Holmes also tes­ti­fied about his grow­ing con­cern as Gi­u­liani or­ches­trated Ukraine pol­icy out­side of­fi­cial diplo­matic chan­nels. It was a con­cern shared by oth­ers, he tes­ti­fied.

MANUEL BALCE CENETA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

For­mer White House na­tional se­cu­rity aide Fiona Hill and David Holmes, a U.S. diplo­mat in Ukraine, tes­tify at the pub­lic im­peach­ment hear­ing of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Thurs­day.

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