Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman's revelations were downright disturbing — but the worst is yet to come

A source familiar with Democrats' preparations for the public hearings told me they are 'preparing for anything'

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Friday 08 November 2019 22:51
Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council, arrives to review her testimony in the impeachment hearings
Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council, arrives to review her testimony in the impeachment hearings

As the clock counts down to the start of the first public hearing in the process which could lead to the impeachment of President Donald J Trump, House Democrats are strutting.

Unlike the first two and a half years of Trump's presidency, they've managed to dominate the news cycle this week with the release of transcripts from a succession of career public servants, national security experts and diplomats.

And they appear to have saved the most disturbing revelations for last.

On Friday, the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight Committees released transcripts from depositions of two of the Trump administration's experts on Russia and Ukraine, Dr Fiona Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.

Vindman emigrated to the US from the former Soviet Union and received a Purple Heart for being wounded in defense of the United States. He is also the National Security Council staffer who had the presence of mind to tell donor-diplomat Gordon Sondland that it was "inappropriate" to insist that military aid to the Ukraine be conditioned on fabricating investigations into Joe Biden and his son (or a conspiracy theory about Ukraine, rather than Russia, being behind a 2016 cyber-attack on the DNC).

As disturbing as that might be to most Americans, what House investigators learned from Fiona Hill could be far more troubling for the president — and his lawyer.

While Hill, a noted Russia expert, largely told the same arms-for-fake-investigations story as Vindman, Ambassador William Taylor, Ambassador Kurt Volker, Ambassador Gordon Sondland (after he corrected his testimony to avoid a perjury charge) and numerous other witnesses, she also shed light on the real world consequences of being caught in the web of Trumpworld conspiracy theories. This is a predicament she shares with former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

"My entire first year of my tenure… was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories… accusing me of being a [George] Soros mole in the White House and colluding with all kinds of enemies of the president, and… of various improprieties," said Hill, who added that she has been the subject of death threats, received obscene phone calls at her home, and even had neighbors report to her that strangers were pounding on her door.

"It seems to be extraordinarily easy… for people to make baseless claims about people and then to seek their dismissal," she continued, saying that it was "obvious" to National Security Council and State Department officials that the explanation for such harassment campaigns was "business dealings of individuals who wanted to improve their investment positions inside Ukraine itself" and to deflect away from the US government's finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

When asked who was responsible for the campaign of harassment against Yovanovitch, Hill placed blame squarely on the shoulders of Trump's free TV lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"I saw all of the above being bundled together: somebody's nefarious business interests, conspiracies about George Soros or the alternate retellings of what happened in 2016, and… potentially… digging up dirt on candidates, all based on what Giuliani himself was saying," she said, adding that the man formerly known as "America's mayor" was proclaiming himself to be working for the president of the United States.

Rep Denny Heck praises Trump’s ex-Russia aide Fiona Hill’s testimony

For the time being, Americans can "read the transcript," as Trump likes to say, but they'll be able to do more than that starting on Wednesday, when Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent testify at an open hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Two days later, committee members will hear from Yovanovitch herself.

"The whole point of the public hearings is to allow America to experience the testimony of the people who were eyewitness participants in these events," Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who has sat in on most of the depositions over the past month and a half as a member of the House Oversight Committee, told me. "The public will then have the ability to decide for themselves whether the president staged a shakedown against a foreign government… to procure political information he was looking for. I think there will be a parade of witnesses who will show Americans what the American government is really supposed to be all about."

While House investigators have not heard from a number of Executive Branch witnesses, who, like White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, have obeyed White House instructions to ignore Congressional subpoenas, Raskin — who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, which will eventually vote on articles of impeachment — said House Democrats largely have their case wrapped up.

"For the most part, we have everything we need to make decisions about articles of impeachment," he said, with the caveat that White House obstruction only slowed down Democrats' ability to follow the "money trail”.

”We know that the President held up the money that we voted for security assistance for Ukraine, but we don't know all of the bureaucratic steps that were taken,” he added.

While Trump's allies have recently floated a defense consisting of arguments that Sondland, Mulvaney, and others involved in extracting a quid-pro-quo from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's government were "freelancing" and weren't operating under Trump's direction, Raskin poured cold water on that strategy.

"It's perfectly clear that the president was the captain of the whole scheme," he said, before opining that Republican attempts to disrupt next week's hearings — a possibility made more likely with the addition of pugilistic Trump defender and jacket hater Rep. Jim Jordan — would have little to no effect on public perception of the proceedings: ”The good news is that the public understands that these diversionary tactics are meant to distract people from the overwhelming case for the president's culpability."

Although a source familiar with Intelligence Committee Democrats' preparations for next week's hearings wouldn't go into detail about how members are getting ready for what could be a major television event in the annals of Trump's "reality TV presidency," they were confident about the ability of Chairman Adam Schiff and the rest of the majority to deal with disruptions.

"We are prepared for anything," the source told me. "But the public will view stunts as compared to seriousness as cynical diversionary devices. Matt Gaetz can ride into the room juggling on a unicycle and breathing fire, but this hearing is moving forward. The public is about to hear lifelong public servants all tell a tale of corruption and coverup. The question we will have to ask ourselves after the hearings is: Is this who we are?"

Liz Cheneyn on questioning the patriotism of Alexander Vindman: 'It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation'

As for Jordan, GOP strategist Rick Wilson posited that the former Ohio State University wrestling coach's time and effort might be better spent defending himself against allegations that he turned a blind eye to a team doctor's sexual abuse of athletes under his care.

"It's obvious that they are looking to have bomb-throwers, saboteurs and agents of chaos in there, but if I were Jim Jordan, I'd be more concerned about the fact that he's got multiple accusations of… enabling child molesters when he was a coach, rather than whether he's going to have any success in the space of trying to save Trump in the intelligence committee," Wilson said.

"He should be more concerned about his own survival," he continued, stressing that he wasn't trying to engage in a partisan attack by invoking Jordan's alleged history of ignoring sexual abuse. "There's clearly something very badly wrong with Jim Jordan's background and history, and I don't think he's going to escape it forever."

Jordan's addition also reflects the fact that House Intelligence Ranking Member Devin Nunes "is not considered by members of his own caucus to be the sharpest knife in the drawer," Wilson said.

"They're going to end up with two guys in there [Jordan and Rep. John Ratcliffe] who are dedicated purely to disruption and not to the truth, and I think we're going to end up with a very ugly situation in that committee because of them — Jordan is going to leak like crazy… he's a very flawed warrior for this president to bring into this fight."

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