Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 21 (UPI) -- A former White House expert on Russia and Europe testified in Congress Thursday that a Republican-backed narrative that says Ukraine -- not Russia -- may have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election is false and harmful to the interests of the United States.
Fiona Hill, the adviser, and David Holmes, an embassy official in Kiev, both testified before the House intelligence committee's impeachment probe of President Donald Trump.
In her opening statement, Hill disputed assertions by Trump that Kiev possibly influenced the 2016 vote to help Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. She said the same in her private deposition last month.
Hill was Trump's top White House Russia adviser before she left the post in the summer. She warned the panel Thursday that Moscow is likely moving again to influence next year's presidential vote.
"Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country -- and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did," she said. "This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.
"Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan congressional reports.
"These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes," she added. "When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy."
The British-born Hill, who became a U.S. citizen in 2002, said she felt a duty to cooperate with impeachment investigators.
"I believe those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and moral obligation to provide it," she said in her statement.
Hill answered questions about conversations with former national security adviser John Bolton concerning the administration's purported pressure campaign for Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who formerly say on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.
"If the president, or anyone else, impedes or subverts the national security of the United States in order to further domestic political or personal interests, that is more than worthy of your attention," she said. "But we must not let domestic politics stop us from defending ourselves against the foreign powers who truly wish us harm."
Hill previously testified about a July 10 meeting with Ukrainian officials in which she said U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland spoke of a deal for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to visit the White House in exchange for the Biden investigations. Sondland testified about the "quid pro quo" arrangement on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Hill also disputed Sondland's testimony that it took him several months to identify the connection between Burisma and the Bidens, adding that it was "very apparent" to her that Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, intended to convey the link and had repeatedly said so publicly.
"It is not credible to me at all that he was oblivious to this," she said of Sondland.
Hill added that she understood Trump made his invitation to the White House conditional on Ukraine conducting the investigations.
"It became very clear that the White House meeting itself was being predicated on other issues," she said. "Namely investigations and the questions about the election interference in 2016."
Testimony of David Holmes
In his opening statement Thursday, Holmes said U.S. policy in Ukraine became "overshadowed by a political agenda being promoted by Giuliani and a cadre of officials operating with a direct channel to the White House." He also noted the administration's efforts to remove U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whose testimony last week was highly critical of the administration.
"Giuliani and others made a number of public statements critical of Ambassador Yovanovitch, questioning her integrity and calling for her removal," Holmes added. "Giuliani was also making frequent public statements pushing for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 election and issues related to Burisma and the Bidens."
Holmes said there was mass confusion on multiple levels this summer after Trump moved to withhold military aid to Ukraine.
"I was shocked when, on July 18, a [White House budget] staff member surprisingly announced the hold," he said. "The official said the order had come from the president and had been conveyed to [the White House budget office] by [Director Mick] Mulvaney with no further explanation.
"[The National Security Council] confirmed to us that there had been no change in our Ukraine policy, but could not determine the cause of the hold or how to lift it."
Holmes also said he overheard a July 26 phone call between Sondland and Trump in which he told the president that Zelensky "loves" him and was willing to comply with any of his demands.
During his private testimony, Holmes had said he mentioned the "extraordinary" call to friends while on a trip but did not describe specifically what was discussed.
"I didn't go into any level of detail because they don't know this stuff," he said.
Hill and Holmes are the final two witnesses to testify in the public hearings this week. It's unclear if any further hearings will be scheduled until after the Thanksgiving holiday.
They both agreed that a U.S. president asking a foreign leader to investigate a political rival would set a "very bad precedent."
"Going forward, if that were ever the case, I would raise objections," Holmes said.