What exactly did Rudy Giuliani do in Ukraine? Former NSC staffer Fiona Hill spoke for ten hours yesterday with members of three house committees digging into Ukraine-Gate in closed session. Her testimony, according to the Washington Post’s sources, focused mainly on Giuliani and Gordon Sondland, which suggests that Hill might not have any direct testimony to give about Donald Trump in the impeachment case House Democrats want to build:
In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.
Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.
The text messages from Sondland don’t exactly make a prima facie case for that allegation; it’s the return messages from the US charges d’affaires Bill Taylor that raises those suspicions. Sondland’s text messages declare that Trump didn’t want a quid pro quo but was instead focused on dealing with corruption in general. Hill apparently has her suspicions based on the way in which Sondland and Giuliani conducted diplomacy in Ukraine.
For his part, Giuliani insists that he has no idea what Hill is talking about. More importantly, Giuliani also alleges that Hill has no idea what she’s talking about:
Giuliani on Monday night said: “I don’t know Fiona and can’t figure out what she is talking about,” adding that his contact with Ukrainian officials was set up with the State Department.
“I reported everything back to them,” he said. “Nothing shadowy about it.”
Giuliani also said he believed Hill was out of the loop compared to Sondland and others involved with Ukraine. “She just didn’t know,” he said. He added he’d never talked to her about Ukraine policy.
Again, there is at least some question as to how much Hill would have been read into diplomatic affairs. While the NSC participates significantly in foreign relations, diplomacy is the purview of the State Department and the president. Sondland reports to Mike Pompeo, not staffers at the NSC, except to the extent that Pompeo might direct Sondland to coordinate with them. Pompeo has a seat at the NSC, which Hill does not, and so would be the person who chooses what from State’s efforts to share and what to keep closer to the vest. If Giuliani was coordinating his efforts with State, that would be sufficient — although it might end up putting Pompeo and Sondland on the hot seat.
However, Hill also worked for someone else who would have been read into situations like Ukraine — and who might connect more dots. Hill testified that John Bolton, Trump’s former national-security adviser, was angry over Giuliani’s actions in Ukraine and referred to them as a “drug deal” at one point. Bolton told Hill to alert the NSC’s legal team about potential wrongdoing involving Sondland, Giuliani, and chief of staff Mick Mulvaney:
The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.
“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)
It was not the first time Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.
And that has everyone wondering whether the next invitation will go to the ‘Stache:
And in a sign the impeachment inquiry is widening, investigators were discussing whether to question John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, according to people familiar with the matter. Bolton was Hill’s direct superior at the NSC.
Hoo boy. Hill may or may not have been too low a level for these conversations, but Bolton would have had a front-row seat to all of them. Bolton just left the administration on bad terms, and if the description of Hill’s testimony by the NYT and Post are accurate, the unhappiness was definitely mutual. Bolton is not known for holding back when wronged, but then again, Bolton also has plenty of reasons to distrust Democrats on Capitol Hill, too.
Could Bolton’s testimony sink Trump? Looping Mulvaney into the equation is new, if in fact that’s what Hill actually said. That would put whatever Giuliani and Sondland were doing just outside the Oval Office, making it look less like Giuliani was just going cowboy. Impeachment is already pretty much a fait accompli anyway, but an explosive connection of dots by Bolton might make it tougher for Senate Republicans to just dismiss this as a political vendetta over the 2016 election.
Of course, Bolton might just say that this was between Sondland and Giuliani. So far, no other witness has tied any of this to Trump himself. By the way, the NYT report confirms that House Democrats came up empty on the quid pro quo issue again:
Her testimony did not establish a quid pro quo between the suspended aid and Mr. Trump’s pressure for investigations, according to the person. But she confirmed that the administration leveraged a coveted White House invitation for Mr. Zelensky to a commitment to investigate corruption, which was seen as code for investigating Democrats.
Or it could just be that Trump wanted a better effort from Ukraine on corruption, like the rest of the West has been demanding. Wasn’t that what Joe Biden claimed?