Fiona Hill statement: Ukraine didn't meddle in 2016 election

Former Trump nat-sec staffer Fiona Hill might make news today, but … this won’t be it. The deputy to John Bolton joins State Department official David Holmes in today’s House impeachment inquiry hearing as Adam Schiff keeps looking for direct evidence of a quid pro quo over military aid appropriated by Congress. Both witnesses seem unlikelier than Gordon Sondland for that, who didn’t deliver for Schiff, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some fireworks today:

A former top White House official will offer on Thursday a full-throated rebuttal to the narrative pushed by President Donald Trump and his GOP allies about Ukraine’s role meddling in American politics, according to a source familiar with her testimony.

Fiona Hill, who served as Trump’s top Russia adviser until she left the administration this summer, will also warn the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry that the Kremlin is prepared to strike again in 2020 and remains a serious threat to American democracy that the United States must seek to combat, the source said.

In her brief opening statement, Hill will offer a strong pushback to the claims peddled by Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and some congressional Republicans that Ukraine may have interfered in the 2016 elections to help Hillary Clinton.

CBS This Morning is still high on Gordon Sondland’s quid pro quo testimony, but that’s because they’re skipping over the fact that Sondland’s QPQ related to a White House visit and a call from Donald Trump. Sondland denied any direct or even indirect knowledge of linkage between investigations of Burisma and military aid, telling Congress he presumed it existed. Nevertheless, the panel does a decent job of setting up today’s hearing for about the first minute:

Will that be the entire thrust of her testimony? Her full opening statement only runs eight pages, half of which is her biography. The others focus entirely on insisting that Russia and only Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Trump and his allies have argued Ukraine’s involvement in two different ways. The first is that the Crowdstrike analysis that deduced the Russian hack into the DNC server was in fact conducted by the Ukrainians to shift blame to Russia, and that the DNC got help from Ukrainians in digging up dirt on Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton. Even if both of those are true (and there appears to be at least some evidence of the latter), Hill still has a point. Russia’s multi-layered campaign took aim at institutional integrity and manipulated the information streams on which Americans rely to cast informed choices on their ballots. Moreover, Russians have long conducted such operations around our elections, especially in the days of the Soviet Union, but the widespread use of social media makes those efforts a lot easier.

However, the impact of these efforts are also wildly overblown. Russia spent an estimated $25 million on its merry-prankster efforts in a presidential campaign where the two major candidates combined to spend more than $2 billion on messaging. No one has ever even hypothesized a causal relationship between Facebook and Twitter memes and voter choice, let alone established one. The real success of Russia’s efforts has been in the hysterical, paranoid, and media-hyped social panic that has followed in the election’s wake.

Even so, Hill sees this as an ongoing threat, and her opening statement suggests that she thinks Congress should be more focused on that than on Trump:

It’s interesting and informative — for a normal oversight hearing, perhaps. If Trump is pursuing an incorrect theory of the 2016 election in his diplomatic policy, Congress is entitled to air that out, but that would be the purview of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, not House Intelligence. To the extent that it involves intelligence, the latter panel should be hearing it in closed session. Following a mistaken or misguided foreign policy is not a “high crime or misdemeanor” necessitating impeachment and removal in any case, and one has to wonder whether Hill is hinting at that here. If anything, impeachment will force Trump to dig in his heels and cling to the errant theory of the 2016 elections even more.

Hill doesn’t address any other issue in her opening statement, but that doesn’t mean she won’t have more to say. She worked closely with John Bolton and with H.R. McMaster before that, so she might have some insight into the ruptures that resulted in their parting company with Trump. That might make for some interesting headlines and gossipy speculation, but her original deposition never even mentions a quid pro quo in any context. The Bidens come up a lot in that deposition but only in relation to Rudy Giuliani. Hill has already testified that she and the National Security Council didn’t hear anything from anyone else about the Bidens:

So much for that. If Hill and the NSC never heard about Burisma or the Bidens from anyone else but Giuliani, there’s not much she can add to Adam Schiff’s theory of impeachment … unless she changes her story.

David Holmes might offer a little more tantalizing information. As counsel in the embassy in Ukraine, he would have been privy to some communications between the State Department and its ambassadors in matters pertaining to all of this. However, in his earlier deposition as well, the only mention of quid pro quo is when Lee Zeldin questioned omissions from Holmes’ testimony about Sondland texts explicitly denying one existed for the military aid. Holmes also testified that a “Burisma/Biden investigation was a precondition for an Oval Office meeting,” but only says he got wind of William Taylor’s suspicions that it might also be linked to the military aid. He also has no direct or even indirect testimony on the latter.

If you need to find a live stream of today’s hearings, NBC News has its YouTube channel set up for continuous broadcast:

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