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WASHINGTON — Fiona Hill and David Holmes have heard enough.
The pair of senior Trump administration officials testifying in the House impeachment hearings Thursday tore apart Republicans’ main defenses of President Trump, painting a picture of a president who cared only for his own interests rather than Ukraine’s existential challenges. And they warned that Trump’s pressure campaign in Ukraine — as well as the GOP’s conspiratorial defense — only helps Russia damage America's democracy and national security.
Their testimony knocked down nearly every defense House Republicans have pushed for Trump — namely that the president withheld aid because he was deeply concerned about Ukraine’s corruption problems. They also dismantled GOP talking point that Ukraine had any role in the 2016 election hack.
Hill, the State Department’s former top Russia and Ukraine expert, called the latter arguments “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” and warned that such narratives are “harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes.”
Holmes, a top official in the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, meanwhile, highlighted multiple times when Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani attacked and undercut American diplomats to further his personal agenda. He said he was “shocked” when he first found out that military aid to Ukraine had been withheld at Trump’s direct order, and blasted Giuliani and others for spreading gross smears against then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, which he said “were unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my career.” And he testified that he overheard Trump ask about “the investigations” during a July 26 phone call U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland — after which Sondland told Holmes that Trump did not “give a shit about Ukraine” and only cared about “big stuff” like the “Biden investigation.”
Holmes said that Ukrainians “deserve better” than how they’ve been treated — and warned about the damage to America’s international reputation that Trump’s alleged actions have caused.
“We are now at an inflection point in Ukraine, and it is critical to our national security that we stand in strong support of our Ukrainian partners. Ukrainians and freedom-loving people everywhere are watching the example we set of democracy and the rule of law,” he concluded.
Hill was just as damaging. The former National Security Council member, who served as the White House's top Russia expert until early July, flayed House Republicans for their repeated, misleading claims during the hearings that Ukraine substantially meddled in the 2016 election, and for ignoring Russia’s actual serious interference in American politics.
Hill warned that their actions and refusal to take Russia seriously increased the chance that they would interfere in the 2020 election and further damage American democracy.
"In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests,” she said.
And she made clear that Trump himself had pushed this narrative with his “reference to crowd strike and the server” during his July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and other Republicans on the committee have repeatedly pushed a conspiracy theory that Ukraine worked in an organized way to undercut President Trump’s 2016 campaign, even though there’s no credible evidence there was a coordinated effort to do so.
But Nunes continued this “fictional narrative” Thursday morning, arguing that Trump “had good reason to be worried about” Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 election in his opening statement. He fired back at Hill’s criticism, pointing out that House Republicans had done a report on Russia’s meddling in 2016 — even though much of their report was dedicated to defending Trump in the face of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
That’s the same conspiracy theory that Trump and his personal attorney Giuliani have pushed in public and private for months — and allegedly sought to coerce Ukraine’s new government to investigate.
Holmes also debunked another favorite GOP conspiracy theory Trump: That Vice President Joe Biden pushed to fire a Ukrainian official to benefit Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company where his son Hunter worked. Holmes testified that official in question was corrupt and wasn’t investigating Burisma at the time.
Hill repeatedly fought back against these debunked conspiracies and instead tried to refocus Congress’s attention to the bigger picture regarding Russia’s meddling.
"What were seeing here is a result of all of these narratives. This is exactly what the Russian government was hoping for. If they seed misinformation, if they seed doubt, they have everybody questioning the legitimacy of the presidential candidate,” she said. “That they would pit one party against the other."
Cover: Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, are sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)