A former top White House official on Thursday denounced a “fictional narrative” peddled by Donald Trump that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.
Fiona Hill, who was the senior director for European and Russia affairs on the National Security Council, told congressional impeachment inquiry that the theory was a fake story concocted by Russia itself.
“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,” she added.
Her testimony comes after days of public impeachment hearings in which current and former administration officials have said that Mr Trump believed Ukraine sought to interfere with his 2016 election campaign, in part because of information given to him by Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney.
Mr Trump is accused by Democrats of pressuring Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly elected president of Ukraine, to announce probes of the alleged Ukrainian interference as well as the business dealings of Hunter Biden, whose father, Joe Biden, is one of Mr Trump’s potential rivals in the 2020 election.
Democrats have claimed that the president withheld nearly $400m of military aid as part of his effort to secure a public statement from Mr Zelensky.
Mr Trump has denied any “quid pro quo”, saying he wanted nothing from the Ukrainian president other than for him to “do the right thing”.
Ahead of Ms Hill’s testimony, Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, hit back at her prepared remarks, holding up a copy of their 2018 report on Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
“It’s entirely possible for two countries to engage in election meddling at the same time,” he told her.
The British-born national security official, who left her job earlier this year, gave her account of a key White House meeting that sparked the concern of her former boss, John Bolton, who was national security adviser at the time.
At a July 10 meeting involving Mr Bolton, Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, Mr Zelensky’s national security adviser and others, she said she saw Mr Bolton “stiffen” after Mr Sondland mentioned “investigations”.
Mr Sondland had said there was a deal whereby the Ukrainians would announce investigations and in return, Mr Zelensky would get a White House meeting, she testified. She later learned the deal had been struck by Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, she said.
Mr Bolton wrapped up the meeting immediately after the comments and later told her to tell the top lawyer on the National Security Council, John Eisenberg, that he was “not part of whatever drug deal Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up,” she told the committee.
Ms Hill testified alongside David Holmes, a US diplomat in Kyiv who said in a closed-door deposition that he overheard Mr Trump ask about “investigations” on a call with Mr Sondland.
He repeated that testimony on Thursday, recounting that Mr Trump’s voice was “loud and recognisable”, and that he could hear the president’s words in the Kyiv restaurant he was at with Mr Sondland even though the phone was not on speakerphone.
Immediately afterwards, Mr Holmes said Mr Sondland told him the president did not “give a s — t about Ukraine” and only cared about “big stuff” like the “Biden investigation”.
Mr Sondland said Wednesday he did not recall mentioning the Bidens, but otherwise did not dispute Mr Holmes’ testimony. He claimed he never knew the investigations were linked to the Bidens.
Mr Holmes told the committee that anyone involved in Ukraine policy would have known that Burisma, the Ukrainian company where Hunter Biden was a board member, was code for the Bidens.
Mr Giuliani had publicly and explicitly made the link in the media since March, he noted.