The final day of a marathon three-day series of impeachment hearings may have been the most engrossing and entertaining. Thanks for that are mostly due to the spirited and informative contributions of one of the two witnesses, former National Security Council Director for European and Russan Affairs, Fiona Hill. Absent among Hill’s several notable observations and answers, however, was any additional information that advances the case against President Donald Trump.
The former NSC official, whose recollections of events were mostly precise and helped to explain a number of apparent discrepancies between the testimonies of other witnesses, came over as professional, highly intelligent and also as nonpartisan. During one exchange with a committee member, for example, Hill pointed out that she empathized with President Trump for harboring negative feelings toward Ukraine, given the critical remarks made about him by certain former Ukrainian government officials.
Ukraine Aid Issue Dropped?
Most notably, Democrats at the hearing avoided, for the most part, pursuing the theory that military aid to Ukraine was held up in an attempt to coerce the Ukrainians into investigating the Bidens and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election. That particular theory has too many holes to be sustained and so the president’s opponents have now focused on the idea that offering a White House invitation in exchange for investigations constitutes bribery.
Trump, though, has met one-on-one with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. If the U.S. president was so determined to keep the Ukrainians at arm’s length until they did his bidding, he would have avoided meeting Zelensky face to face. It is also worth noting that, as Hill and every other impeachment witness has acknowledged, the Trump administration has been far more supportive of Ukraine than was the Obama administration. Indeed, the Ukrainians now have the vital anti-armor weaponry they were denied by Trump’s predecessor.
The Foreign Interference Issue
Notwithstanding Hill’s very detailed responses to lawmakers’ questions, she provided nothing new to the specific issues at the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment push. She did, however, feel it necessary to beseech the committee – and, perhaps, the federal government as a whole – not to be deceived by Russian propaganda. In her opening statement, Hill chastised unnamed members of the Intelligence Committee for appearing “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.” Clearly, Hill was aiming her remarks at certain Republicans.
While it is true that there are unsubstantiated – and largely dismissed – theories that Ukraine was involved in the hacking of a Democratic National Committee server in 2016, Hill appeared to have conflated two entirely different discussions, vis a vis Russia. As more than one Republican member during the hearing pointed out to Hill, Republicans have never denied that Russia engaged in active measures designed to interfere with a U.S. election; rather, they denied the now-debunked conspiracy theory that the Russians worked with Trump’s campaign team to help him win the 2016 election.
Hill herself pointed out that, in meddling in the U.S. political process, the Russians aimed “to weaken our country – to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived U.S. threat to Russian interests.”
The former NSC official is entirely correct, of course. Like the Ukrainians, the Russians believed Hillary Clinton would be the next American president. For that reason, they worked to discredit her and to potentially destabilize her presidency. It’s worth noting that, had the Russians thought they would achieve their aforementioned aims by helping Trump win the White House, they made the most enormous miscalculation since former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain touted his peace treaty with Adolf Hitler.
As for Ukrainian involvement in the U.S. election, it may not have extended to the technology-based attacks perpetrated by Russian security services, but there was Ukrainian interference nevertheless. The DNC dispatched a contractor to obtain information from the Ukrainians that could be used against Trump and certain questionable financial records that were material in the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also came out of Ukraine.
That there was some effort on the part of senior Ukrainian officials to discredit the Trump campaign is not open to dispute. Hill suggested that this was because those Ukrainians believed Clinton would win the 2016 election and were, therefore, attempting to curry favor with her. Regardless, the Trump campaign was targeted by certain Ukrainians and that fact continues to color the president’s thinking when it comes to Ukraine.
Hill’s fellow witness at the November 21 hearing was David Holmes, a political affairs counsel at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. Holmes was only there, apparently, because he overheard one phone conversation between U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and President Trump. Holmes’ recounting of that call differs from Sondland’s.
When grilled over the details of that call, Holmes appeared uncertain. Apparently, he clearly heard what both Sondland and Trump said about Ukraine but was unable to recall the rest of the conversation, claiming he was able to overhear only what the president said about Ukraine but not what he said about anything else.
It is fair to say, then, that Holmes’ credibility as a witness is questionable. Hill’s is not but, she did not add to the case against Trump: That fact is evident in media coverage of her testimony, which focuses on her rebuke of those who have dismissed or questioned Russia’s interference in American politics.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) delivered a lengthy closing statement, indicating – perhaps – that this was the last hearing. Unless former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, is compelled to testify or unless the Judiciary Committee requires additional hearings, this phase may indeed be over. That being the case, the majority Democrats and minority Republicans will submit reports to the House Judiciary Committee. Articles of impeachment will then almost certainly be drawn up. How many articles and for what – treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors – the nation will soon discover.
Read more from Graham J Noble
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