Public impeachment hearings expose Trump’s elaborate effort to pressure Ukraine

Fiona Hill criticises Trump’s Republican allies for pushing false picture on Ukraine

Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert on the National Security Council, and David Holmes, a State Department official stationed at the US Embassy in Ukraine speak before they testify during the House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on November 21, 2019.    / AFP / Brendan Smialowski
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Two weeks of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine ended on Thursday with more damaging information against the US president.

Former US officials, current military members, advisers and diplomats have all spoken of a consistent effort by Mr Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

That pressure was provided through millions of dollars in military aid, it was claimed.

On Thursday, former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, Fiona Hill, warned Republicans against "falsehoods" to cover for Mr Trump.

“I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimise an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked us in 2016,” Ms Hill said, referring to interference in the US elections.

She asked Republicans “that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests".

“These fictions are harmful, even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes,” Ms Hill said.

She joined US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, who testified on Wednesday, and former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker in pointing out Mr Giuliani’s destructive role in the Ukraine plot.

She said former national security adviser John Bolton described Mr Giuliani as a “hand grenade” that would ultimately “blow everyone up".

Ms Hill spoke of  a smear campaign Mr Giuliani orchestrated against the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who testified last week.

“I think he [Mr Bolton] meant that obviously what Mr Giuliani was saying was pretty explosive in any case, he was frequently on television making quite incendiary remarks about everyone involved in this, and that he was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would probably come back to haunt us, and in fact that is where we are today,” she said.

Also testifying on Thursday was David Holmes, an embassy staff member in Kiev.

Mr Holmes appeared to confirm an accusation by Mr Sondland that Mr Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure its government into investigating Mr Biden, a former vice president, and his son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian gas company.

“My clear impression was that the security assistance hold was likely intended by the president either as an expression of dissatisfaction with the Ukrainians, who had not yet agreed to the Biden investigation, or as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so,” he said.

Thursday’s hearings also revealed a larger circle around Mr Trump who knew about the affair, including acting White House chief Mike Mulvaney.

Mr Sondland had said that “everyone is in the loop”, including senior cabinet officials including vice president Mike Pence, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Mr Mulvaney.

“It was no secret," he said. "Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the Presidential call.”

But Mr Trump continued to lean on Republicans in Congress to fend off these allegations.

The public hearings appear to have helped Democrats in the House to make the case for impeachment, which could take place in the next few weeks.

It is still unlikely, however, that the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority, would convict Mr Trump and push him out of office.