Fiona Hill, David Holmes continue testimony in House impeachment hearing

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) - A former White House national security aide is testifying at a House impeachment hearing that Russia’s goal in 2016 was to put whomever was elected president “under a cloud.”

Fiona Hill is an expert on Russia. She says increased partisanship is “exactly what the Russian government was hoping for.”

She says it is “absolutely the case” that it is to Russia’s benefit to blame Ukraine for intervention in the U.S. election. And that falls into “a long pattern of deflection” by Russia.

President Donald Trump and other Republicans have pushed the theory that Ukraine intervened in the 2016 election while U.S. intelligence agencies have stated unequivocally that it was Russia.

Hill told the committee in her opening statement that Republicans should quit pushing a “fictional” narrative about Ukraine.

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A Foreign Service officer says that former White House national security adviser John Bolton mentioned critical security aid to Ukraine will be held until the new president could “favorably impress” President Donald Trump.

David Holmes is testifying Thursday before lawmakers in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump. Lawmakers are investigating whether Trump wrongly withheld critical security aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into his Democratic rival.

Holmes says that Bolton told him that a meeting between Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Warsaw would be crucial. But Trump pulled out of the meeting.

Holmes is telling impeachment investigators that he came forward with evidence about a phone call he overheard between President Donald Trump and a U.S. diplomat because he believed it was firsthand information relevant to the probe.

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David Holmes testified Thursday that he realized that those events bore on the question of whether Trump had knowledge that senior officials “were using the levers of our diplomatic power” to urge Ukraine to open investigations into Democrats.

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Holmes testified that he overheard Trump and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland talking about those investigations.

Holmes said he reminded the top U.S. official in Ukraine, William Taylor, about the overheard call. Taylor relayed that information to impeachment investigators last week, and they then called on him to testify.

Holmes says he was at a lunch with Ambassador Gordon Sondland and others and Sondland got on his mobile phone to speak with the president.

Holmes says he overheard Sondland talking with Trump about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Trump’s voice was loud.

He overheard him ask about “doing the investigation.” And Sondland told him Zelenskiy would do it and would do “anything you ask him to.”

Trump tweeted during Holmes’ testimony that he has never been able to overhear anyone talking through a phone. He said: “I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!”

Holmes says he recognized last spring that the embassy’s priorities had become overshadowed by a political agenda driven by Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, “and a cadre of officials operating with a direct channel to the White House.”

He says that cadre included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker. The group referred to itself as “The Three Amigos.”

The campaign by Giuliani involved public statements attacking the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, as well as a push for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 presidential election and the Bidens.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says Democrats will decide “in the coming days” what response is appropriate after hearing from a dozen witnesses in seven House impeachment hearings.

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