WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's former top Russia expert Fiona Hill testified Thursday that the months-long pressure campaign to try to get Ukraine to launch investigations into Trump's political opponents amounted to a "domestic political errand" that ran counter to legitimate "national security policy."
It was some of the sharpest testimony yet in ongoing impeachment hearings to directly challenge the Republican defense of Trump's actions towards Ukraine.
Hill recalled an argument she had this summer with Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union, who was by then deeply involved in a secretive effort to get Ukraine to launch investigations.
She told the House Intelligence Committee: "I was upset with him for not fully telling [national security officials] about all of the meetings that he was having, and he said to me, 'But I'm briefing the president, I'm briefing chief of staff [Mick] Mulvaney, I'm briefing Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo, and I've talked to Ambassador [John] Bolton. Who else do I have to deal with?'"
Hill said she later realized that Sondland "was absolutely right, that he wasn't coordinating with us because we weren't doing the same thing that he was doing."
Sondland, she said, "was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security, foreign policy — and those two things had just diverged."
Hill then recalled saying to him, "'Gordon, I think this is all going to blow up.'"
"And here we are," she added.
Hill's testimony serves to undercut a key argument that allies of the president have made in recent days, as evidence has mounted that the administration, did, in fact, plan to withhold nearly $400 million in foreign aid until Ukraine's government publicly announced that it would launch two investigations.
Instead of trying to deny that Trump withheld the foreign aid until Ukraine agreed to investigations, Republicans have argued that the president's demand for investigations was rooted in genuine national security concerns about corruption in Ukraine, and not merely by a desire for personal political gain.
The White House earlier Thursday dismissed the impeachment testimony, saying that the witnesses were relying "heavily on their own presumptions, assumptions and opinions."