WASHINGTON – Fiona Hill, former top Russia expert at the National Security Council, testified Thursday that high-level officials in the Trump administration became increasingly frustrated as they watched President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, effectively hijack U.S. policy toward Ukraine earlier this year.
Hill also told the House Intelligence Committee that it was clear to her and those around her that Giuliani was pushing a different agenda than the official position of the United States, and that his actions concerned her and frustrated her boss, then-national security advisor John Bolton.
At one point, Hill said, she asked Bolton if there was anything they could do to get Giuliani to halt his public campaign to have the then U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, removed from her post.
Hill recalled that Bolton "looked pained, and basically indicated with body language that there was nothing which we could do about it. And he then, in the course of that discussion, said that Rudy Giuliani was a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up."
Asked whether she understood what Bolton meant by that, Hill replied that she did. Giuliani "was frequently on television, making quite incendiary remarks about everyone involved in this. He was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would probably come back to haunt us. And in fact, I think that that's where we are today," she testified.
Hill is the latest administration official to describe gradually realizing this spring and summer how much influence Giuliani exercised over the president's thinking on Ukraine. She testified Thursday alongside David Holmes, a State Department official who overheard a pivotal phone conversation between Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.
Hill also offered a window into the conflicting accounts that have emerged from impeachment witnesses regarding a meeting on July 10 at the White House between U.S. officials and visiting Ukrainians.
In testimony Wednesday, Sondland, said he thought the meeting had been a positive step toward the goal of securing a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. A day earlier, however, Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, Ukraine director in the White House, testified that Bolton had been so upset when Sondland brought up Trump's demand for investigations that he abruptly ended the meeting.
According to Hill, toward the end of the meeting, the Ukrainians raised the question of when they were going to get a coveted White House meeting for Zelenskiy with Trump. According to Hill, the Americans in the room all knew the subject was being controlled by Giuliani, who wanted Ukraine to announce investigations Burisma, a company which once hired former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, and the 2016 election.
When Bolton tried to shift the discussion away from a presidential meeting, "Ambassador Sondland leaned in to say, 'Well, we have an agreement that there will be a meeting once specific investigations are put under way,'" Hill testified.
"That's when I saw Ambassador Bolton stiffen. I was sitting behind him in the chair. I saw him sit back slightly like this," she said, demonstrating to the committee by sitting up sharply in her chair.
Bolton "had been more moving forward, like I am, to the table. For me that was unmistakable body language. It caught my attention. He looked up to the clock, at his watch, towards his wrist, and basically said, 'Well, you know, it's been great to see you. I'm afraid I have another meeting,'" she said.
Hill added that, when she spoke to Sondland about it later, "he said he had an agreement with chief of staff [Mick] Mulvaney, that in return for investigations this meeting would get scheduled."
Following the meeting, Hill said Bolton gave her specific instructions.
"I had to go to the [National Security Council] lawyers, to John Eisenberg to basically say, 'Ambassador Bolton is not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney were cooking up,'" Hill told the committee.
Asked what she interpreted the phrase "drug deal" to mean, Hill replied, "Investigations for a meeting."
The White House earlier Thursday dismissed the impeachment testimony, saying that the witnesses were relying "heavily on their own presumptions, assumptions and opinions."