By Robert A. Vella
This post details the testimony of two witnesses from the impeachment inquiry hearing held yesterday afternoon and two witnesses from today’s hearing. Also, there’s a damning revelation about the lead Republican defender of President Trump (Devin Nunes) in these hearings, the criminal indictment of Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu, and a fact-checking link regarding last night’s Democratic presidential debate.
In today’s hearing which just concluded, Russia expert and adviser to the former National Security Advisor (John Bolton) Fiona Hill and U.S. embassy in Ukraine staffer David Holmes delivered the coup de gras to Republican efforts to absolve President Trump of guilt in trying to coerce the Ukrainian government to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election on his behalf. Their testimonies, which focused on the National Security Council’s opposition to Trump’s involvement of domestic politics in American-Ukrainian relations and an overheard phone call between Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland to the same effect, cemented the impeachment case against Trump and also offered damning condemnation of congressional Republicans’ strategy to discredit the witnesses and to promote a debunked conspiracy theory to shift attention away from Russia’s proven interference in the 2016 election. Hill’s testimony was especially damaging to Republicans, and completely contradicted the testimony of her NSC successor Tim Morrison who cast doubt on the reputation of a previous witness – NSC expert on Ukraine Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
In yesterday afternoon’s hearing, the most notable revelation from the testimonies of Laura Cooper and David Hale detailed the awareness and concern of Ukrainian officials about Trump’s hold on military aid weeks before that was testified to by other key witnesses.
Hill disputed Sondland’s testimony that Bolton had endorsed the idea of a phone call between Trump and Zelensky, saying Bolton shared her concerns that Trump was “not properly prepared” to take full advantage of the opportunity to “make sure there was a fulsome bilateral agenda.”
Hill added that Bolton “never indicated in any way” that he accepted Sondland’s claims that he was in charge of the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy — authority Sondland claimed he had from Trump, who he said had given him “very broad authority.”
The U.S. effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate an obscure Ukrainian energy company called Burisma was always an effort to target Biden, both Hill and Holmes testified.
Holmes also agreed that Burisma was “code word” for Biden, and testified that anyone involved in Ukraine matters in the spring and summer would have understood that.
Hill, meanwhile, raised the specter of Russia using the impeachment process itself to meddle in the next U.S. presidential election.
She implored members of Congress not to give rise to conspiracy theories that could be used to drive wedges between Americans.
Goldman also asked Holmes to confirm a subsequent conversation in which Sondland told him that Trump only cares about “big stuff” in Ukraine like the investigation into the Bidens that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was pushing.
“Correct,” Holmes said.
Fiona Hill, a Russia expert who worked on President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, on Thursday publicly rebutted a Republican narrative that Ukraine intervened in the 2016 elections, while reasserting that Russia has and continues to meddle in U.S. politics.
Hill’s comments, made before the House Intelligence Committee during its fifth day of public hearings on the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, directly challenged defenses made by Republican members of the panel who have grasped for debunked conspiracy theories throughout the proceedings.
“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear 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,” Hill told the House Intelligence Committee during its fifth day of public hearings. “This is a fictional narrative.”
Hill went on to say that “these fictions” hurt the United States, even if Republicans deploy them purely for domestic political purposes.
Laura K. Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said that she was aware of multiple communications between Ukrainian Embassy officials and members of her staff in which the embassy officials asked questions about delivery of the security aid to their country.
Ms. Cooper said that a member of her staff received a question about the aid on July 25 from the Ukrainian Embassy, which asked “what was going on with Ukraine assistance.” She said that during the week of Aug. 6, other members of her staff saw officials from the embassy who raised the issue of the aid.
The timing of when Ukraine knew that the aid had been frozen is a critical question as Democrats build a case that Mr. Trump tried to leverage the aid for a public announcement of investigations into his political rivals. The security aid was frozen in early July, and Republicans have insisted that Ukraine did not know about the hold until it was reported by a news outlet on Aug. 28.
David Hale, the State Department’s No. 3 official, also fielded questions about the hold on security aid to Ukraine and the attacks by Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, on the reputation of Marie L. Yovanovitch, the United States ambassador to Ukraine. She was eventually recalled from her post.
Mr. Hale told lawmakers that what happened to Ms. Yovanovitch was “wrong” and that “I believe that she should have been able to stay at post and continue to do the outstanding work.”
Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018, Parnas’ lawyer Ed MacMahon told The Daily Beast.
Nunes aide Derek Harvey participated in the meetings, the lawyer said, which were arranged to help Nunes’ investigative work. MacMahon didn’t specify what those investigations entailed.
Nunes is the top Republican on the House committee handling the impeachment hearings—hearings where Parnas’ name has repeatedly come up.
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted Thursday on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in a set of long-running corruption cases, immediately throwing his political future into doubt and heightening the uncertainty and chaos surrounding Israel’s fitful, yearlong struggle to choose its next leader.
The cases against Mr. Netanyahu involve allegations of giving or offering lucrative official favors to several media tycoons in exchange for either favorable coverage in news outlets or gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. He has rejected the charges as false and politically motivated.
Mr. Netanyahu is not legally required to step down. But with Israel’s political system already in uncharted territory, having failed to settle upon a new prime minister despite two elections and three attempts at forming a government since April, the criminal case against him could make it far more difficult for him to retain power.