Notes on Fiona Hill’s testimony, October 14, 2019

I can’t believe I’m reading the transcript of this testimony, which occurred behind closed doors with House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. (I think members of two other committees were also present or allowed to attend.) I say, “I can’t believe,” because I didn’t have a strong interest in reading this. But I just took a peak and got hooked. (We’ll see how long the transcript holds my interest.) These are some notes as I read the transcript.

3 thoughts on “Notes on Fiona Hill’s testimony, October 14, 2019

  1. Transcript

    Note: The Democrats and Republicans have staff questioning Dr. Hill–Mr. Goldman and Mr. Castor, respectively– and I assume they’re lawyers.

    And so it was obvious to us, and I mean all of my team, everybody at the State Department that I spoke to including at the higher levels, inside the NSC at the high levels as well, that she’d (Yovanovitch) been subject to a pretty ruthless, nasty defamatjon to basically remove her from p1ace.And the most obvious explanation at that point, it has to be said, seemed to be busjness dealings of individuals who wanted to improve their investment positions insjde of Ukraine itself (She mentioned Parnas, Fruman, and Harry Sargeant, a Florida businessman) , and also to deflect away from the findings of not just the Mueller report on Russian jnterference but what’s also been confirmed by your own Senate report, and what I know myself to be true as a former intelligence analyst and somebody who has been working on Russia for more than 30 years. So the fact that Ambassador Yovanovitch was removed as a result of this was, I have to say, pretty dispiriting.

    I believe Parnas, Fruman, and Sergeant are business associates of Rudy Giuliani.

    Q: And did you discuss Ambassador Yovanovitch with Ambassador Bolton?
    A: I did.
    Q: And what was his reaction to this?
    A: Hjs reaction was pained. And he basically said in fact, he directly said: Rudy Giuljani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up.

    (page 45)

    In the excerpt below, Hill speaks about her conversation with Amos Hochstein, who told her about his experience being on the board of Naftogaz. According to Hill, Hochstein was well-regarded in Energy Department and appointed on Naftogaz board by the Trump administration.

    Hill: In the course of his time on the board of Naftogaz, which he actually said had actually not been a particularly uplifting experience, it had come to his attention that there was a lot of pressure being put on the officials of Naftogaz, who had also reached out to talk to me and my colleagues at the National Security Council, to have other board members put in place and this seemed to be at the direction of Giuliani , and that they were also being pushed more generally in the Ukrainian energy sector to open up investigations into corruption in the energy sector that seemed to go beyond what I had assumed was the thrust of our push on corruption, which was related to people trying to siphon off assets of Naftogaz or to use that improperly, which had been done at many times in the past,and, ‘in f act, would include the energy company Burisma that everyone has been very concerned about.

    (page 56)

    Hill And Ambassador Sondland would frequentlygive people my personal cell phone to call up and demand meetings with Ambassador BoIton or wlth me….I mean, some of it was comical, but it was also, for me and for others, deeply concerning. And I actually went to our Intelligence Bureau and asked to have (redacted) sit down with him and explain that this was counterintelligence risk, particularly giving out our personal phone number. And also just, I mean’ basically going beyond the larger remit because he should have been having briefings. If , indeed, he had been given these assignments, he should have been having appropriate briefings for all of these meetings. And as far as I could understand, the briefings that he was getting so he was often meeting with people he had no information about. It’s like basically driving along with no guardrails and no GPS on an unfamiliar territory. He was meeting with, for example”, I officials that we had derogatory information on that he shouldn’t have been meeting with, or he was, you know, giving out his phone number and texting to, you know, regional offic’ia1s, for example, the Prime Minister of (redacted) who he met at a meeting in Brussels. All of those communications could have been exfiltrated by the Russians very easily.

    (page 62)

    Just wanted to note the failure and incompetence with regard to national security matters. Those who thought Hillary Clinton should not be president because of national security failures should be interested in these details.

  2. Prior to the following remarks, Hill describes a meeting between administration officials and Ukrainian representatives. She describes at some length, the strong desire for a White House meeting from foreign leaders, especially new ones. She also describes the reasons for this as well as noting that Ambassador John Bolton was very cautious about granting such a meeting to the Ukrainians.

    And secretary Perry had been talking in this context bout the importance of reforming the energy structures in Ukraine in a very general sense and talking about how important that was for Ukrainian national security and that,as well as reforming their national security structures, they also have to, you know, really pay attention to their AchilIes heel, all the places that Russja had leverage, the military sector, which Ambassador Bolton had also been talking about, and then the energy sector, which was really in some considerable disarray.

    Then Ambassador Sondland blurted out: Well, we have an agreement with the Chief of Staff for a meeting if these investigations in the energy sector start. And Ambassador Bolton immediately stiffened. He said words to the effect I can’t say word for word what he said because I was behind them sitting on the sofa with our Senior Director of Energy, and we all kind of looked up and thought that was somewhat odd. And Ambassador Bolton immediately stiffened and ended the meeting.

    (pages 66-67)

    Later Bolton and Hill overhear Sondland inviting Ukrainians to have more discussions in another room. Bolton tells Hill to go and find out what they’re talking about. This is part of what she heard when she went to the other room to hear what was being said:

    And Ambassador SondIand, in front of the Ukrainians, as I came in, was talking about how he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward wjth investigations. And my director for Ukraine was looking completely alarmed. And I came in again as this discussion was underway. Mr. Danylyuk (Ukrainian official) looked very alarmed as well. He didn’t look like he knew what was going on. That wasn’t the case with Yermak.

    (pages 69-70)

    Hill basically intervened at this point and said they’d have to have more discussions about a White House meeting. The Ukranians left at some point and she made this point again to Sondland, who, according to Hill, was “clearly annoyed.”

  3. On the notion that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election

    Starting on page 167 (and I end on 177), Mr. Castor begins a line of a questioning about a 2017 Politico article, which reports that the Ukrainian government interfered in the 2016 election by pushing out damaging information about Paul Manafort.

    (Note: Sections in bold are added by me for emphasis.)

    Hill:… and I am very confident based on all of the analysis that has been done and, again, I don’t want to start getting into intelligence matters that the Ukrainian Government did not interfere in our election in 2015.

    Castor: Okay. But you’re aware of the reporting?

    Hill: I’m aware of the reporting, but that doesn’t mean that that amounts to an operation by the Ukrainian Government.

    Castor: Right. What do you know about (redacted)?

    Hill: I don’t know very much about them, apart from things that I couldn’t speak about. Can I also say that in my past life at Brookings, is a think tank, I must have had about 25 different people from all kinds of different backgrounds coming to try to use me as a conduit to various campaigns, Republican and Democrat, given my experience and links, from, you know, Ukrainian, Belarussian , you know, Georgian, Russian, all trying to make contact with the campaigns. I could wrjte a million articles like that putting allkinds of people’s names out there based on just the contacts of people that I had.

    Castor: Fair enough . Just asking the questions.

    Hill: No, but I’m just saying in here that but this gets back to what Masha Yovanovitch said, that you can write something in an article and it somehow becomes true that it’s written in an article without all of the due diligence that’s done about done on this later.I have my own beef with 2016 and the investigations, that I don’t believe it should have started by focusing, first of all, on Americans. It should have started by looking at what Russians were doing, and I think we would have ended up in exactly the same place that Mr. Mueller did on what the Russians did with the same sets of indictments, and it might have not been quite so politicized at the time, because I can promise you that the Russians did everything that he outlined and then some. And I myself have been targeted by the Russians on many occasions.

    And that doesn’t make me anti-Russian But I’ll just say that this particular Russian administration, run by somebody who is an ‘incredibly, you know, well-skilled KGB operative, is something that you just don’t mess with. And we are going to be in big trouble —

    Castor: Who is the KGB operative?

    Hill: That’s President Putin. And we’re going to be in big trouble, if we don’t get our act together, in creating more fodder for them to throw right back at us in 2020. And I think this is an issue of our national security for all of us, no matter what part of the aisle that you’re sitting on.

    Castor: Would you agree though that, you know, the bringing of Mr. Manafort’s dealings in the Ukraine to the forefront, you know, may have had…

    Hill: Corruption is the way that President Putin and other nefarious actors, be they from China, Iran, or North Korea, access our system.

    Castor begins a line of questioning relating to Ukrainians interfering in the 2016 election by putting damaging information about Paul Manafort, with Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) joining at some point. They are quite persistent in this, attempting to get Dr. Hill to say something to support this narrative. At one point Dr. Hill expresses, and her lawyer, Mr. Wolosky, express frustration):

    MR. CAST0R: It’ s a pretty harmless question .

    MR. WOLOSKY: You’ve asked it three or four times .

    DR. HILL: Yes, but there are Ukrainians pushing out information about Masha Yovanovitch which is untrue. Why don’t you ask about that as well? Is Masha Yovanovitch any less of an American that Mr. Manafort? She has not been accused of any corruption.

    MR. ZELDIN: Dr. Hill.

    DR. HILL: I’m sorry. I’m just getting annoyed about this, because the point is that, you know, Mr. Manafort has also been subject — I don’t know him either. But there’s been a trial in which he was convicted of certain activity. And I like to believe that the law was abided by in pursuing,you know, what he did. And, again, as I’ve said, corruption is our Achilles heel here in the United States. And I am shocked, again,that we’ve had the failure of imagination to realize that the Russians could target us in the same way that they use corruption in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia. We, unfortunately, by not cleaning up our own act, have given them the doors in which they can walk through and mess around in our system. And if Mr. Manafort did half of the things that he was said to do, shame on him. Okay? And I don’t know him. And, again, this is not a partisan discussion. And, frankly, what he did should not be subject to, you know, this kind of back and forth either.
    MR. ZELDIN: Just kind of unpacking that back and forth and the origin of it, the first question, the answer was that it was — and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so please correct me if this is not accurate. But the answer to the first question was where you concluded Ukraine did not interfere in the U.S. election?
    DR. HILL: The Ukrainian Government did not interfere in the U.S. election. The Ukrainian Government did not do that. The Ukrainian Special Services also did not interfere in our election.
    MR. ZELDIN: Okay. The follow up question and answers, the answer is that it’s your assessment that where there was interference by Ukrainians that it’s your assessment that it djdn’t change the electjon results. So I see that there is an interpretation.
    MR. WOLOSKY: That misstates her testimony.
    DR. HILL: It also misstates it. I have no basis.
    MR. ZELDIN: Feel free to correct it. I’m just
    MR. WOLOSKY: We just said it misstated her testimony, so go to your next question, please.
    MR. ZELDIN: So the first answer is, it’s your position that the Ukrainian Government did not interfere with the U.S.election, correct?
    DR. HILL: Correct.
    MR. ZELDIN: Did Ukrainians interfere with the U.S.election?
    DR. HILL: I mean, look, this is any foreign individual the way that you’re going with this question is any foreign individual who evinced any kind of interest in the campaigns or tried to meet with anyone in any campaign and I just said to you before, I can come up in my own accounting of a whole range of people who are foreign individuals who wanted to meet with the various campaigns then that would count as interference, anybody wanting to meet with anybody in any campaign to talk to anybody.
    MR. ZELDIN: Okay. As far as
    DR. HILL: So did some Ukrainians want to talk to yes, but so did some Chinese, did a lot of Russians. Andt here were a lot more Russians that were trying to get involved in all kinds of people’s campaigns. I myself witnessed some of this, and it wasn’t just on, you know, the kind of Democratic or the Republican side.

    And, I mean, this is not the nature of my testimony because it’s when I was in, you know, not in my current job but when I was at the Brookings Institution. But remember,I’ve been the national intelligence officer for Russia before his for 3-1/2 years. So a lot of the information I have is classified. And I know from my previous position about how many people who were trying to gain influence into our politics. And it’s very– the Russians want to show that, in fact,that it wasn’t them that were involved in 2016.

    (Note: After a little back and forth about previous directors handling Ukraine portfolio, Dr. Hill says the following:)

    Dr. Hill: Look, and I’m sorry to get testy about, you know, this back and forth, because I’m really worried about these conspiracy theories, and I’m worried that all of you are going to go down a rabbit hole, you know, looking for things that are not going to be at all helpful to the American people or to our future election in 2020. You just had the Senate report coming out informing us all yet again, a bipartisan, nonpartisan report from the Senate about the risk that there is to our elections. If we have people running around chasing rabbit holes because Rudy Giuliani or others have been feeding information to The Hill, Politico, we are not going to be prepared as a country to push back on this again. The Russians thrive on misinformation and disinformation. And I just want to say that that was the reason that I went into the administration when I was asked by General Flynn, K.T. MacFarland, and General Kellogg. We’re in peril as a democracy because of other people interfering here. And it doesn’t mean to say that other people haven’t also been trying to do things, but the Russians were who attacked us in 2016, and they’re now writing the script for others to do the same. And if we don’t get our act together,they will continue to make fools of us internationally.

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