Former US adviser in Russia testifies before House committees

Fiona Hill the latest witness summoned in impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump

Former White House adviser on Russia Fiona Hill arriving on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Former White House adviser on Russia Fiona Hill arriving on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

 

US president Donald Trump’s former Russia adviser testified on Monday behind closed doors as the latest witness summoned in the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against Mr Trump over his request that Ukraine investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian Affairs on Mr Trump’s National Security Council, was called to appear before the US House of Representatives intelligence committee. She walked past journalists without saying anything as she arrived at the US Capitol building.

The Trump administration’s removal in May of Marie Yovanovitch as US ambassador to Ukraine could figure in Ms Hill’s testimony.

On Friday, Ms Yovanovitch testified that she had been ousted based on “unfounded and false claims” after coming under attack by Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who had been working to get Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden and his son Hunter.

The inquiry focuses on a July 25th phone call in which Mr Trump asked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the former vice-president.

Democrats have accused Mr Trump of pressuring a vulnerable US ally to dig up dirt on a domestic rival after withholding $391 million in US security aid. Mr Zelenskiy agreed to investigate and Mr Trump eventually allowed the aid.

The British-born Ms Hill, who left her White House job shortly before the July 25th call but remained on the payroll into August, had advocated a tough US approach against Russia even as Mr Trump was more accommodating toward President Vladimir Putin.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election with a campaign of hacking and propaganda intended to boost Mr Trump’s candidacy.

Republican congressman Matt Gaetz, an outspoken defender of Mr Trump, was asked to leave the closed session about an hour into Ms Hill’s testimony. Mr Gaetz is not a member of any of the three House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry and Mr Gaetz told reporters the House parliamentarian said he could not attend.

Mr Giuliani faces a Tuesday deadline to produce documents related to the Ukraine matter subpoenaed by the House intelligence committee. He has not said whether he will comply.

Lawmakers this week are returning from a two-week recess, with testimony from current and former administration officials on the schedule. A key event could be testimony on Thursday from Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union.

Mr Sondland, a Trump backer and not a career diplomat, participated in a text message exchange with Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine. Democrats say it reveals concern among aides that Mr Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden was improper.

Mr Sondland is expected to be asked why he relayed from Mr Trump to other diplomats that the president said no “quid pro quos” connecting the Biden investigation with the US aid.

Mr Trump has denied wrongdoing. The inquiry could prompt the House to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – leading to a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Mr Trump from office.

As talks continue over whether the whistleblower from within the US intelligence community who prompted the inquiry will testify, Mr Trump weighed in on Twitter, demanding that the person testify and that the individual’s identity be revealed.

Negotiations between representatives for the whistleblower and congressional committees were deadlocked over Senate intelligence committee requests that the individual provide testimony in person, while the House committees were willing to exchange questions and answers in writing, according to two people familiar with the negotiations. – Reuters