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Impeachment Today Podcast: Fiona Hill Is Not Messing Around

In today's episode: the final day of public hearings — for now, at least — featured the compelling testimony of Russia expert and former NSC director Fiona Hill.

Posted on November 22, 2019, at 5:59 p.m. ET

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Europe and Russia testifies before the House Intelligence Committee

It's Friday, November 22nd, 2019, 59 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

In today's episode: The final day of hearings — for now, at least — featured Russia expert and former National Security Council director Fiona Hill giving a very clear and powerful explanation of what went wrong in the summer of 2019. It was a lot, but we'll break down all the most important lines. And there's a bonus musical interlude - in fact, three of them!

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Friday, November 22nd, 2019. 59 days into the impeachment inquiry, and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown reporter and editor at Buzzfeed News, and we did it. We made it through the meat grinder of impeachment hearings, and through to the other side. Just all the rest of the impeachment process to go, and potentially a trial. Okay, well, we still have one more hearing to recap for you, so let's dive right in.

Did you expect things to be chill on the last day of hearings on the schedule? Well, too bad because here's the TLDR. This was a disaster for the Republicans' defense of the president. Okay, in the last stretch of hearings, David Holmes and Fiona Hill took the stand, table. Hill was the senior director for Russia and Eurasia at the National Security Council up until July, and the eloquent expert was one of the strongest witnesses called throughout this entire process.

That became clear in her opening statement, where she laid out how dangerous it is to claim that Ukraine was the real villain in 2016, instead of Russia. Republicans have made those claims repeatedly, and it's one of the things Trump wanted investigated by the new Ukrainian president. It's almost hard to pick out some of her choice quotes, since Hill speaks in paragraphs. And I would actually suggest you go search Twitter for some of her longer responses. But here's the Republican's lawyer, asking her about Wednesday's testimony from US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland. Specifically about a confrontation the two of them had about Sondland's role on Ukraine policy, where she makes clear that something was rotten in the White House.

Fiona Hill:

And what I was angry about was that he wasn't coordinating with us. And I've actually realized, having listened to his deposition, that he was absolutely right. That he wasn't coordinating with us because we weren't doing the same thing that he was doing. So I was upset with him that he wasn't fully telling us 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 Mulvaney, I'm briefing Secretary Pompeo and I've talked to Ambassador Bolton. Who else do I have to deal with?" And the point is we have a robust inter agency process that deals with Ukraine. It includes Mr. Holmes, it includes Ambassador Taylor as the Sharjah in Ukraine. It includes a whole load of other people. But it struck me yesterday when you put up on the screen Ambassador Sunderland's emails, and who was on these emails. And he said, "These are the people who need to know that he was absolutely right." Because he was being involved in a domestic political errant, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.

Hayes Brown:

I mean, wow. That was basically like the Arrested Development, I have made a huge mistake GIF, but in a testimony. And this was her telling the Democrat's lawyer about a July 10th meeting, with Ukraine officials at the White House, where Sondland pushed them to launch investigations that would benefit Trump politically, in exchange for a meeting between Trump and Ukraine's president.

Democratic Lawyer:

Ambassador Sondland say who his agreement on this White House meeting was with?

Fiona Hill:

In that particular juncture, I don't believe so. It was later, which I'm sure you'll want to talk about that he did say more specifically.

Democratic Lawyer:

And what did he say later?

Fiona Hill:

Later he said that he had an agreement with Chief Of Staff Mulvaney, that in return for investigations this meeting would get scheduled.

Democratic Lawyer:

And was he specific at that point, later about the investigations that he was referring to?

Fiona Hill:

He said the investigation is in Burisma.

Hayes Brown:

Mulvaney has already refused to testify in the impeachment hearings despite a subpoena from Congress. And you know how in Pokemon you learn very early on that attacking a rock type with a fire type, is not very effective? Well, that's what came to mind when ranking member Devin Nunes, took time back from the GOP's lawyer, and tried to push Hill to agree that, look, if the president is concerned about Ukraine and the 2016 election, doesn't that make it okay to send his lawyer to go look into it? Short answer, no. Long answer ...

Fiona Hill:

My point Mr. Nunes, is that we at the National Security Council were not told, either by the president directly or through Ambassador Bolton, that we were to be focused on these issues as a matter of US foreign policy toward Ukraine. So when you're talking about Ukraine in 2016, I never personally heard the president say anything specific about 2016 and Ukraine. I've seen him saying plenty of things publicly, but I was not given a directive. In fact, I was given a directive on July 10th by and Ambassador Bolton, very clearly to stay out of domestic politics.

Hayes Brown:

Meanwhile, Holmes also had a lot to tell the committee. He's the political counselor at the US embassy in Ukraine, and we only learned his role in this affair like last week. And he told Congress under oath, how wild it was to hear the president of the United States on the other end of a cell phone call with Sondland bring up the investigation. This was his response to a question about how he could remember the call's contents so clearly.

David Holmes:

This was a very distinctive experience. I have never seen anything like this in my foreign service career. Someone at a lunch in a restaurant, making a call on a cell phone to the president of the United States. Being able to hear his voice, very distinctive personality, we've all seen him on television, very colorful language was used. They were directly addressing something that I had been wondering about working on for weeks and even months. A topic that had led to the recall of my former boss, the former ambassador. And so here was a person who said he had direct contact with the president, and had said that over the course of time. Here he is actually having that contact with the president, hearing the president's voice and them talking about this issue of the Biden investigation that I'd been hearing about.

Hayes Brown:

Now remember, nearly $400 million in US aid to Ukraine was held up over the summer, and determining whether that holdup was linked to the investigations, has been at the core of these hearings. That aid eventually released on September 11th, as Republicans have often pointed out. But Holmes explained why things didn't suddenly just get better after Ukraine got that money.

David Holmes:

Although the hold on the security assistance may have been lifted, there was still things they wanted that they weren't getting, including a meeting with the president in the Oval Office. Whether the whole security assistance hold continued or not, Ukrainians understood that that's something the president wanted, and they still wanted important things from the president. And I think that continues to this day. I think they're being very careful. They still need us now going forward. In fact, right now, President Zelensky is trying to arrange a summit meeting with President Putin in the coming weeks, his first face-to-face meeting with him, to try to advance the peace process. He needs our support. He needs President Putin to understand that America supports Zelensky at the highest levels. This doesn't end with the lifting of the security assistance hold. Ukraine still needs us and as I said, still fighting this war this very day.

Hayes Brown:

That's a lot of very solid, serious testimony and the Republican response was to basically give up. For the vast majority of the time allotted to member for questions, the Republicans basically gave closing statements. In those, they repeated their usual talking points about how this was all a terrible process. That included Jim Jordan, who's been extremely effective in the past four hearings. This was him rattling off all the other conversations Ambassador Bill Taylor listed in his hearing last week.

Jim Jordan:

13 different conversations, never once mentioning this call. July 19th Dr. Hill [inaudible 00:07:21] told Taylor what Sondland told them. July 19, Sondland told Taylor about the upcoming Trump Zelensky call. July 20th, Sondland told Taylor what Sondland told Zelensky to tell Trump.

Hayes Brown:

You get the picture. Jordan then asked Holmes why his conversation with Taylor about the call he overheard, wasn't on the list. And in his response, Holmes explained that he briefed his direct boss, not Taylor, and that everyone at the US Embassy, knew exactly what the president was doing.

David Holmes:

It's exactly my point. I bereaved the call in detail with Deputy Chief [inaudible 00:07:52] if we come back, I refer to the call and everyone is nodding. Of course, that's what's going on. Of course, the president is pressing for a Biden investigation before he'll do these things the Ukrainians want. There was nodding agreement. So did I go through every single word in the call? No, because everyone by that point agreed. It was obvious what the president was pressing for, and Ambassador Taylor, as you've just outlined, had all those other interactions with all these [crosstalk 00:08:16].

Jim Jordan:

But he didn't share it with us.

David Holmes:

Mr. Jordan, please do not interrupt.

Jim Jordan:

But sir-

Hayes Brown:

Jordan wasn't through trying to make his point, and for his trouble, he got gaveled once.

Jim Jordan:

So all of a sudden last week you-

Speaker:

Mr. Jordan. Mr. Jordan, we will allow-

Hayes Brown:

Gaveled twice.

Jim Jordan:

He doesn't share the one that-

Speaker:

Mr. Jordan, Mr. Jordan

Hayes Brown:

And thrice.

Speaker:

You may not like the witness's answer, but we will hear it.

Jim Jordan:

There wasn't an answer-

Speaker:

Mr. Jordan, we will hear the witnesses answer.

Hayes Brown:

He used his full question time later in the hearing to say that the Russia investigation was BS, and so was the impeachment inquiry. And Representative Elise Stefanik, who's also been a standout, only asked three brief questions, including whether Trump and Zelensky did officially meet. And unlike several other witnesses she questioned, Hill and Holmes weren't ready to leave it at, yes.

Elise Stefanik:

There was in fact a meeting between President Trump and Presidents Zelensky ultimately at the UN. Is that correct?

David Holmes:

The president invited Zelensky to the Oval Office, at a date undetermined. That has not yet happened.

Elise Stefanik:

The meeting at the UN? President Trump and president Zelensky met at the UN.

David Holmes:

They did, but not in the Oval Office.

Elise Stefanik:

But they did have a meeting at the UN?

David Holmes:

They did ma'am. And Dr. Hill? They did? Okay, thank you. I yield back.

Hayes Brown:

And by the way, I went back and checked and after the GOP lawyer, only three Republicans asked Hill any questions at all. Which makes sense, because aside from schooling fools left and right, Hill may have been the nicest hostile witness ever. Several times, calmly agreeing with Republican grievances. So that's it. That was the public hearings. And we learned a ton. Almost all of which backed up the whistle blower's original concerns. And we found all new evidence that yes, there was a deal on the table. Ukraine announces an investigation into the company that hired Joe Biden's son, Hunter, and looks into conspiracy theories about interference in the 2016 US election. And in return, they get first a White Jouse meeting.

Hayes Brown:

Things then escalated when hundreds of millions in US Military aid that Congress approved, was put on hold, and allegedly linked to the investigations as well. And involve not just the president, but several of the highest ranking officials in the US government. That is the fact pattern that every witness has confirmed. There's still a lot we don't know though, since we have yet to be able to hear from Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani, Secretary Of State, Mike Pompeo, and several others. We've also been unable to see many of the documents that Democrats requested to help back up their case.

Hayes Brown:

Representative Eric Swalwell said after the hearing ended, that if the administration is going to keep blocking key witnesses, we think we already have powerful evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, to include extortion, abuse of power, obstruction of Congress and justice, and also the impeachable offense of bribery. The president is going to have articles of impeachment drawn up against him. The focus will now shift to what those charges look like and how it affects his likely trial. And now to lay down a number on this whole shebang, we have today's reading from our Nixometer.

Speaker 8:

Well, I'm not a crook.

Hayes Brown:

On our scale, zero. Normal day, normal White House. 10, President Richard M. Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning we are at a 7.6. The last day of public hearings this week was wild in a very different way than the previous ones. The Republicans on the committee faced down to extremely solid witnesses with expertise, that filled in gaps and propped up testimony from other witnesses. And in the face of that, they retreated. Democrats have to feel pretty good as this phase likely ends, and bargaining more public hearings, the process gets ready to move on to the judiciary committee. Okay, after the break, we're actually answering some more of your impeachment questions, so stick around.

Hayes Brown:

All right. A little change of pace this Friday. We asked you all week to send us questions about what you're still confused about, after two weeks of hearings. And wow, did you all deliver. So I guess think of this as a version of These Fucking Things, brought to you by you. First up is a question from all the way on the other side of the world, asking about how subpoenas work or maybe don't work.

Fraser:

Hi, my name is Fraser. I'm a political science student from New Zealand, and I'd like to know why is it that so many people seem to be able to ignore congressional subpoenas without suffering any consequences? Surely Congress has some ability to enforce them.

Hayes Brown:

Well, Fraser, that's kind of a tough one because yes, they do have methods, but they don't really want to pull the trigger. They could send the Sergeant at arms to go arrest people, or they could drag them into court and force the courts to make them go testify in front of Congress. But the Democrats wanted speed over that, so they decided to just push forward anyway. Next we got this question from listener Allie, who's basically wondering fucking impeachment. How does that work?

Allie:

Hi Hayes, this is Allie calling from New York City. Thank you for your show. My question is, my husband threw a curve ball at me the other day when I was talking about the impeachment, and basically said, "So what if impeachment happens? He doesn't have to leave the White House. That's not how it works. Have you read the rules?" And I looked into it a little bit, but I would definitely appreciate your perspective, your correspondence perspective on what happens if impeachment does happen. It doesn't mean that he just gets kicked out, so thanks and appreciate it.

Hayes Brown:

So well yeah, that is kind of a big one. And the issue is that the United States Congress has never removed a president before. Once the House votes on articles of impeachment, which are like criminal charges, the case goes to the Senate for a trial. There's a lot of question marks about what that will look like this time around, but conviction requires two thirds of the Senate on any of those articles. But that in turn requires 22 Republican votes. There's at most three who people are looking at right now, with wiggle room for like seven, which is still not 22. But hey, stranger things have happened. And lastly, I just got this DM yesterday, and it's a very Friday question, so let's dive in. User @winter is coming, messaged me, "Hayes, love the Impeachment Today podcast, and I have a question for you. Why is Nunes mad at a fake Twitter cow and doesn't have anything to do with the impeachment process?"

Thanks Amanda from Kentucky. So this is a lot and very extra, but I think I can explain it pretty quickly. Here we go. Back in March, Devin Nunes sued Twitter and a parody account called @Devincow, for $250 million. He said back in March that he did so to end the online mockery that nobody should have to suffer in their whole life. He filed the suit on a Tuesday and by the end of that Wednesday, the account had gained half a million followers. So good job there. So does this have anything to do with impeachment? No. Is it a big LOL? Absolutely.

Hayes Brown:

Thanks to everyone who sent us questions via voice memo to impeachment@buzzfeed.com, or to me on Twitter at Hayes Brown. We'll respond to more of your questions on Monday's show, so keep sending them in. Okay. Yesterday we told you about the president's response to Sondland's testimony where it came out that [inaudible 00:15:17] talk to reporters and said a lot of stuff, but also read off handwritten notes on a notepad. Multiple cameras caught a shot of Trump's notes to himself, and those words were exactly what he had written in large black sharpie. By the way, if you want to write your own Trump note, our amazing design team at Buzzfeed News, created a font called Tiny Hands, to mimic the president's handwriting. We'll put a link in the show notes where you can see what it looks like and download it for free. Now, of course, because of the internet, many people on Twitter took those notes and made songs out of them in various hilarious musical styles.

Just when I'm convinced that this is truly the darkest timeline, the beautiful people of the internet give me hope. Thank you, internet. Thank you. Now if you find yourself inspired by these songs to create a piece of impeachment related music, please send it to us. Email us at impeachment@buzzfeed.com, or tweet it to me @HayesBrown.

Okay. That is it for today. We'll be back on Monday after, I'm sure we can all agree, a very necessary break. Impeachment Today is a joint production between Buzzfeed News and iHeartRadio, with new episodes dropping every weekday morning. Our show is produced by Dan Bauza, Alan Haburchak and Jacopo Penzo, with editorial assistance from Tom Gara. Editing by Josh Fisher, Taylor Hosking, and Ryan Kyla. Julian Weller is our supervising producer. Special thanks to Mangesh Hatecador, Nikki Itor, Samantha Henig, Maggie Shultz, and Ben Smith. Be sure to subscribe on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. Maybe leave us a rating and a review. Also, tell your friends about the show, and if you really want to show us some love, go to support.Buzzfeednews.com, and throw us a few bucks to help us keep making this show. No quid pro quo.

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