Fiona Hill Took Over Thursday’s Impeachment Hearing. That Was Bad for Trump.

Sondland pursued “a domestic political errand” for Trump, Hill testifies.

Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Europe and Russia testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on November 21, 2019.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former top Russia expert, admitted on Thursday afternoon that she had been unfair to Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who pushed Ukraine to open investigations that would be harmful to his President Donald Trump’s opponents. But in explaining how, Hill offered a withering depiction of Sondland and a damning take on Trump’s approach to Ukraine.

“What I was angry with is that he wasn’t coordinating with us,” Hill said after a question from Republican lawyer Stephen Castor, describing a testy encounter she had with Sondland last summer. She then explained that she has since realized that Sondland—who was briefing Trump, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his efforts—“wasn’t coordinating with” the National Security Counsel “because we weren’t doing the same thing,” she said.

“He was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy,” she added.

To be clear, this is not a kind description of Sondland or the president’s actions. And it is striking that Hill’s testimony came in response to questions from Republicans attempting to drive lines of inquiry helpful to Trump. But the British-born Hill effectively took control, elaborating without interruption on subjects damaging to the president.

Hill said, quite clearly, that Sondland, at Trump’s behest, had sidestepped official, purposefully nonpartisan US foreign policy organs so that he could more effectively try to hijack US policy toward Ukraine to help Trump pursue domestic political aims.

Sondland complained at the time that the NSC was was “always trying to block him,” Hill said. “What we were trying to do was always trying to block us from straying into domestic or personal politics. And that was precisely what I was trying to do. But Ambassador Sondland is not wrong that he had been given a different remit than we had been.”

During the impeachment hearings, Republicans have tried to argue that Trump’s to request that Ukraine announce investigations damaging to his political opponents reflected legitimate policy concern or Trump’s general dislike of corruption abroad. But Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-Calif.) the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, accidentally helped Hill demolish his own party’s talking point by pressing her further on her concerns about Sondland’s activity, trying to establish that he was duly acting under the president’s authority.

“At the end of the day, isn’t it the commander and chief that makes those decisions?” Nunes asked.

“My point, Mr. Nunes, is that we are the National Security Council were not told by the president, directly or through Ambassador Bolton, that we were to be focused on these issues as a matter of U.S. policy toward Ukraine,” Hill explained. In fact, she said, “I was given a directive to clearly state that I should stay out of politics.”

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REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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