Fiona Hill, President Donald Trump’s former top Russia adviser, raised concerns about Rudy Giuliani’s role in US foreign policy toward Ukraine and spoke out about the ouster of the US ambassador to Ukraine during her closed-door deposition on Monday with House lawmakers, according to multiple sources familiar with testimony.
Hill was concerned that Giuliani was circumventing the State Department to run what some Democrats have labeled a “shadow foreign policy” by seeking the removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and pushing for Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Hill told lawmakers that she had high praise for Yovanovitch and expressed her concerns when Yovanovitch was removed, according to sources familiar with her testimony.
Hill also told lawmakers that she was not part of Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but she was involved with pre-call planning, according one of the sources. By the time the call took place on July 25, Hill had left the National Security Council.
Trump’s former adviser testified Monday before the House committees investigating Trump’s phone call with Zelensky as well as efforts by Giuliani to push the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens and Giuliani’s work to push out Yovanovitch as ambassador.
Hill, who was testifying before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees under subpoena on Monday, is among the handful of current and former Trump administration members being interviewed this week by House panels as part of the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry into Trump’s phone call with Zelensky and its resulting fallout.
Democrats say that the role Giuliani played in Ukraine ran counter to State Department efforts to combat corruption.
“Rudy Giuliani has clearly been a leading force for the administration in defining a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat. “There was an official foreign policy, which was attempting to counter corruption in Ukraine … so you had two foreign policies working completely against each other”
Republicans, meanwhile, continued their attack on House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff’s handling of the impeachment inquiry, charging that the California Democrat was selectively releasing information by not making the interview transcripts public. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican not on one of the three committees conducting the inquiry, tried to further confront Democrats’ over their investigation by crashing Monday’s deposition. He was asked to leave, he said, after a ruling by the parliamentarian.
A career in foreign policy
One focal point of Hill’s testimony was likely her skepticism toward Russian President Vladimir Putin. During her stint with the National Security Council, Hill oversaw rocky Washington-Moscow ties, and her views sometimes seemed at odds with Trump’s own desire to improve relations with the strongman leader who Trump, as a candidate, often spoke of admiringly.
The former adviser officially departed her role in August — though she had handed over most of her responsibilities in July — but was involved as Giuliani was making public pronouncements about Ukraine.
Given Hill’s history of working in the White House, there was speculation that Trump could attempt to stop Hill from testifying based on executive privilege. Hill’s attorneys argued in a letter on Sunday to the White House Counsel’s Office that they did not believe any privilege issues were in play.
“Dr. Hill is mindful of her legal obligations with regard to any classified information she possesses or has knowledge of, and she intends to strictly abide by those obligations,” the letter said.
Her attorneys also wrote about a discussion they’d had on the phone Friday with the White House Counsel’s Office involving executive privilege.
“You also raised the issue of executive privilege. While you represented on the phone call that the White House does not believe that the entirety of Dr. Hill’s testimony is subject to executive privilege, you noted your position that certain areas of her potential testimony may be subject to that privilege,” the letter stated. “The first area consisted of ‘direct communications with the President.’ The second area consisted of ‘diplomatic communications,’ such as ‘meetings with other heads of state’ or ‘staffing the President on calls with foreign heads of state.’ “
Her attorneys noted that the President has discussed the July 25 phone call and other elements of the investigation publicly and again reiterated that their client would abide by secrecy rules, but noted legal precedent that states “that deliberative process privilege ‘disappears altogether when there is any reason to believe government misconduct occurred.’ “
Prior to joining the administration in 2017, Hill worked for the Brookings Institution, where she directed the Center on the United States and Europe form 2009 to 2017.
According to the think tank, before she joined the organization, Hill served as a national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia with the National Intelligence Council. She also oversaw strategic planning at The Eurasia Foundation and for some time worked at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the organization said.
A critical biographer of Putin, Hill has authored or co-authored a number of books on Russia, including two editions of a book titled “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.”