Impeachment Inquiry: Hill expresses confidence in Vindman on Ukraine

Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, left, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, are sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the House impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have made their closing arguments as they end the final impeachment hearing of the week — and perhaps the final hearing before they hand the probe over to the House Judiciary Committee.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff laid out what the committee has learned over the course of seven hearings on President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Schiff said the president believes “he is above the law” and “beyond accountability” as he pushed Ukraine to investigate Democrats and withheld military aid.

He said Democrats will have to examine “what is our duty” as they decide on next steps.

The top Republican on the panel, California Rep. Devin Nunes, called the hearings “a show trial” and said they had a pre-determined verdict.

In Thursday’s hearing, the committee heard testimony from former White House national security adviser Fiona Hill and David Holmes, the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.

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2:45 p.m.

A former National Security Council adviser says she’s puzzled why she’d be called a “never-Trumper.”

Fiona Hill is testifying before a House committee in an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Lawmakers are investigating whether Trump wrongly withheld critical military aid to Ukraine unless the country’s new president committed to saying publicly he was investigating Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden and the 2016 election.

Some Republicans have tried to discredit government witnesses as against the president, using a term “never-Trumper.”

Hill was asked whether she was one of them. She said she thought it was inappropriate to apply the term to nonpartisan officials in government.

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2:30 p.m.

A U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who overheard a cellphone conversation with President Donald Trump says the acting ambassador in Ukraine may not have discussed the call because “it was not news to him.”

David Holmes, the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is testifying in the House impeachment inquiry.

He was asked about Trump’s phone call with U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland in which they discussed investigations Trump wanted Ukraine to conduct. And why acting Ambassador William Taylor didn’t mention it in his closed testimony and only disclosed it during a public hearing.

Holmes, who briefed Taylor on the call, said it may not have struck his boss as that surprising because Trump’s desire for investigations into his political rivals was well known.

Holmes said that while the call was a “touchstone experience” for him, Taylor had reached the same conclusion through other means.

He said when the call was discussed later the conclusions were accepted. Holmes said officials believe that "Of course that's what's going on. Of course the president is pressing for a Biden investigation.”

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2:10 p.m.

Former White House adviser Fiona Hill says she was confident in Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s judgment on Ukraine policy, but worried that he lacked the political chops to navigate the increasingly heated conflict over the White House’s strategy.

Hill was the senior director for Russia and Europe on the White House National Security Council. She is testifying in the House impeachment hearings that Vindman, who testified earlier in the week, could handle Ukraine policy.

But, she added, “I did not feel that he had the political antennae" to handle what she described as President Donald Trump’s back channel to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens while military aid was being held up.

Hill, who was born in England, saluted the Soviet-born Vindman as a laudable example of immigrants and American citizens serving their country.

Hill noted the U.S. is a country of immigrants, saying, "This is, to me, what makes America great."

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2 p.m.

The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee is asking witnesses about their familiarity with a dossier of opposition research compiled on Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The research was gathered by Chris Steele, a former British spy who was paid by Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign to look into Trump’s ties to Russia.

Rep. Devin Nunes raised the Steele dossier on Thursday with witnesses Fiona Hill and David Holmes.

Hill said that she did know Steele, who was her British counterpart when she served as a national intelligence officer from 2006 to 2009.

She also said she received a copy of his dossier the day before it was made public. It was given to her by a colleague at the Brooking Institution, where she worked at the time.

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1:55 p.m.

Former White House adviser Fiona Hill says Ambassador Gordon Sondland was “being involved in a domestic political errand” while she and her team were “involved in national security policy.”

Hill told House impeachment investigators about a confrontation she had with Sondland about his role in Ukraine policy.

She says Sondland told him that President Donald Trump had put him in charge of Ukraine, and that that “shut me up.”

Hill said she feels as if she was a bit rude to Sondland because she says she appreciates that he was doing what he believed the president asked him to do.

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11:40 a.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there is clear evidence that President Donald Trump has used his office for his personal gain. She says doing that “undermined the national security of the United States.”

The California Democrat says lawmakers involved in the House impeachment inquiry haven’t decided what charges they might bring against Trump. She says they don’t know if they’ll try hearing from additional witnesses.

Pelosi also says she doesn’t want to hold up the inquiry to wait for federal courts to decide whether some witnesses can testify. She says the House investigation “cannot be at the mercy of a court.”

Democrats have sought testimony from people like former White House national security adviser John Bolton. But these potential witnesses have filed court cases to determine if they must appear.

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11:30 a.m.

A former White House national security aide says a July 10 meeting of U.S. and Ukrainian officials was so alarming that her boss told her to call a lawyer.

Fiona Hill says a key moment was when European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland said he and Trump’s acting chief of staff had worked out a deal for Ukraine’s president. Under the deal, Volodymyr Zelenskiy would visit the White House in exchange for opening investigations.

Hill says her boss, national security adviser John Bolton, stiffened. She says it was “unmistakable body language that got my attention.”

He later told her to call a lawyer and make clear that “I am not part of whatever drug deal” that Sondland and Trump’s acting chief of staff were cooking up.

Hill is testifying Thursday before lawmakers in the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Lawmakers are investigating whether Trump wrongly withheld critical security aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into his Democratic rival.

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11:15 a.m.

An impeachment witness is describing in detail a phone call that he overheard between President Donald Trump and Ambassador Gordon Sondland.

The July 26 call took place from an outdoor terrace of a Kyiv restaurant. David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, was at lunch with Sondland and overheard it.

He says he heard Trump ask Sondland if Ukraine’s president was “gonna do the investigation,” and Sondland replied that he was.

Holmes says he asked Sondland if it was true that Trump didn’t care about Ukraine. He says Sondland replied that he only cared about the “big stuff.” He says the “big stuff” included the Biden investigation.

Sondland has said he had no recollection of having discussed the Bidens with Holmes.

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11:10 a.m.

A Foreign Service officer says he understood that the use of the word “Burisma” was code for “Bidens.”

David Holmes is testifying before a House committee in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Other witnesses testified they did not realize that when Trump allies and others mentioned they were seeking an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, that they meant an investigation into the Bidens. The son of former Vice President Joe Biden sat on the board of Burisma.

But Holmes says others working on Ukraine issues would recognize the connection between the two.

The inquiry is centered on whether Trump wrongly held up military aid for Ukraine until the new president agreed to investigate the Bidens and a debunked theory that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 election.

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11:05 a.m.

A former National Security Council adviser says the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had been making “incendiary” remarks on television about Ukraine.

Fiona Hill is testifying Thursday before a House committee in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Investigators are trying to determine whether Trump wrongly held up critical military assistance unless Ukraine’s new president publicly said he’d investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his son.

She was asked why Ambassador John Bolton would call Giuliani a “hand grenade.” She said that Bolton was referring to Giuliani’s many TV appearances floating conspiracy theories on the 2016 election and the Bidens.

She says that Giuliani was “clearly pushing forward” issues that would “probably come back to haunt us.”

And she says: “That’s where we are today.”

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10:40 a.m.

A former White House national security aide is testifying at a House impeachment hearing that Russia’s goal in 2016 was to put whomever was elected president “under a cloud.”

Fiona Hill is an expert on Russia. She says increased partisanship is “exactly what the Russian government was hoping for.”

She says it is “absolutely the case” that it is to Russia’s benefit to blame Ukraine for intervention in the U.S. election. And that falls into “a long pattern of deflection” by Russia.

President Donald Trump and other Republicans have pushed the theory that Ukraine intervened in the 2016 election while U.S. intelligence agencies have stated unequivocally that it was Russia.

Hill told the committee in her opening statement that Republicans should quit pushing a “fictional” narrative about Ukraine.

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10:10 a.m.

A Foreign Service officer says that former White House national security adviser John Bolton mentioned critical security aid to Ukraine will be held until the new president could “favorably impress” President Donald Trump

David Holmes is testifying Thursday before lawmakers in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump. Lawmakers are investigating whether Trump wrongly withheld critical security aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into his Democratic rival.

Holmes says that Bolton told him that a meeting between Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Warsaw would be crucial. But Trump pulled out of the meeting.

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10 a.m.

An official at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine is telling impeachment investigators that he came forward with evidence about a phone call he overheard between President Donald Trump and a U.S. diplomat because he believed it was firsthand information relevant to the probe.

David Holmes testified Thursday that he realized that those events bore on the question of whether Trump had knowledge that senior officials “were using the levers of our diplomatic power” to urge Ukraine to open investigations into Democrats.

Holmes testified that he overheard Trump and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland talking about those investigations.

Holmes said he reminded the top U.S. official in Ukraine, William Taylor, about the overheard call. Taylor relayed that information to impeachment investigators last week, and they then called on him to testify.

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9:55 a.m.

A Foreign Service officer says he overheard a phone call between President Donald Trump and a U.S. ambassador in which they discussed investigations requested of Ukraine.

David Holmes is testifying Thursday in a House impeachment inquiry into whether Trump wrongly held up military aid to Ukraine until the president committed to investigating Trump’s Democratic political rival.

Holmes says he was at a lunch with Ambassador Gordon Sondland and others and Sondland got on his mobile phone to speak with the president.

Holmes says he overheard Sondland talking with Trump about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Trump’s voice was loud.

He overheard him ask about “doing the investigation.” And Sondland told him Zelenskiy would do it and would do “anything you ask him to.”

Trump tweeted during Holmes’ testimony that he has never been able to overhear anyone talking through a phone. He said: “I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!”

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9:50 a.m.

A witness in the House impeachment inquiry is expressing his concerns about the role of Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine policy.

David Holmes is a political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.

He says he recognized last spring that the embassy’s priorities had become overshadowed by a political agenda driven by Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, “and a cadre of officials operating with a direct channel to the White House.”

He says that cadre included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker. The group referred to itself as “The Three Amigos.”

The campaign by Giuliani involved public statements attacking the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, as well as a push for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 presidential election and the Bidens.

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9:30 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says Democrats will decide “in the coming days” what response is appropriate after hearing from a dozen witnesses in seven House impeachment hearings.

The seventh hearing began Thursday morning with witnesses Fiona Hill, a former White House national security aide, and David Holmes, a foreign service officer serving in Kyiv. Democrats are investigating President Donald Trump’s dealings in Ukraine as he pushed the country to investigate Democrats and withheld military aid.

Republicans have argued that Trump did nothing illegal. California Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the panel, said Thursday “marks the merciful end of this spectacle.”

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8:55 a.m.

A former White House national security adviser testifying before a House committee in an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump says that Russia and its proxies have geared up for 2020 election interference.

In prepared testimony, Fiona Hill cautioned against getting sidetracked by other narratives on election interference, as Republican members of the committee continue to push a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Hill will tell lawmakers: “We are running out of time to stop them.”

The House committee is looking at whether Trump wrongly conditioned critical military aid for Ukraine on a public statement by their new president to look into the son of Trump’s potential Democratic rival Joe Biden and his ties to a Ukrainian gas company, as well as the 2016 elections.

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House impeachment investigators will hear on Thursday from two key witnesses who grew alarmed by how President Donald Trump and others in his orbit were conducting foreign policy in Ukraine, capping an intense week in the historic inquiry.

David Holmes, a political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, says he was having lunch with Ambassador Gordon Sondland this summer when he heard Trump on the phone asking the envoy about the investigations he wanted from the Ukraine president. The colorful exchange was like nothing he had ever seen, Holmes said in an earlier closed-door deposition.

Fiona Hill said her National Security Council boss, John Bolton, cut short a meeting with visiting Ukrainians at the White House when Sondland started asking them about “investigations.”

The two witnesses set to appear Thursday are the last scheduled for public hearings in an inquiry that brought hours of testimony from a roster of current and former U.S. government officials defying Trump’s orders not to appear.

The impeachment inquiry focuses on allegations that Trump sought investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son — and the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election — in return for the badly needed military aid and a White House visit the new Ukrainian president wanted to show his backing from the West.

Those testifying publicly this week previously appeared for private depositions, most having received subpoenas compelling their testimony.

Holmes has told investigators the call he overheard “was so remarkable that I remember it vividly.”

He said he heard Trump ask, “So he’s going to do the investigation?” According to Holmes, Sondland replied that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “will, quote, ‘do anything you ask him to.’”

Hill said Bolton told her he didn’t want to be involved in any “drug deal” Sondland and Trump’s acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were cooking up over the Ukrainian investigations Trump wanted.

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and donor to Trump’s inauguration, appeared before lawmakers Wednesday in a marathon session.

He declared that Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani explicitly sought a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine, leveraging an Oval Office visit for political investigations of Democrats. But he also came to believe the trade involved much more.

Sondland testified it was his understanding the president was holding up nearly $400 million in military aid, which Ukraine badly needs with an aggressive Russia on its border, in exchange for the country’s announcement of the investigations.

Sondland conceded that Trump never told him directly the security assistance was blocked for the probes, a gap in his account that Republicans and the White House seized on as evidence the president did nothing wrong. But the ambassador said his dealings with Giuliani, as well as administration officials, left him with the clear understanding of what was at stake.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo’?” Sondland testified in opening remarks. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

The rest, he said, was obvious: “Two plus two equals four.”

Later Wednesday, another witness undercut a main Republican argument — that Ukraine didn’t even realize the money was being held up. The Defense Department’s Laura Cooper testified that Ukrainian officials started asking about it on July 25, which was the day of Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy, when he first asked for a “favor.”

Sondland was the most highly anticipated witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry into the 45th president of the United States.

In often-stunning testimony, he painted a picture of a Ukraine pressure campaign that was prompted by Trump himself, orchestrated by Giuliani and well-known to other senior officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Sondland said he raised his concerns about a quid pro quo for military aid with Vice President Mike Pence — a conversation Pence said he didn’t recall.

However, Sondland said: “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

The ambassador said he and Trump spoke directly about desired investigations, including a colorful cellphone call this summer overheard by others at a restaurant in Kyiv.

Trump himself insists daily that he did nothing wrong and the Democrats are just trying to drum him out of office.

As the hearing proceeded, he spoke to reporters outside the White House. Reading from notes written with a black marker, Trump quoted Sondland quoting Trump to say the president wanted nothing from the Ukrainians and did not seek a quid pro quo. He also distanced himself from his hand-picked ambassador, saying he didn’t know him “very well.”

Trump concluded, "It's all over" for the impeachment proceedings.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was pleased that the “political battles” in Washington had overtaken the Russia allegations, which are supported by the U.S. intelligence agencies.

"Thank God,” Putin said, “no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore. Now they’re accusing Ukraine."

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Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Laurie Kellman, Zeke Miller, Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

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