Indications that Thursday’s impeachment inquiry hearing would be electric came early, when former NSC senior director Fiona Hill’s opening statement leaked before the day got started.
In her opening remarks, Hill thoroughly dismantled Republicans’ baseless conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, chiding those who propagate the misinformation for helping an antagonistic Russia undermine the democracy. House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA), in particular, has been parroting that same conspiracy theory every day of the hearings so far.
As the hearing proceeded, Hill also delivered a huge blow to the President during the staff Republican attorney’s own line of questioning when her recollection implicated Trump and many of his right-hand men in the pressure campaign.
She was accompanied by David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat stationed in Kyiv who was only brought into the process at the 11th hour when top Ukraine diplomat Bill Taylor testified that Holmes overheard a previously unreported call, during which Trump asked about the investigations.
Holmes ended up displaying a comprehensive knowledge of the birth and growth of the Ukraine pressure campaign, and was well-positioned to provide insight on many of those developments.
Here are the biggest moments from the day:
Republicans accidentally prompted some testimony damning to Trump
Republicans’ committee lawyer Steve Castor was prodding at a testy exchange Hill had with Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland when things went completely off the rails for him.
Hill recounted her growing realization that she, part of the national security and foreign policy apparatus, was carrying out a completely different mission than that of Sondland, who Hill said was running a “domestic political errand.”
“I was upset with him that he wasn’t fully telling us about all the meetings he was having,” she said of Sondland. “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?’”
In one fell swoop, she’d tethered Trump and many of his top lieutenants to the Ukraine pressure campaign, and adeptly described the parallel but fully separate U.S.-Ukraine missions being carried out in the different “channels.”
Castor accidentally gets some damning information from Hill on Sondland briefing Trump, Mulvaney, etc. pic.twitter.com/0ItCkoLWR6
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) November 21, 2019
Nunes, clearly realizing how catastrophic Hill’s answer was, quickly wrested control back from Castor and steered the conversation into the safer waters of his conspiracy theories.
Hill and H0lmes took the legs out from Sondland and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker
The Thursday witnesses both testified to how obvious the equivalence between investigations into Burisma and the Bidens was to them, undercutting Sondland and Volker, who maintain that they didn’t realize the connection until the publication of the White House call memo.
Holmes even answered in the affirmative that “anyone involved in the Ukraine matters in the spring and summer would understand that as well.”
Holmes/Hill say that investigations into Burisma really meaning investigations into the Bidens (a link which Sondland and Volker say they were ignorant of) was obvious pic.twitter.com/vwFcz8SlB4
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) November 21, 2019
Hill corrected the record on NSC official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman
Tim Morrison, who replaced Hill at the NSC, conveyed concerns about Vindman’s judgment and claimed that Hill raised similar qualms to him during his hearing on Tuesday.
Hill said Thursday that she was “surprised” to hear Morrison make the claim, since she never expressed any worries about his general judgment.
She said that she only relayed a very specific area of concern to Morrison, since Vindman had not worked in highly charged political arenas before.
“I did not feel that he had the political antenna to deal with something that was straying into domestic politics,” Hill said. “That does not mean, in any way, that I was questioning his overall judgment, nor was I questioning, in any way, his substantive expertise.”
Hill dismantles Republican conspiracy theory
Hill spent much of her opening statement shredding the bogus Republican conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” she said. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
House Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) immediately followed up, asking her to explain how a “fiction” of this kind helps Russia undermine the American presidency. She explained that their goal is to delegitimize the President, to cast a pall over even a free and fair election and to attack again in 2020.