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Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says he has no plans to read the transcripts released by the House impeachment inquiry. (Nov. 6)
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Fiona Hill, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia, testified that former National Security Adviser John Bolton was concerned about the push to solicit help from Ukraine, according to a transcript from her impeachment inquiry deposition released Friday.

Hill added to the account emerging from testimony that President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was part of a team of nontraditional foreign affairs actors spearheading a back-channel Ukraine policy.

In her testimony, Hill outlined key players in a pressure campaign for Ukraine to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, as well as the 2016 presidential election.

More: Read the transcript of Fiona Hill’s testimony in the Trump impeachment inquiry

Here are the key takeaways from Hill’s testimony:

Bolton was ‘furious’ about the push for Ukraine investigations

Hill told the House impeachment inquiry committees that Bolton was angry over efforts to arrange a White House meeting between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for political investigations.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was part of a meeting with Ukrainian officials in July. At one point, he leaned across Bolton to speak to the Ukrainians, and said that a White House meeting had already been secured, according to Hill. 

“Ambassador Sondland blurted out: ‘Well, we have an agreement with the Chief of Staff (Mick Mulvaney) for a meeting if these investigations in the energy sector start,” Hill said.

Bolton then “immediately stiffened” and ended the meeting abruptly, but told Hill to participate in a subsequent meeting to determine plans between the countries for going forward. 

“And that’s when Bolton was just, you know, I wouldn’t say apoplectic, but pretty furious,” Hill said.

Hill said she cautioned Sondland in a follow-up conversation against making the commitment for the White House meeting: “It has to go through proper procedures.”

After the meeting, Bolton told Hill to report the incident to National Security Council lawyer John Eisenberg. “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton told Hill to relay, according to the transcript.

More: Bolton’s lawyer says the ex-Trump adviser knows of undisclosed Ukraine meetings, conversations

Giuliani’s ‘whirlwind’ of Ukraine claims 

Hill confirmed that key administration officials were so in the dark about Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine that they learned what he was up to by watching his frequent appearances on television.

“Every single day, it seemed that he was on television, you know, basically spouting off, you know, one thing after another,” Hill told House investigators.

“And it was clearly starting to create this, you know, meta-alternate narrative about Ukraine,” Hill said. She called the information Giuliani was pushing through the media a “whirlwind.”

Giuliani’s spreading of accusations against former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is also documented in the testimony of other officials who have been deposed in the impeachment inquiry, including that of State Department official George Kent. Giuliani helped push the claim that Yovanovitch was undermining the president.

Hill described those claims as “a mishmash of conspiracy theories that, again, I’ve told you, I believe firmly to be baseless.”

The attacks on Yovanovitch led to her removal. Hill said it “had a really devastating effect on the morale of all of the teams that I work with across the interagency because everybody knows Ambassador Yovanovitch to be the best of the best in terms of a nonpartisan career official.”

Hill testified that Bolton was “pained,” and called Giuliani a “hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up.”

In fact, Hill said, Bolton was opposed to any officials meeting with Giuliani. 

More: Lobbyist says he wasn’t lobbying when he tried to oust Ukrainian ambassador. Experts disagree.

Gordon Sondland’s activities were ‘deeply concerning’

Yovanovitch’s ouster was “some kind of tipping point or turning point,” Hill said, “because it was after she was removed from her position that you started to see, you know, more of this activity.”

Hill testified that an unusual chain of command opened up in Ukraine policy, with several officials “doing all kinds of things that were not in their portfolio.”

She said that Sondland told her he was taking over the Ukraine portfolio under the orders of the president. She said it was an “unusual development” because other State Department officials had not been given notice of his assignment.

“Ambassador Sondland told me again that he was in charge of Ukraine. And I asked, well, on whose authority? And he said, the president,” Hill said.

She described Sondland’s conduct in this role as “comical” but “deeply concerning,” because, she said, he gave out her personal phone number and told officials to contact her and Bolton with no notice, and Sondland met with officials without any briefings or knowledge about who they were.

“It’s like basically driving along with no guardrails and no GPS on an unfamiliar territory,” Hill said. She described him as a counterintelligence risk.

Sondland’s conduct in the July meeting and his direction on Ukraine policy was also detailed by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s account in his testimony, which was released Friday as well.

More: 5 takeaways from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s impeachment inquiry testimony

“He’s not a professional diplomat. And this is not critical of him, but he didn’t necessarily act as a diplomat and he wouldn’t necessarily, you know — if we had a consistent position and a consistent set of talking points, he would not necessarily be consistent … with the rest of the consensus view,” Vindman testified.

But, “I think that is very possible that he thought he was doing the right thing,” Vindman said of Sondland.

Hill was ‘shocked’ by Trump’s call with Zelensky

Hill left her position days before the now infamous July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. She testified that she was on vacation — snorkeling, to be precise — at the time of the phone call. 

But when she read through the rough transcript released publicly by the White House, Hill said she was “very shocked and very saddened,” particularly by Trump’s disparaging of Yovanovitch. The content of the call was “my worst fears and nightmares,” she said.

“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that,” Trump told Zelensky on the call.

Hill said the attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and his theory about the 2016 election was “pretty blatant” on the phone call.

“I sat in an awful lot of calls, and I have not seen anything like this. And I was there for two and a half years,” Hill said. “So I was just shocked.”

Hill and Republican questioners butt heads

The GOP committee members and their counsel who questioned Hill seemed to frustrate her over questions about whether she had a partisan bias.

Hill was repeatedly asked if she was a critic of the president, to which she had a firm answer: She was a nonpolitical appointee, “agnostic” about supporting Trump.

“I think it’s very important to serve your country and to serve the president and the presidency, you know, as being duly elected,” Hill said.

When pressed again about partisan leanings, Hill referred to the unidentified senior White House official who penned an explosive anti-Trump op-ed in The New York Times. Hill asserted, “I did not write Anonymous. I am not Anonymous.”

She added that she had been accused “within the White House” of writing that op-ed.

And when Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., pressed Hill on whether she thought it was inappropriate for Biden to threaten aid to a foreign country while his son was involved with an entity of that country being targeted for an investigation, she warned he was entering “dangerous territory” for everyone.

“I think that there is a problem with perceptions of conflicts of interest and ethics for any child of any senior official to be involved in anything that their parents are involved in, period,” Hill said, mentioning members of Congress, vice presidents, presidents and cabinet secretaries. 

More: Some of the key claims from the book ‘A Warning’ by Anonymous on the Trump administration

Contributing: Courtney Subramanian, Bart Jansen, Nicholas Wu, Michael Collins, Kristyn Wellesley, USA TODAY

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