Wed, 20 Jan 2021

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump's former top aide on Russia and Europe testified behind closed doors at his impeachment inquiry Monday, possibly shedding light on Trump's May firing of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Until July when she left the White House, Fiona Hill was the senior director for European and Russian affairs on Trump's National Security Council, with knowledge of the behind-the-scenes formation of U.S. foreign policy. Her lawyer, Lee Wolosky, said she was subpoenaed by the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and planned to answer lawmakers' questions.

Last week, Yovanovitch, a career State Department diplomat, told lawmakers that Trump dismissed her based on "unfounded and false claims" after Trump's personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, assailed her performance in Kyiv.

Giuliani has sought to get Ukraine to investigate one of Trump's leading political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, and the role he played several years ago in the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor and any links it might have had to the lucrative tenure of Hunter Biden, his 49-year-old son, on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. Both Bidens have denied any wrongdoing and the younger Biden left the Burisma board several months ago.

Trump, in a late July phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, asked for "a favor," that Ukraine investigate the Bidens and reach out to to Giuliani and Trump's attorney general, William Barr.

According to a rough recounting of the conversation supplied by the White House, Trump told Zelenskiy, "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 wanted to let you know that. The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, and that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look in to it.... It sounds horrible to me."

The extent of Hill's testimony was not immediately known, but NBC News said in advance that she planned to say that Giuliani and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, circumvented the normal White House process and the National Security Council to pursue a shadow policy on Ukraine. Sondland is expected to testify before lawmakers on Thursday.

The House Intelligence Committee is in the early stages of an impeachment inquiry into Trump's dealings with Ukraine, specifically whether he violated U.S. national security interests in pursuit of winning re-election next year. The elder Biden, who has called for Trump's impeachment, is one of the top contenders for the Democratic Party nomination to oppose Trump.

The impeachment investigation was touched off by an unnamed intelligence community whistleblower who was unnerved by Trump's conversation with Zelenskiy and request for help investigating Biden. Trump has described the call with Zelenskiy as "perfect."

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff has said that the whistleblower would testify before lawmakers, but now appears to be wavering whether that will occur.

On Twitter, Trump objected, saying, "NO! Must testify to explain why he got my Ukraine conversation sooo wrong, not even close. Did Schiff tell him to do that? We must determine the Whistleblower's identity to determine WHY this was done to the USA."

The U.S. leader quoted Zelenskiy as saying there was "NO PRESSURE, very normal talk" in their July phone call.

"A total Impeachment Scam!" Trump concluded.

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