Donald Trump’s former top Russia adviser has accused his Republican allies of pushing a "fictional narrative" that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election during her testimony on the final day of public impeachment hearings.
Fiona Hill said the "false" allegation, one of the two issues Mr Trump wanted the recently installed Ukrainian president to investigate, was being spread by Russia and should not be repeated for "domestic political" reasons in America.
Her testimony struck a blow to one of the Republicans’ core defence lines to the impeachment push – that the president had genuine concerns about how Ukraine had acted during the 2016 campaign and it was legitimate to ask for it to be probed.
Ms Hill, the daughter of a British coal miner who grew up in County Durham, England, before becoming a US citizen and joining the White House’s National Security Committee, was speaking before the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading the impeachment inquiry.
"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," Ms Hill said in her opening statement.
"This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."
Ms Hill said she would refuse to "legitimise" the "alternate narrative" and stressed that America’s own top intelligence officials had unanimously concluded that Russia was to blame.
"We must not let domestic politics stop us from defending ourselves against the foreign powers who truly wish us harm," Ms Hill said in the penultimate line of her prepared remarks.
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While Ms Hill did not explicitly mention Mr Trump, the rebuke appeared in part targeted at the Oval Office given it is the president that has repeatedly floated the Ukraine meddling claim.
Elsewhere in Ms Hill’s testimony, she provided details of the alarm that spread inside the Trump administration as it became apparent allies of the president were seeking investigations into the Ukraine meddling claims and Joe Biden, the former US vice president now seeking the White House.
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She recounted how John Bolton, the then national security adviser and her direct boss, had described Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer who was publicly lobbying for the probes, as a "hand grenade" who could explode at any point.
Asked if she understood the comment, Ms Hill said she did. She called Mr Giuliani’s public comments at the time, which included unfounded allegations about Mr Biden, as "pretty explosive" and "quite incendiary", fearing they would "probably come back to haunt us".
Appearing alongside Ms Hill before the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading the impeachment inquiry, was David Holmes, a diplomat stationed at the US embassy in Ukraine.
Mr Holmes recounted a call he overheard where Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, was talking to Mr Trump on July 26. That was the day after the US president had asked Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce the investigations.
Mr Holmes said that when Mr Trump came on the call, Mr Sondland "winced" and held the phone away from his ear, apparently because the US president was speaking at such a high volume.
Mr Holmes testified that he heard Mr Sondland tell Mr Trump that the Ukrainian president "loves your ass". Mr Trump then allegedly asked "so he’s gonna do the investigation", to which Mr Sondland said "he’s gonna do it".
The testimony is rare direct evidence of what Mr Trump was thinking at the time. It suggests the president was taking a personal interest in whether the investigations, which were politically beneficial for him, were going to be announced.
Mr Trump expressed doubt on the claim, tweeting: "Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!"
Elsewhere Mr Holmes became yet another witnesses to testify that he believed the almost $400 million in military aid was held back from Ukraine to secure the investigations.
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Mr Holmes said by late August his "clear impression" was the money’s hold showed either Mr Trump’s "dissatisfaction " that the probes had not been launched or was an attempt to "pressure" them to do so.
With five days of public hearings complete and no more expected, the question now becomes which articles of impeachment the Democrats attempt to pass against Mr Trump.
Drafting of the articles and a vote on them – first in the House Judiciary Committee and then, if passed, by the whole House of Representatives – is expected next month.