Fiona Hill, President Donald Trump’s former top adviser on Russia and Europe, told House investigators that her time in the Trump administration was marked by death threats, “hateful calls” and “conspiracy theories,” a harassment campaign she said was revived after it was learned she would cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, according to a transcript of her deposition released Friday.
“I received, I just have to tell you, death threats, calls at my home. My neighbors reported somebody coming and hammering on my door,” she told investigators in closed-door testimony of her time in the White House. “Now, I’m not easily intimidated, but that made me mad.”
Although it wasn’t clear who was responsible, she suggested that at least part of the harassment was tied to her agreeing to appear before Congress.
The transcript confirmed NBC News’ reporting that Hill told Congress that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, sidestepped the National Security Council and typical White House process to advocate for a shadow policy on Ukraine, while revealing new details about how Giuliani’s work undercut and derailed the diplomats charged with overseeing Ukrainian-U.S. relations.
Hill, who transitioned out of her role in July before officially leaving her job in early September, testified that the ousting of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was a turning point for her. Yovanovitch, she said, was subject to a similar campaign of harassment and “defamation,” which she credited to Giuliani.
Hill said she discussed Yovanovitch with then-national security adviser John Bolton, whose “reaction was pained.”
“And he basically said, in fact he directly said: Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everyone up,” she told congressional investigators. “He made it clear that he didn’t feel that there was anything that he could personally do about this.”
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The transcript of her deposition was made public Friday alongside the transcript of testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, the latest in a series of disclosures House Democrats have made as the impeachment inquiry into Trump enters a new phase.
The testimony of key figures released publicly this week has largely established a narrative that suggests Trump directed officials to tie nearly $400 million in military and security aid to Ukraine, as well as a White House meeting, to demands that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announce probes that could benefit Trump.
Text messages obtained as part of the impeachment inquiry and released by Congress showed Sondland, Giuliani and former U.S. envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker working to facilitate Trump’s goal of getting Zelenskiy to commit to investigate the president’s political opponents including former Vice President Joe Biden — and making a White House visit for Zelenskiy contingent on such a commitment. Official notes from Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy released by the White House showed Trump asking the Ukrainians to work directly with Giuliani, and NBC News has reported that Sondland was also in direct contact with Trump about Ukraine.
Hill left her role before that July call in which Trump pressed for investigations into the Bidens as well as the 2016 U.S. election. However, she told impeachment investigators last month that reading the White House memo detailing the call, along with the text messages Volker provided to Congress, were her “worst fears and nightmares” realized.
“There seemed to be an awful lot of people involved in, you know, basically turning a White House meeting into some kind of asset,” she said. “Something that was being, you know, dangled out to the Ukrainian Government. They wanted the White house meeting very much.”
Sondland openly spoke about a White House meeting being conditioned on Ukrainians going forward with investigations, and resisted her attempts to ensure that presidential meetings were set up through diplomatic channels, she testified.
Sondland, who features heavily in Hill’s testimony as well as Vindman’s, had no diplomatic experience before Trump nominated him in 2017 to become ambassador to the E.U., a club of nations that does not include Ukraine. He was a wealthy hotelier who donated about $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and referred to himself in his own deposition as a “lifelong Republican.”
Hill described him as a diplomat who cloaked himself in presidential authority and violated norms of diplomatic relations in his work.
Sondland told Hill multiple times that he would be overseeing Ukraine relations, she testified.
“And I asked, on whose authority? And he said, the president,” Hill said, according to the transcript, later adding that “it was very unusual because we were given no instructions. There wasn’t a directive. Ambassador Bolton didn’t know about this. Nobody at the State Department seemed to know about this either.”
He routinely gave out her personal phone number — something she sought to get intelligence officials to explain to Sondland was a counterintelligence risk — and sent officials to her for meetings without alerting her. She became worried he would become a “target for foreign powers” when he offered up White House access repeatedly.
“He was often meeting with people he had no information about. It’s like basically driving along with no guardrails and no GPS on unfamiliar territory,” she said, noting she’d raised her concerns to Sondland directly.
The White House sought to limit how much Hill could tell Congress, according to letters between the White House and her attorney obtained by NBC News last month. The White House did not tell her not to testify, but said she was responsible for guarding against unauthorized disclosures and outlined areas where her testimony might run up against executive privilege, like direct communications with the president or meetings with other heads of state.
Hill’s lawyers argued that executive privilege did not apply, in part because some of the information has already come into the public sphere and thus was no longer confidential. They also argued that executive privilege disappears when there’s reason to believe there was government misconduct.