Trump ex-Russia adviser testifies in impeachment inquiry

Former senior director for European and Russian Affairs on US President Donald Trump's National Security Council Fiona Hill (pictured) spent all day before the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and two other panels.
Former senior director for European and Russian Affairs on US President Donald Trump's National Security Council Fiona Hill (pictured) spent all day before the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and two other panels.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump's former Russia adviser testified on Monday (Oct 14) behind closed doors as the latest witness summoned in the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against Mr Trump over his request that Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival.

Ms Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian Affairs on Mr Trump's National Security Council, spent all day before the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and two other panels.

The pace of the House Democrats' investigation quickened as they lined up additional witnesses to testify in closed sessions.

Mr Michael McKinley has agreed to appear voluntarily for a closed transcribed interview on Wednesday, just days after he announced his resignation as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

A person familiar with the proceedings confirmed that Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defences Laura Cooper would be interviewed by the committees on Friday.

Mr Trump has denied wrongdoing in his dealings with Ukraine.

The Democrats' inquiry could prompt the House to approve articles of impeachment - formal charges - leading to a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Mr Trump from office.

Unlike the Democratic-controlled House, the Senate is led by Mr Trump's fellow Republicans, who have shown little inclination to remove him.

Adding to the almost dizzying number of developments, the Wall Street Journal reported that federal investigators for at least the past couple of months have been questioning witnesses as they look into Mr Rudy Giuliani's business dealings in Ukraine. Mr Giuliani has been acting as Mr Trump's personal lawyer.

 
 

Mr Giuliani faces a Tuesday deadline to produce documents related to the Ukraine matter subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee. He has not said whether he will comply.

The former New York mayor has defended his actions as proper in his role as Mr Trump's lawyer.

In yet another development, Mr Trey Gowdy, a former Republican congressman who was announced last Wednesday as joining Mr Trump's outside legal team for the impeachment fight, no longer will be doing so at least for now, according to Mr Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Mr Trump.

Mr Sekulow had praised Mr Gowdy last week as "a great asset" to the legal team.

'UNFOUNDED, FALSE CLAIMS'

The Trump administration's removal in May of Ms Marie Yovanovitch as US ambassador to Ukraine could figure in Ms Hill's testimony.

On Friday, Ms Yovanovitch testified that she had been ousted based on "unfounded and false claims" after coming under attack by Mr Giuliani, who had been working to get Ukraine to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden, a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Republican Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.

The inquiry focuses on a July 25 phone call in which Mr Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate unsubstantiated allegations against Mr Biden and Mr Biden's businessman son, Mr Hunter Biden, who had been on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Democrats have accused Mr Trump of pressuring a vulnerable US ally to dig up dirt on a domestic rival after withholding US$391 million (S$535.15 billion) in US security aid intended to help combat Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine. Mr Zelensky agreed to investigate. Mr Trump eventually allowed the aid.

The British-born MS Hill, who left her White House job shortly before the July 25 call but remained on the payroll into August, had advocated a tough US approach on Moscow even as Mr Trump was more accommodating toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 
 

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election with a campaign of hacking and propaganda intended to boost Mr Trump's candidacy.

On Thursday, committees are scheduled to receive testimony from Mr Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union.

Mr Sondland, a Trump backer and not a career diplomat, participated in a text message exchange with Mr Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine.

Democrats say it reveals concern among aides that Mr Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden was improper.

Mr Sondland is expected to be asked why he relayed from Mr Trump to other diplomats that the President said no "quid pro quos" connecting the Biden investigation with the US aid.

Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning a favour for a favour.

WHISTLEBLOWER TESTIMONY

As talks continue over whether the whistleblower from within the US intelligence community who prompted the inquiry will testify, Mr Trump weighed in on Twitter, demanding that the person testify and that the individual's identity be revealed.

Mr Trump has questioned the patriotism of the whistleblower, who filed a complaint after the Zelensky call, saying Mr Trump was improperly using the power of his office to solicit interference in the 2020 election from a foreign country.

Negotiations between representatives for the whistleblower and congressional committees were deadlocked over Senate Intelligence Committee requests that the individual provide testimony in person, while the House committees were willing to exchange questions and answers in writing, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

The House Intelligence Committee also is scheduled this week to hear from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and State Department Counsellor Ulrich Brechbuhl, a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Lawmakers also may debate whether to seek to compel testimony from Mr Giuliani.

On Thursday, two Giuliani associates - Ukraine-born Lev Parnas and Belarus-born Igor Fruman - who helped him with his efforts to investigate the Bidens, were charged with scheming to violate US campaign finance laws.