The latest in the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump: Hill and Holmes testify #2

After a grueling day of testimony Wednesday, Thursday brings us testimony from former National Security Council Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill and foreign service officer David Holmes. Hill’s opening statement makes clear that this will be another day when Republicans take a beating from the facts, even though we’ve seen there’s no day of testimony so bad that they won’t try to declare victory.

Daily Kos will be following the proceedings all day.

Watch live:

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:14:58 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Fiona Hill begins reading from her relatively brief introductory document — which undermines 90% of what Devin Nunes has been pushing all week. Hill may describe her British accent as “working class,” but a lot of Americans probably hear it as “really damn charming.”

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:18:20 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Devin Nunes pushing a copy of his half-assed report on Russian interference on Fiona Hill is the subject of today's Great Moments in Man-splaining.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:22:32 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Schiff opens his questioning by giving Hill a chance to elaborate on her concerns about the Russian efforts—successful efforts—to generate doubt in the United States. Differentiates the “individuals in many countries who had harsh words” for candidates from a state-run dedicated effort to generate “chaos.”

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:23:56 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:26:33 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Reports coming out of the closed-door testimony of Holmes indicated that Republicans were downcast. But at the time it seemed like he was only there to testify to the lunch he had with Sondland. Nope, Holmes’ testimony is a red-hot poker through the GOP defense of Trump.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:27:12 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:31:42 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner Republicans had better seriously hope that America has tuned out this morning, because Hill and Holmes are a devastating tag-team. Check those TV ratings, Devin. Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:32:42 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Holmes provides some feedback on how the Trump-Zelensky phone call was taken from the Ukrainian end; a perspective we haven’t heard before.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:36:16 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Holmes confirms his testimony that Trump asked Sondland about the investigations, and that Sondland assured Trump that Zelensky would do the investigations.

Holmes then follows up by testifying, as he did in his opening statement, that Sondland explicitly mentioned an investigation into the Bidens. Which should be the ball game, right there.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:43:36 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Holmes reveals that the embassy knew that Lutsenko knew was meeting with “an American journalist” (John Soloman? Ken Vogle?) to get out his claims weeks before the wave of articles promoted by Giuliani. Which suggests that journalist might have also had contact with the embassy … and ignored their cautions.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:45:28 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill makes it explicit that the “Crowdstrike” conspiracy theory in Trump’s phone call to Zelensky was exactly the hatched-in-Russia theory that she warned against being generated directly by the Russia security service.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:48:11 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Side note: the conspiracy theory which Hill has pointed out as being generated by the Russian security service explicitly for the purpose of driving a wedge between the U.S. and Ukraine, as well as creating internal political strife, is exactly the theory that William Barr has been supporting in his overseas travels and “investigation.”

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:55:54 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Questioning of Hill includes a brief visit to Kashyap Patel, the Trumpster within the NSC who presented himself as a Ukraine expert despite no background, and who apparently served as a conduit to ferry information to Trump without following the NSC chain of command.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:59:12 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

This has been an important day for destroying the Republican attempts to support the conspiracy theories Trump was pushing all along—interesting that on this same day the Republicans have employed a parliamentary maneuver in an effort to generate a hearing explicitly designed to bolster those same dis-proven conspiracy theories.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 4:03:03 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill describes the meeting in Bolton’s office, describing how Sondland’s attempt to extract an investigation from Ukraine exacerbated an already somewhat tense situation and brought on the end of the meeting. Hill says that in the later meeting Sondland explicitly made it clear that the investigation he wanted was into Burisma.

Hill then recounts that Bolton directly instructed her to go to NSC counsel John Eisenberg, and that he “didn’t want to be involved in this drug deal that Sondland and [Mick] Mulvaney were cooking up.”

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 4:04:03 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 4:04:31 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

On an early break to allow a House vote.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 4:08:29 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Something new in Hill’s testimony about Sondland’s statement to Ukrainian officials was that Sondland directly mentioned Mulvaney in saying that there would be a White House meeting when the investigations were launched. Which explains why Bolton later says that the “drug deal” is something being cooked up by Sondland and Mulvaney.

And just another reason why Mulvaney should be the owner of a subpoena. 

Russia expert Fiona Hill warns Republicans they are acting as Russia’s stooges

Dr. Fiona Hill, former National Security Council Russia expert, has sharp words for Republicans in her opening statement, and a critical warning.

"Some of you on this committee," Hill says, "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." This, she says, "is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves." That Russia was behind the interference, she says, "is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified." She adds that even now "Russia's security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them."

She asks of committee members that they "please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests. […] If the President, or anyone else, impedes or subverts the national security of the United States in order to further domestic political or personal interests, that is more than worthy of your attention. But we must not let domestic politics stop us from defending ourselves against the foreign powers who truly wish us harm."

The latest in the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump: Hill and Holmes testify #1

After a grueling day of testimony Wednesday, Thursday brings us testimony from former National Security Council Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill and foreign service officer David Holmes. Hill’s opening statement makes clear that this will be another day when Republicans take a beating from the facts, even though we’ve seen there’s no day of testimony so bad that they won’t try to declare victory.

Daily Kos will be following the proceedings all day.

Watch live:

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:09:42 PM +00:00 · Laura Clawson

Here is Dr. Fiona Hill’s opening statement:

Dr. Fiona Hill's openin... by Jen Hayden on Scribd

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:10:20 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill’s opening statement blows massive holes right through the narrative that Devin Nunes has been repeating each day, and which other Republicans have pushed throughout the hearings. How they react is going to be just damn fascinating.

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. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:19:54 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Rep. Adam Schiff’s morning recaps before the hearings are not as good as the stellar closing remarks he has made this week, but he’s gotten very good at giving a narrative that presents the important points and preserves the impact without seeming as if he’s trying to be overly dramatic.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:22:45 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Interesting that Nunes is retreating to the idea of there being “no impeachable offense,” which is all on its own a place Republicans have been trying not to go.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:29:07 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Nunes attacks Hill’s opening statement, claiming he’s never disputed Russian interference into the election, hands out his Trump-clearing “report” and launches back into his claims that Ukraine also meddled. This … is going to be interesting.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:37:53 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Holmes, who is probably the least familiar face in these hearings, starts off by making it clear that he’s not ecstatic about being there, quotes Pompeo, and comes off as somewhat hostile to the inquiry. Then, after giving a brief resume and describing his role in Kyiv, makes it clear that he’s an “apolitical foreign policy professional” who doesn’t take part in U.S. politics. He’s coming across forcefully as someone who is kind of angry about being jerked out of the field.

Then, BOOM. Holmes does a good job of explaining the genuine anti-corruption policies pushed by former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and explains how efforts to actually deal with corruption were blown up by … Rudy Giuliani.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:41:26 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Holmes provides details of the smear campaign that was conducted by Giuliani and former Ukrainian prosecutor Lutsenko, These claims are the same ones that are in the articles that Nunes has been pushing — the ones that were published by John Solomon and which Nunes had entered into the record.

What Holmes is really demonstrating, is that Nunes has been continuing the smear campaign of a corrupt former official. And Holmes is making it very clear that Giuliani was very, very explicit in talking about Biden — which makes it impossible to believe either Gordon Sondland or Kurt Volker when they claim to not understand that the Bidens were the target of Trump and Giuliani’s demands for investigations.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:46:23 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Holmes opening statement gives the best view of actual events in Ukraine that we’ve had from anyone — and undercuts statements from Volker and Sondland. This looks like the definitive timeline of events. Holmes turns out to be the mother lode of information on what Giuliani and Trump were genuinely doing in Ukraine.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:50:44 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

This opening statement from Holmes is really the first view we’ve had of just how much damage the Trump / Giuliani scheme caused across the board in Ukraine, and in the relationship between Ukraine and the United States. There was no area of the relationship that avoided being thrown into turmoil by the efforts to force Ukraine to carry out corrupt acts on the part of Trump.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:53:34 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

It’s genuinely astounding that Holmes was only brought into this hearing because he chanced to overhear a phone call between Sondland and Trump. So far, even before the first question is asked, he’s by far the most persuasive and damning witness of the whole inquiry. This is unexpected, and devastating testimony.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 2:58:24 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

The expanded details of the conversation between Holmes and Sondland only make it more damaging to Trump, and Giuliani, and to Sondland.

Again: this inquiry should not end without perjury charges against both Sondland and Volker.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:03:36 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner Honestly, just remove any existing document, insert Holmes’ opening statement, stamp it "the case against Donald Trump" and ship it to Judiciary. Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:06:14 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Holmes’ opening statement.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:07:08 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Statement of David A Holmes by Jen Hayden on Scribd

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 3:11:21 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner Holmes: “At a time of shifting allegiances and rising competitors in the world, we have no better friend than Ukraine–a scrappy, unbowed, determined, and above all dignified people who are standing up against Russian authoritarianism and aggression. They deserve better.”

Thursday impeachment hearing: NSC official Fiona Hill and foreign service officer David Holmes

Over the course of this week, it would seem that testimony from former State Department special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland laid the last solid planks on the bridge to a certain impeachment of Donald Trump. But the week is not over. On Thursday morning, the House impeachment inquiry will hear from former National Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill and from foreign service officer David Holmes.

Holmes, who serves as the political counselor at the embassy in Kyiv, entered the news only recently as one of those who overheard a phone conversation between Sondland and Trump in which Trump insisted on investigations as the price of assistance to Ukraine. Following that conversation, Holmes also reports Sondland spoke to him about how those investigations included looking into Joe Biden—a claim that contradicts Sondland’s testimony that he didn’t connect the investigations that Trump was requesting with a desire to manufacture dirt on a political opponent.

But the more important witness could well be Fiona Hill. Hill, who served as supervisor to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman until just days before Trump’s July call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is expected to testify both to the July 10 meeting held in John Bolton’s office, and to broader concerns about Trump’s policies in Ukraine. In her earlier closed-door testimony, Hill reported her concerns about the smear campaign against former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and the influence of Rudy Giuliani.

The July 10 meeting—in which Ukrainian officials visited the White House and were met by a team of officials from both the State Department and NSC—has been the subject of some disputed testimony. While both Sondland and Vindman reported that the meeting ended after Sondland brought up Trump’s request for investigations, Vindman testified that this end came abruptly because the demand upset Bolton. Sondland reported that the meeting ended normally. Then, in a meeting-after-the-meeting, Vindman reported that Sondland was more direct about requesting those investigations, including directly mentioning investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma—the barely there code for investigations into Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Hill should be able to talk to some of those events, and also to the follow-up in which Bolton referred to the “drug deal” being cooked up by Sondland and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

The hearing gets underway at 9 AM ET.

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How much did Gordon Sondland and Mick ‘Get over it’ Mulvaney talk? Maybe more than we know

According to Gordon Sondland in his impeachment inquiry testimony Wednesday afternoon, he only had one formal meeting with acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, “and it had nothing to do with Ukraine.” Rather, “most of our communication were the stream of emails which others were on generally, and I may have seen him at the White House casually and said hello and kept in touch.”

Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill’s closed-door deposition also suggests that those casual contacts might have amounted to more than Sondland implied. According to Hill, Sondland “was certainly meeting with Mulvaney on a regular basis.” In fact, according to Hill, “I could be wrong, but there were often times when he said he’d been in to see the president when other staff indicated to me that they did not believe that he had”—instead, those were times he had been seeing Mulvaney.

In other words, the “formal” in “formal meeting” is doing a lot of work when it comes to how much Sondland was talking to the guy who did a press briefing in which he asserted that of course Trump had withheld aid from Ukraine to get the investigations he wanted, and, “Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

Three big days of House impeachment hearings coming up this week

House impeachment investigators have a busy week coming up. There are no hearings or depositions scheduled for Monday, but Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday will bring public hearings with eight different witnesses, all current or former members of the Trump administration, and all with information to contribute about Donald Trump’s efforts to extort Ukrainian officials into interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is the week’s likely headliner, as the person whose phone call with Trump was overheard by multiple staffers, with Trump demanding to know whether Ukraine would be launching “investigations.” The big question with Sondland is whether he will continue to see Trump as his most important master or whether he will develop a longer-term sense of self-preservation as he faces potential fallout for lying to Congress. But Sondland is by no means the only important source of information this week.

Tuesday morning

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, who was among those listening to the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and subsequently raised concerns with NSC lawyers. Jennifer Williams, an aide to Mike Pence whom Trump attacked by tweet over the weekend as a “Never Trumper.”

Tuesday afternoon

Kurt Volker, the former United States special envoy to Ukraine whose texts with Rudy Giuliani helped send the impeachment inquiry into overdrive. Tim Morrison, an NSC Europe and Russia expert who worried that news of the July 25 call would leak, though he said he didn’t think anything on it was illegal.

Wednesday morning

Gordon Sondland, one of the leaders in pressing Trump's extortion demands.

Wednesday afternoon

Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs. David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Thursday 

Fiona Hill, former NSC senior director for Europe and Russia, who, like Vindman, raised concerns about Trump's Ukraine dealings with the NSC counsel, only to watch a cover-up put in place.

Key unknowns remain exactly what stunts Republicans will get up to to disrupt the proceedings and give Fox News alternative headlines to the damning information being revealed, and whether Trump will suddenly decide he needs the second part of his completely routine physical.

‘Corrupt’: Congresswoman shreds The Hill for publishing conspiracy theories as ‘opinion’ columns

“I’m not speaking to The Hill anymore. Sorry,” Rep. Jackie Speier announced to one of the site’s senior writers on Friday. Citing the site’s role in advancing baseless claims against former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch—who had just testified for hours—which were embraced by Donald Trump and other members of the right, the California Democrat offered a scathing indictment of how so-called “fake news” is spread.

“I just find it reprehensible that any newspaper would just be willing to put that kind of crap out that is not — has no veracity whatsoever, and not check to see if it had any veracity,” Speier said to Scott Wong, after he identified himself as a senior staff writer for The Hill. “And then it becomes a talking point. And he becomes a nonpartisan commentator. It’s corrupt. It’s just corrupt.” 

But of what, and who, exactly, does Speier speak? That would be John Solomon, whom the New York Times calls “the man Trump trusts for news on Ukraine.” Solomon’s “work” came up a few times during impeachment inquiry testimony this week, most notably during the testimony of Yovanovitch and also former NSC official Fiona Hill.

So who exactly is John Solomon? A Washington-based reporter and Fox News personality who had until recently been working at the politics outlet The Hill, Mr. Solomon, 52, is not well known outside conservative media. But, according to interviews and testimony, his writing and commentary helped trigger the chain of events that are now the subject of the impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.

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Mr. Solomon’s work has been endorsed by some of the most influential figures on the right like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and the president, who has highlighted Mr. Solomon’s articles on Twitter.

The spread of Solomon’s work, according to media experts who spoke to the Times, is a near-perfect example of how rightwing media isn’t actually an echo chamber … it’s an ecosystem. Here’s how it works.

“Sean Hannity talks about John Solomon, and then that gets picked up on Rush (Limbaugh)  and (Mark) Levin,” explains Columbia University media historian Nicole Hemmer. “That gives it an authority when (conservative audiences are) hearing it from multiple sources every day.” Citing Solomon’s earlier work at the Associated Press, Hannity was able to present Solomon as “nonpartisan,” and an “investigative reporter.”

Solomon, of course, did little investigating. As Media Matters (MMFA) reported in October, this ecosystem model was fully exploited by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who essentially planted misinformation in service to his orange master. Solomon, of course, also benefited.

Through Solomon, Giuliani injected his disinformation campaign straight into the heart of conservative media -- Fox News -- with seemingly full knowledge of at least some at Fox. And eventually, Solomon landed a job at the network.

MMFA notes that, beginning in March, Solomon began publishing stories clearly fed to him by Giuliani—45 in a span of six months—which led to a stunning 72 appearances on Fox News—51 of them alongside Sean Hannity, who is easily the network’s loudest CT shrieker. Giuliani did his part to advance the scheme, even praising Solomon’s “reporting” as worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.

Meanwhile, as NBC News notes, the State Department was aware of the misinformation campaign—then-Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, who testified publicly on Wednesday, called the articles “poppycock.”

Solomon’s manipulative reporting didn’t just start with the massive partnership with Giuliani. Staffers at The Hill began to voice concern about Solomon and his “investigations” just months after he joined the outlet in late 2017, according to reporting from the Washington Post in January 2018. By May, Solomon was re-classified as an “opinion” contributor, which gave him AND The Hill additional legal cover to publish misinformation, much like Fox News hides Hannity—who responded to Yovanovitch’s testimony by mocking her on his radio show—and his ceaseless nonsense under that same umbrella.

The Hill, remarkably, reported on Yovanovitch’s indictment of Solomon and his “reporting,” without a trace of irony, much less remorse. The outlet did note that Solomon, in a statement, stands by all of his work for his former employer.

All of this brings us back to Friday, and Rep. Speier’s rebuke of Wong and The Hill as a whole. After Speier suggested the reporter run and tell the leadership of the site about their exchange, Wong pushed back at the congresswoman. 

“The reporters themselves have made that clear to our leadership as well,” he told her. “There are a lot of dedicated reporters at The Hill who do not share John Solomon’s views.”

Bob Cusack, editor-in-chief of The Hill, has yet to comment on the allegations that his publication spread misinformation, possibly willfully, that undeniably contributed to the destruction of Yovanovitch’s career and the current political crisis that has consumed the nation. A perusal of his Twitter feed shows he typically tweets pleasant farewells to staffers moving on from the outlet, as well as shares a variety of content from the site. No such good tidings or content promotion can be found for Solomon, who, again, departed the site in September after almost two years on staff. Seems a little scrubby, eh?

One of Cusack’s tweets, however, has not aged well at all.

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Some folks on Twitter are challenging people to rethink their impressions of the website.

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Meanwhile, The Hill’s front page, as of this writing, features another “opinion” column, equating resistance to the Trump administration with “unhinged behavior.”