In her closed-door deposition before Congress, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill recalled a dramatic meeting about the Trump's administration's quid pro quo with Ukraine that ended with former National Security Adviser John Bolton storming out of the room.
Hill, a former senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs on the NSC, recounted the episode in her October 14 deposition before the three House committees pursuing the impeachment into President Donald Trump, the transcript of which was released Friday.
The impeachment inquiry centers around an anonymous whistleblower's complaint, turned over to Congress in early September, that Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country” in the 2020 US election in a series of events culminating in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The complaint specifically charged that Trump's pressure on the Ukrainian government to investigate alleged corruption from former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter came days after he withheld a nearly $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine that Congress had already appropriated.
The White House's notes of the call confirm Trump brought up how the US does “a lot for Ukraine.” Immediately after, Trump asked Zelensky to do him a “favor, though” by investigating Biden and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and was somehow in possession of a Democratic National Committee server.
In the past month, multiple diplomats and national security officials have testified that Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani explicitly conditioned both releasing the aid and inviting Zelensky to a meeting at the White House on Ukraine putting out at a statement announcing investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.
Starting on page 64 of her testimony, Hill specifically recalled a particularly dramatic July 2019 meeting with Bolton, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland to discuss bringing Zelensky to Washington.
Hill said Bolton was horrified by the “drug deal” he saw other officials “cooking up”
After recounting how Bolton was “basically trying very hard not to commit to a meeting, because, you know and, again, these meetings have to be well prepared,” Hill said that Perry talked about “about the importance of reforming the energy structures in Ukraine in a very general sense and talking about how important that was for Ukrainian national security.”
She continued: “Then Ambassador Sondland blurted out: Well, we have an agreement with the Chief of Staff for a meeting if these 'investigations in the energy sector start,” Hill recalled, implying Sondland was referring to the investigations into Burisma.
Afterward, Hill said that “Ambassador Bolton immediately stiffened and ended the meeting … I mean, he looked at the clock as if he had, you know, suddenly another meeting and his time was up, but it was obvious he ended the meeting.”
Hill then recalled how Bolton told her to go to another meeting happening immediately afterwards involving both US diplomats and some Ukrainian officials and tell him what transpired there.
Hill said she saw, “Ambassador Sondland, in front of the Ukrainians, as I came in, was talking about how he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations” with her director for Ukraine, Army foreign area officer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, “looking completely alarmed.”
Hill said she tried to intercept Sondland and make clear to him there should be no discussion of investigations with Ukranian officials.
“And I said: Look, we're the National Security Council. We're basically here to talk about how we set this up, and we're going to set this up in the right way…we're going to talk about this, and, you know, we will deal with this in the proper procedures. And Ambassador Sondland was clearly annoyed with this, but then, you know, he moved off.”
Hill testified that when she recounted the conversation with Sondland to Bolton, he told her to report it to NSC counsel John Eisenberg immediately, saying, “and he told me, and this is a direct quote from Ambassador Bolton: You go and tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you've heard and what I've said.”
Vindman, who serves as the top official for Ukraine on the NSC, also recounted it in his own testimony before Congress. The transcript of his testimony was also released on Friday.
In his opening statement, Vindman recounted how in a July 10 meeting with Ukrainian officials, Sondland, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Volker, “Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short.”
Vindman said he and Hill both told Sondland it was “inappropriate” for him to underscore the importance of Ukraine giving Trump the investigations he wanted.
“I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push,” Vindman told lawmakers, according to his statement.