Congressional Impeachment Hearings, November 21, 2019

Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Europe and Russia, and David Holmes, an official from the American embassy in Ukraine, are sworn in prior to testifying before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C., November 21, 2019.

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee continued its public impeachment hearings on November 21. Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert on the National Security Council, and David Holmes, a State Department official stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, testified. Experts from the Center for American Progress followed along here to share context and other useful information throughout the proceedings. Find more on the hearings and other impeachment-related resources on our page dedicated to Trump’s Constitutional Crisis.

4:31 p.m. Schiff just adjourned the final hearing to another round of applause.

There is no question—and there hasn’t been a question for weeks—that Trump engaged in a corrupt quid pro quo, subverting democracy by demanding that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announce investigations of Trump’s political opponents in exchange for military aid and a White House meeting.

The only question is whether Trump’s defenders will accept the obvious facts before them or instead retreat into the conspiracy theories they’ve been spreading for the past two months.

4:18 p.m. This Adam Schiff speech is extraordinary and historic.

3:57 p.m. Nunes just cited his own memo as evidence that there was a conspiracy to undermine Trump. The actual allegations in that memo all fell apart almost immediately—although not before he inadvertently revealed that officials in the Trump administration were so concerned about the possibility that Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was a Russian agent that they renewed surveillance on him multiple times (although he has never been charged).

3:44 p.m. Hill just drilled down on one of the most important points in the whole saga: With all of Giuliani’s extremely public efforts to link Burisma to the Bidens, it is absurd for Sondland and Volker to continue claiming they were oblivious about the linkage until the White House released the transcript of the July 25 call.

3:36 p.m. It’s also worth noting for the record that almost nothing Jim Jordan said in his closing statement was true, especially his characterizations of the Mueller investigation. Mueller, of course, never said “no collusion, no conspiracy.” There were real guilty pleas, and real people—including Trump’s campaign chairman and national security adviser—went to jail.

3:35 p.m. So the crux of Jim Jordan’s argument is that Zelensky did not fold to Trump’s pressure—even though his staff was urging him to do so and even made plans for the announcement, which demonstrates that they understood the terms of the quid pro quo. And that’s supposed to be exculpatory?

2:55 p.m. Republican members of the committee continue to insist that no member has denied that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But the leader of the party—the president of the United States—repeatedly has made that claim, including questioning the findings of the U.S. Intelligence Community following a meeting with Putin in Helsinki last year.

2:49 p.m. Looks like minority House Intelligence members have realized that it hurts their cause to let the witnesses actually talk. That’s why we’re now seeing so many soliloquies using up members’ full five minutes.

2:24 p.m. You can’t believe both that Russia interfered in 2016 and that Ukraine interfered in 2016. The entire argument of the Ukraine conspiracy theory is that Ukraine interfered by fabricating evidence such as the black ledger and the Steele dossier to get the Russia investigation opened to hurt Trump.

And don’t even get me started on the CrowdStrike component—which, if I understand it correctly, is utterly nonsensical. It basically alleges that the DNC or somebody within it actually hacked and released their own emails to frame Russia, and by extension Trump, and then hid the fact that they did so by sending the DNC server to CrowdStrike in Ukraine for some reason.

2:16 p.m. Nobody who has ever heard Trump talk about anything could seriously doubt that Trump might respond to the confirmation that his criminal scheme was successful by immediately jumping to a totally unrelated topic. Incoherence is basically the defining feature of Trump’s speaking style.

1:48 p.m. Fiona Hill just made an important clarification about her views on Lt. Col. Vindman’s “judgment,” something the minority House members have (wrongly) tried to make hay of. She basically clarified that Vindman is a great dude overall; she just didn’t think he knew politics as well as other things, and they were getting into a super political situation. It was his judgment of U.S. politics being discussed—not some overall moral compass or standing as a human being.

1:43 p.m. Wow, Nunes just said again that the Russia investigation started in part because of the Steele dossier.

That is just blatantly false. It’s directly contradicted in literally the third paragraph of the Mueller report, which explicitly lays out how the investigation started: George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat that he had advance knowledge that Russia would be publishing stolen emails, and the Australians alerted the American government.

1:30 p.m. I feel like I’m stuck in a time loop. Nunes has asked this same series of questions to witness after witness, despite having heard from multiple witnesses that there was no factual basis for the allegations about the Bidens, most notably from Kurt Volker, who explicitly called it a “conspiracy theory.”

1:28 p.m. Devin Nunes just asked if it was appropriate to pay operatives to dig up dirt overseas. But, uh, that same Devin Nunes worked with Lev Parnas, the indicted Giuliani associate, to arrange meetings and calls in Europe in 2018 … to dig up dirt.

1:18 p.m. It’s possible that he is so persuaded by Fiona Hill’s testimony (as I am) that he’s decided to join the “resistance.”

1:13 p.m. The thing about Castor’s lines of questioning is that, even as somebody whose job is to follow this stuff, I often have no idea where he’s going or what point he’s trying to make. Hard to imagine that people who are just now turning in understand any better.

1:11 p.m. One thing worth remembering on the Ukraine 2016 conspiracy theories: Neither of the two main things Trump’s defenders (Nunes in particular) continually assert were examples of Ukrainian interference—the Steele dossier and the “black ledger” revealing Manafort’s corrupt work in Ukraine—had anything to do with the opening of the Russia investigation. We’ve known for almost two years now that the Russia investigation started because George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat he had advance knowledge that Russia planned to release emails stolen from Trump’s opponents, not because of the Steele dossier or the black ledger.

11:45 a.m. Contained in David Holmes’ testimony is an important point that has largely gone unnoticed. He notes that Giuliani reached out to Ivan Bakanov, the head of the SBU, Ukraine’s security service. The SBU is the successor agency to the KGB. The agency has been the focus of international efforts at security sector reforms because its financial crimes unit has been subject to corruption.

Zelensky’s appointment of Bakanov—a close ally committed to the new president’s reform agenda—was an important early signal that Zelensky was serious about his reforms even in the most difficult places. Giuliani’s efforts to recruit Bakanov into his corrupt scheme would have undermined these painstaking efforts at reforms that are important to both Ukrainian and American interests.

11:23 a.m. Once again, a witness is telling us that they reported concerns to NSC Legal Adviser Eisenberg. What did he do in response to hearing, repeatedly, that White House officials were shocked and disturbed by the president’s plan to condition aid on a political favor?

11:08 a.m. Part of what makes Fiona so effective is how incredibly clearly she projects honesty and candor. She is a lawyer’s dream witness.

11:04 a.m. One major difference between today’s testimony and previous witnesses: Holmes and Hill are very clear that they understood that “Burisma” was code for the Bidens, and that everybody on the ground understood that as well, in no small part thanks to Giuliani’s public statements. Volker and Sondland’s denials on that front already strained credulity, but this really puts the nail in the coffin.

10:32 a.m. We just received the following question on Twitter: “If vp mike is getting implicated as knowing about all this and somehow gets dragged under the bus and impeached also, who’s next, pelosi? what’s the chance that actually happens, less than 1%?”

The line of succession goes: vice president; speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate; then, secretaries in order that their department was created. I’m not an oddsmaker, but I’d be shocked if these hearings ended with Pelosi as president.

10:22 a.m. One thing clearly conveyed already by Fiona Hill’s stunning testimony: She is absolutely the kind of person who would have stopped a meeting with Sondland and told him—in no uncertain terms—that the plan to condition foreign aid on a political favor was totally inappropriate.

10:18 a.m. Fiona Hill just asked Congressional Republicans to stop perpetuating a Russian disinformation campaign. For more on this, see “Trump’s Conspiracy Theories Always Lead to Russia” by the Moscow Project.

10:17 a.m. Fiona Hill was President Trump’s top Russia adviser, and she just fully knee-capped the conspiracy theory that House Republicans, President Trump, and Rudy Giuliani have been pushing, saying that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. She clearly says this is false and that it is Russian disinformation pushed by Russian intelligence.

10:15 a.m. An aside: Fiona Hill co-wrote an excellent biography of Putin, for those who are interested. It’s been an invaluable resource to those of us on the Moscow Project.

10:11 a.m. We just received the following question on Twitter: “If everything went smoothly and the case got over to the Senate, what’s the timeline, what’s the earliest they could start deliberations, and assuming that takes a month, what’s the soonest he would actually have to leave?”

The House has indicated that they would wrap up by the end of the year. Then it is up to the Senate to determine the length of the trial. The Clinton impeachment hearing lasted about six weeks. Some Republicans in the Senate have indicated that this trial could also last six weeks.

9:57 a.m. The contrast between Holmes’ vivid and clear recollection of Sondland’s July 26 phone call with Trump and Sondland’s gap-filled retelling of the same event really lends credence to Holmes’ account.

9:43 a.m. It’s really remarkable that Poroshenko, whose presidential administration was a major target of Ambassador Yovanovitch’s anti-corruption push in Ukraine, publicly defended her integrity while the U.S. State Department, apparently fearful of a mean tweet from Trump, refused to do the same.

9:29 a.m. Devin Nunes is arguing that Trump only committed a “thought crime”—that he is being impeached for thinking something. But the reality is that a) Military aid to Ukraine was withheld; b) It was withheld at the direction of Trump; c) The aid was only released once he was caught; and d) Ukraine knew that the aid was being withheld. This is not a “thought crime,” but an actual extortion.

9:27 a.m. Reminder: Just last night, we learned that, before he was helping Rudy Giuliani pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political opponents, and while he was committing the campaign-finance crimes that led to his indictment, Lev Parnas was flying around Europe to help Nunes undermine the Russia investigation he was supposed to be running as chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

9:24 a.m. Nunes’ opening statements only make sense if you understand that his only goal is giving Fox News enough material to create another day of alternate-reality news coverage.