WASHINGTON - Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Donald Trump, according to a person familiar with her testimony.
Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.
In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities, which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, this person said on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.
Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.
Sondland is scheduled to appear before lawmakers later this week.
And in a sign the impeachment inquiry is widening, investigators were discussing whether to question John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, according to people familiar with the matter. Bolton was Hill’s direct superior at the NSC.
‘‘Rudy Giuliani has clearly been a leading force for the administration in defining a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine,’’ Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told reporters after emerging from Hill’s testimony, though he declined to say whether Hill testified to that effect. ‘‘There was an official foreign policy, which was attempting to counter corruption in Ukraine, and then there was Rudy Giuliani and the gang that couldn’t shoot straight who worked for him, who were involved precisely (in) connecting with corruption in Ukraine and promoting corruption in Ukraine.’’
Giuliani on Monday night said: ‘‘I don’t know Fiona and can’t figure out what she is talking about’’ He added that his contact with Ukrainian officials was set up with the State Department.
‘‘I reported everything back to them,’’ he said. ‘‘Nothing shadowy about it.’’
Giuliani also said he believed Hill was out of the loop compared with Sondland and others involved with Ukraine. ‘‘She just didn’t know,’’ he said. He added he'd never talked to her about Ukraine policy.
Hill, who left the NSC voluntarily this summer, worked closely on Ukraine matters with two diplomats who have become central to the impeachment inquiry. One, Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified last week about her understanding of Giuliani’s efforts to remove her from her post. Giuliani and some of his allies in Ukraine saw Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, as a threat to their financial and political interests, she told lawmakers last week.
Hill told the committees that she was infuriated by Yovanovitch’s ouster. The ambassador, who had a reputation for combating corruption in Ukraine, told impeachment investigators last week that her departure came as a direct result of pressure Trump placed on the State Department to remove her.
Raskin, speaking Monday after Hill’s deposition, said that Yovanovitch was the ‘‘victim of a political hit job,’’ but that both she and Hill would be considered heroes after the impeachment inquiry concludes.
Hill also worked closely with Sondland, who in text messages appeared to defend Trump against the allegation that he was pursuing investigations in exchange for U.S. support to Ukraine.
Sondland plans to tell impeachment investigators Thursday that the content of a text message he sent to the chief U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, insisting there was no quid pro quo in play, was given to him directly by Trump in a phone call, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
Sondland also plans to tell lawmakers he has no knowledge of whether the president was telling him the truth. ‘‘It’s only true that the president said it, not that it was the truth,’’ a person familiar with Sondland’s planned testimony told The Post over the weekend.
This week is shaping up to be one of the most active in the four-week-old impeachment inquiry. Administration officials are facing a series of deadlines to turn over documents that investigators say are relevant to their inquiry.
Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Giuliani and officials at the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget have all been served with document requests about the administration’s policies in Ukraine and in some cases their own interactions with Ukrainian officials.
Two of Giuliani’s clients, charged last week with violations of campaign finance law, also face a Wednesday deadline for documents. They were instrumental in setting up meetings for Giuliani with Ukrainian officials he felt could be useful to Trump’s political interests.
Lawmakers also expect to hear testimony from other witnesses, including on Tuesday from George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, whom Giuliani and conservative media figures have accused of trying to protect the Bidens from an investigation and of working at the behest of billionaire George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation has funded anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.
The committees plan to hear as well from Ambassador Bill Taylor, who features prominently in the text messages with Sondland, questioning whether the administration was withholding aid in exchange for Ukraine launching investigations.
Michael McKinley, who resigned last week as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant director of defense, will also appear for testimony, according to people familiar with the matter.
Hill served on the NSC as senior director for Russia and Europe from mid-2017 until the week before Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke by phone on July 25. During their conversation, Trump asked Zelensky to do him a ‘‘favor’’ by investigating Biden and the claim of Ukrainian interference in the U.S. election, according to a memorandum documenting the call that was released last month by the White House.
She appeared Monday on Capitol Hill under congressional subpoena; the Trump administration has sought to block current and former officials from testifying in the impeachment probe.
Hill, who previously served on the National Intelligence Council during the George W. Bush administration, is known for being a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an institutionalist - stances that put her at odds with Trump’s embrace of Russia’s resurgent role in the region and with Giuliani’s style of maneuvering in Ukraine.
Almost as soon as her testimony began, the proceeding was disrupted by a partisan dispute. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., attempted to sit in on the deposition ‘‘as a member of Congress,’’ he said, arguing that ‘‘if Adam Schiff and the House Democrats were so proud of their work, they would be willing to show it.’’ Gaetz sits on the Judiciary Committee but not on any of the three panels conducting the impeachment inquiry.
Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the Democrats’ point man on the impeachment probe, objected to Gaetz joining. The question was then put to a parliamentarian, who decided that Gaetz should leave the room, which he did.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Gaetz continued to deride the proceedings as a ‘‘sham or charade,’’ lamenting that because the full House has not voted on an impeachment process, ‘‘there are no rules,’’ and thus his presence should have been permitted.
Republicans also have argued that full transcripts of the depositions should be made public, a request that Democrats have so far declined. The Constitution gives the House broad authority to conduct an impeachment and says nothing about how proceedings should be held.
Speaking at an event Monday evening in New York, Schiff said lawmakers would release all transcripts of the depositions, adding that some witnesses who have testified behind closed doors may return in open session.
The White House has refused to participate in the inquiry, asserting that Trump is owed ‘‘due process’’ to call his own witnesses and cross-examine those called by the Democrats.