Ten hours of testimony Monday by a former senior National Security Council official painted a picture of President Trump sitting atop a shadow foreign policy initiative to coerce Ukraine to do his political bidding, butting heads with a wider circle of White House officials that viewed the Rudy Giuliani-inspired freelancing as wrong and likely illegal. The testimony of Fiona Hill, senior director for European and Russian affairs, depicted advisers outside of the Giuliani vortex as alarmed by the undertaking, a group that included then-national security adviser John Bolton, who instructed her to inform the White House counsel’s office of the effort as early as July 10.
“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Hill testified Bolton told her, referencing Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. who said Trump had given him authority to oversee the off-book operation, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Bolton said of the shadow operation.
The origins of the rift began over the summer, weeks before Trump’s July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Bolton was holding out on granting a call to the Ukrainian leader and Hill testified she didn’t see any purpose in having another call with Zelensky since a congratulatory call had already been made. During a tense meeting at the White House, however, it became clear that something other than American policy was at play.
“Bolton and Sondland met in early July with then-special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, Hill and Energy Secretary Rick Perry,” the Washington Post reports. “During the meeting, Sondland’s agenda for Ukraine began to become clear, when he blurted out to the other officials present that there were ‘investigations that were dropped that need to be started up again,’ according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter. The officials understood him to be referring to Burisma, the energy company, and Biden—something that made Bolton go ‘ballistic’ after the meeting, the official said.”
Hill testified that Bolton instructed her to report the issue to White House lawyers, specifically deputy White House counsel and National Security Council chief legal adviser John Eisenberg. Eisenberg said he would raise the issue with his superiors. Hill left the administration shortly after, before the July 25 call took place, and Bolton left two months later when Trump tweeted out that Bolton’s tenure was done.